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A metaphor can be a very dangerous tool to wield; quite often while you are trying to reference one particular aspect of a thing, myriad other associations and relations spring to peoples' minds and they may well be quite different from those correspondences you intended to summon.  Such is definitely the case with The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes--once England's poet laureate, now best remembered, albeit unfairly, by angry feminists as the husband who drove Sylvia Plath to her grave.  Hughes tells the amiable story of a huge metal robot who crashes to Earth and after putting himself back together begins to sate his enormous appetite for metal by devouring cars and tractors and the like.  Infuriated local farmers trap him, despite the efforts of one friendly boy named Hogarth.  But the Iron Giant turns out to be quite useful when an enormous space-bat-angel-dragon attacks Earth and demands a tribute of animate matter to consume.  The Iron Giant agrees to battle the monster, vanquishes him and determines that the creature is actually peaceful but was attracted to Earth by man's violence.  The space-bat-angel-dragon agrees to return to space, where his "music of the spheres" has such a calming effect that Earth becomes a peaceful place.

Now the intent of Hughes's original story, as well as that of the very good recent movie which is loosely based on it, is to show the futility of war, violence, etc.  Hughes book was written at the height of the Cold War and the space-bat-angel-dragon can be understood to be the Left's idealized version of the Soviet Union--a threat only because of our own attitudes and actions.  The Soviet Union having been disposed of in subsequent years, the movie makes a more generalized anti-gun, anti-military, pro-nonconformity statement.  But the truly delicious irony in both cases is that the most obvious subtext of the story is at war with the intended central message.  Because, at the end of the day, the Iron Giant is nothing less than Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative come to life and saving the world.  The author's pacifist message and the filmmaker's antiestablishment message are overwhelmed by the powerful metaphorical symbol of a gigantic defensive weapon being the only thing standing between mankind and certain destruction.  How delightful the irony that book and movie basically end up being pleas for the biggest boondoggle in the history of the military-industrial complex.

I liked both book and movie very much.  The film in particular may be the best non-Disney animated feature film ever made.  Obviously the symbolism of the Iron Giant has escaped the control of the storytellers; but the metaphorical ironies merely add an additional layer of enjoyment.

Dorothy C. Judd adds:
Reading The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes made me long for a classroom of young children who would listen wide-eyed to this tale.  He uses such descriptive language that even the laziest listener could picture the Giant, the space-bat-angel-dragon, and the action precisely as Hughes intended.  However, I should add that Hogarth, the boy, though clever, is lost in the shadow of these exciting figures. The story yields infinite possibilities for follow-up writing, drama, and art activities.

But on another level?  As a parable? I would equate the Iron Giant with technology, the space-bat-angel-dragon, come to Earth, with fallen man, human greed, and ambition.  It is not surprising that the contest between the two is by fire and a proposed three rounds, familiar Biblical references.  It is interesting to imagine that the battle cries and war cries of Earth drown out the music of the spheres and that once heard, the "strange soft music" could bring about world peace.

But in either capacity - tall tale or parable - the ending is, though idyllic, too abrupt and unconvincing.

Grade: B + (tall tale); B- (parable)


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Children's Books
Ted Hughes Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Ted Hughes
    -PODCAST: Good Story 280: The Iron Giant (1999)
    -ESSAY: Fishing for inspiration - Ted Hughes' journals : The newly unveiled journals of Ted Hughes have revealed how many of his poems were inspired by fishing trips to Scotland (Tim Cornwell, 10/14/08, The Scotsman)
    -ESSAY: In a poet’s footsteps: A trip to Ted Hughes’s “loneliest place” (Patrick Galbraith, December/January 2023, The Critic)
    -REVIEW: of The Catch: Fishing for Ted Hughes by Mark Wormald (Seamus Perry, Prospect)

Book-related and General Links:
-OBIT: (Sarah Lyall, NY Times)
    -OBIT: (Salon)
    -Featured Author: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (includes book reviews, news articles,
interviews and poetry excerpts, NY Times Book Review)
    -Ted Hughes (1930-1998)(kirjasto)
    -Ted Hughes Pages (English Department, University of Leipzig)
    -Ted Hughes Page (Joanny Moulin)
    -David Eads: Ted Hughes Page (1930-1998)
    -EXCERPT: The Watchman's Lament  The following is the opening of Ted Hughes's translation of Aeschylus' Agamemnon,which he completed before his death on October 29.  (TED HUGHES, NY Review of Books)
    -ARTICLE: Ted Hughes Is Named English Poet Laureate  (December 20, 1984, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Ted Hughes and the British Bardic Tradition (Symposium Paper, University of Cairo, December, 1994. © Ann Skea)
    -ESSAY: Ted Hughes with Shakespeare Or the Night of the Tragic Equation (Joanny Moulin)
    -ESSAY: Hughes with Barthes: Mytho-poetic Icons (Symposium Paper - Contribution to the E. S. S. E. Conference in Glasgow September 1995, Joanny MOULIN)
    -ESSAY: History and Reason in the Work of Ted Hughes  (Joanny MOULIN, History in Literature, ed. Hoda Gindi, Department of English, University of Cairo, 1995)
    -ESSAY: Ted Hughes: A Reconciliation (Eavan Boland,  NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Poetic Ability Desirable but Not Essential (Richard A. Cohen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Karl Miller: Fear and Fang, NY Review of Books
        Selected Poems 1957-1967 by Ted Hughes and drawings by Leonard Baskin
        The Iron Giant: A Story in Five Nights by Ted Hughes and drawings by Robert Nadler
    -REVIEW: of TALES FROM OVID By Ted Hughes (James Shapiro, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Bernard Knox: Playboy of the Roman World, NY Review of Books
        The Poet and the Prince: Ovid and Augustan Discourse by Alessandro Barchiesi
        After Ovid: New Metamorphoses edited by Michael Hoffman and James Lasdun
        Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes
        The Metamorphoses of Ovid translated freely into verse by David R. Slavitt
    -REVIEW: of The Oresteia By Aeschylus. A New Translation by Ted Hughes (Garry Wills, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of BIRTHDAY LETTERS By Ted Hughes (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Birthday Letters By Ted Hughes (Katha Pollitt, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: The Good Father (Kate Moses, Salon)
    -REVIEW:  James Fenton: A Family Romance, NY Review of Books
        Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes
    -REVIEW: of WOLFWATCHING By Ted Hughes (William Logan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW:  Irvin Ehrenpreis: At the Poles of Poetry, NY Review of Books
        Millions of Strange Shadows by Anthony Hecht
        Gaudete by Ted Hughes
    -REVIEW: Richard Murphy: Last Exit to Nature, NY Review of Books
        New Selected Poems by Ted Hughes
        Remains of Elmet poems by Ted Hughes and photographs by Fay Godwin
        Cave Birds: An Alchemical Cave Drama poems by Ted Hughes
        Under the North Star poems by Ted Hughes
    -REVIEW: Not an Ideal Husband DANIEL MENDELSOHN, NY Review of Books
         Euripides' Alcestis  translated and adapted by Ted Hughes
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The 'demon' that killed Sylvia   The intimate journals of Sylvia Plath, to be published next month, cast a fresh light on what drove the poet to suicide. They provide a record of a mind spinning out of  control - and, writes Michael Shelden, offer proof that Ted Hughes was not the villain of the piece (Daily Telegraph, UK)

    -The SYLVIA PLATH Forum
    -Lucy's Sylvia Plath Page
    -Tribute to Sylvia Plath
    -LETTER TO A DEMON; by Sylvia Plath (NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Biographer and The Murderer (James Atlas, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: 'THE DARK FORCES OF LUST': PLATH AT CAMBRIDGE (Anne Stevenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW:  Elizabeth Hardwick: On Sylvia Plath, NY Review of Books
        The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
        Crossing the Water (to be published September 8) by Sylvia Plath
    -REVIEW: Karl Miller: Sylvia Plath's Apotheosis, NY Review of Books
        Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963 by Sylvia Plath
        Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness by Edward Butscher
        Chapters in a Mythology: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath by Judith Kroll
    -REVIEW: of THE COLLECTED POEMS By Sylvia Plath Edited by Ted Hughes (Denis Donoghue, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW:  Irvin Ehrenpreis: The Other Sylvia Plath, NY Review of Books
        Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems edited by Ted Hughes
    -REVIEW: of THE JOURNALS OF SYLVIA PLATH Foreword by Ted Hughes. Consulting Editor, Ted Hughes. Editor, Frances McCullough (Le Anne Schreiber, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE JOURNALS OF SYLVIA PLATH Foreword by Ted Hughes. Consulting Editor, Ted Hughes. Editor, Frances McCullough (Nancy Milford, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Editorial Notebook; Plath, Hughes and Malcolm (MARY CANTWELL, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Silent Woman Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes By Janet Malcolm (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE SILENT WOMAN Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes. By Janet Malcolm (Caryn James, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Rosemary Dinnage: Kicking the Myth Habit, NY Review of Books
        The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm
    -REVIEW: of THE DEATH AND LIFE OF SYLVIA PLATH By Ronald Hayman (Elizabeth Frank, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Bitter Fame A Life of Sylvia Plath By Anne Stevenson (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of BITTER FAME A Life of Sylvia Plath. By Anne Stevenson (Robert Pinsky, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: A. Alvarez: A Poet and Her Myths, NY Review of Books
        Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath by Anne Stevenson
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The 'demon' that killed Sylvia   The intimate journals of Sylvia Plath, to be published next month, cast a fresh light on what drove the poet to suicide. They provide a record of a mind spinning out of  control - and, writes Michael Shelden, offer proof that Ted Hughes was not the villain of the piece (Daily Telegraph, UK)
    -REVIEW: The long goodbye Hugo Williams reviews Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters by Erica Wagner A savvy study of Hughes's verse conversation with his dead wife (London Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: Trapped in time Allison Pearson reviews The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-62 by Karen V. Kukil A woman fatally constrained by the expectations of their era (London Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: High Performance Poets: W. H. Auden, James Merrill, and Sylvia Plath read from their work in recordings previously unavailable (Wen Stephenson, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW : of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (Zoe Heller, New Republic)

    -BUY IT: (
        VHS: The Iron Giant (Widescreen Edition) (1999)
        DVD: The Iron Giant (1999)
    -The Iron Giant (Official Site)
    -PROFILE: of Brad Bird: Iron without irony  With "The Iron Giant," cartoon whiz Brad Bird brings an elegiac Ted Hughes fable to life -- and he's not embarrassed about making you cry. (Michael Sragow, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: A Gun with a Soul: Brad Bird on The Iron Giant (
    -REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS: (The Reel Site)
    -INFO: The Iron Giant (Movie Web)
    -LJC's Iron Giant Tribute Site
    -WEBRING: Iron Giant Webring
    -The Iron Giant Rules - A comprehensive site that has trailers the game and much more. Lots of links to other iron giant sites
    -The Iron Giant Scrapyard
    -Mr. Showbiz Guide: The Iron Giant
    -REVIEW: (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: The metal-machine sci-fi cartoon delivers robot action, retro nostalgia and stony metaphysics (Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon)
    -REVIEW: The Iron Giant: surprisingly good (KATHERINE MONK, CBC Infoculture)
    -REVIEW: (PETER ELLIOTT, Anglican Journal)
    -REVIEW: (@nzone Magazine)
    -REVIEW: 'The Iron Giant': Heavy Metal (Nicole Arthur, Washington Post Staff Writer)
    -PROFILE: Austin Screenwriter Tim McCanlies: Iron Writer (Cary L. Roberts, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: (Pheasant Demon, UK)
    -REVIEW: Animated, Yes, But Not Cartoony (Brad Cook, Another Universe)
    -REVIEW: (Screen It, movie reviews for parents)
    -REVIEW: (Jeff Vice, Deseret News movie critic)
    -REVIEW: Animated 'The Iron Giant': fun, action and heart (Craig Kopp, Cincy Post movie writer)
    -REVIEW: (Inside Out, UK)
    -REVIEWS: Epinions

    -Reviews of The Iron Man (Nina Simone Web)