The Iron Man is a children’s novel written by the famous poet Ted Hughes. A friend recently showed me a youtube clip of Hughes reading from this book and describing how he used to tell bedtime stories to his children. Like many famous authors, Hughes tested and trialled some of his material on the bedtime story scene. I often think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s children being too hyped up to sleep when I think of authors acting in this way.

I have read The Iron Man several times now with different groups of children and it has never failed to disappoint. Part of the fun is the element of mystery that the author adds to the story. We first meet the Iron Man as he jumps off a cliff.

‘How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.’

Hughes adds his poetry flair to this dramatic opening scene by describing the ‘wing singing through his iron fingers‘ and the cacophony of noise as the ‘separate pieces tumble, bump, clang, down to the rocky beach far below.‘ This dramatic beginning is almost a multi-sensory experience and ensures that the mysterious character of the Iron Man interests the reader from the first chapter. Not many children’s authors could write a whole chapter in this style and keep young minds interested.

After this exciting start The Iron Man’s escapades truly begin. When he returns from his sojourn under the sea, he becomes a menace to the local farmers by eating all their machinery and any other pieces of metal that he can find. A little boy called Hogarth becomes instrumental in the Iron Man’s capture and his future existence amongst the people.

Then the story takes another spectacular twist with the addition of a second unusual being to the tale. This creature threatened the existence of everyone the world over and the Iron Man is called upon to save the day. This might seem to be a lot to fit in just five chapters but The Iron Man was originally published in 1968 as The Iron Man: A Children’s Story in Five Nights and this explains why these unexpected twists and turns between chapters work so well.

Interestingly enough, the last group of children that I read this book with did not like this aspect of the book upon reflection. Although they thoroughly enjoyed the plot and writing style, they felt that the book left too many questions unanswered at the end. Some would argue that this is where there imaginations should kick in and fill the gaps, but some of us want to have a little bit more information to play around with before we can make up our minds!

Overall, for me The Iron Man will always be a childhood classic. It retains that same element of fun that authors like Roald Dahl have, but it is written in a completely different style to any other children’s fiction that I have read. It truly is an excellent story to read and discuss over five days and the story keeps the reader guessing right to end.

Would I recommend this book to a friend?

Anyone with young children will enjoy this. Tom Gauld’s illustrations complement the story well without being overbearing and the story offers lots of opportunities for imaginative discussion.

Afterthoughts

  • The Iron Man has a sequel of sorts titled The Iron Woman. 
  • The book was rebranded as The Iron Giant in America to avoid confusion with Marvel’s Iron Man
  • Warner Brothers released a cartoon film titled The Iron Giant in 1999. It is worth a watch after reading the book but it takes the material of the novel in a completely different direction.
  • There is also an Iron Man musical written by Pete Townshend of ‘The Who’
  • I find it almost poetic that children have the ability to laugh at Ted Hughes’ poems about death yet can worry about an Iron Man in this story!