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on 2 October 2001
A refreshing change from more commercialised books, this is thought-provoking and challenging to our framework of who we are as Men, how we each got to where we are, what we may be / are missing in our lives and where we can go from here.
Lent to me by a single Mum in her 30's, she read this for insight into how her son (2 years old) needs to be positively influenced by strong mentor males. I feel this book can help give understanding to any male-female relationships (same age, son/mother, daughter/father, etc).
Not meant as an excuse to act 'macho' (which has negative connotations these days); instead this text guides Men on how to be Men whilst still maintaining all the other communication and caring skills learned of our time!
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on 21 September 2011
I'd read about this classic book but had never read it until recently. I bought it as I was about to attend a male initiation course in Scotland. I started it before I went and completed it when I came home - the book just seemed to crystalise all that had gone before in the five days of the course - much of which had seemed hazy and obscure at the time I was there. A must for any modern man who's feeling as if something has been missed or passed him by. I'm in my sixties, but this book will resonate with any man of any age who wants to delve deeper into his masculine soul but doesn't know where to start. Some men may find Robert Bly's use of myth and fable a bit arty-farty, but my advice would be to try and recapture some of the wide-eyed wonder you had as a child and read it with a child's heart - the magic will find you and exhilarate you - it did for me!
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on 4 December 2004
With eye-popping surprises every few pages, it unravels the compelling symbolism behind fairytales from all over the world. If I had met this book during adolescence, I would have had a better emotional life but what an outstanding discovery nonetheless at 40.
Buy it for your teenager, whether girl or boy: its about where they are at now, they will be pulled in.
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on 6 November 2008
I really enjoyed this book. It looks deeply into what it feels like to grow into a man and does so with humility and sensitivity. In the modern world, a lot of the experiences of the men from the older generation are not distilled and handed down to the next generation. This book makes a very good attempt to recreate that lost advice. I particularly liked the way that fables and poetry were seen as great sources of insights and wisdom.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 December 2008
Looking through the lens of myth, poet Robert Bly concludes that the Industrial Revolution pulled families apart. He blames absent fathers who failed to initiate boys into adulthood for many of today's cultural woes, including passivity among men, unhappy marriages and the prevalence of gangs. Bly cites stories from the ancient Greeks through the Brothers Grimm to show that young men's struggle to achieve mature adulthood has remained constant throughout history. The myth of Iron John follows the development of a young prince from his early ties to his mother, to his maturation and entry into the world of his father. Mothers, says Bly, must relinquish their babies to enable their sons to grow up. Bly uses his ramble through literature to explore deep issues that play out in men's personal and work lives. His metaphoric, poetic language may be off-putting to concrete thinkers, but getAbstract recommends Bly's classic to men and women who are looking for insight into modern men's psychic drives and struggles.
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on 23 April 2014
Is it genius or is it psychobabble? A bit of both. The general ideas, about the problems of defining male roles and the male psyche in the modern world, are good; I'm pleased that, in reacting against the Soft Male, it doesn't go running all the way back to Captain Caveman. When it tries to get too much out of the Iron John story, though, it does veer towards New Age cobblers. There's the mixture of over-interpretation, dubious factoids and pat psychology you expect in self-help books (which is essentially what this is), plus a lot of neo-pagan flotsam thrown in. And what are Bly's practical suggestions? Shout out in the middle of a conversation, or do a little dance. Un-pre-dictable! (Like Vector in Despicable Me.)

Actually I think Bly goes wrong right at the start of his fable. The 'golden ball', the secret of a whole life, is not found in the world of grown-up masculinity or femininity; those are only substitutes and distractions, albeit necessary ones for the continuation of the species. Mistaking them for the goal is like thinking your day job is your entire life. No, it's in something we already have before all that, lose sight of (most of us) in puberty, and may have a chance to recover in later life. It follows that, for the menopausal men who are likely to read this book, 'getting in touch with the Wild Man' is not the answer; they should be looking for something far beyond that. Bly mentions Enkidu in the Gilgamesh story - but doesn't seem to notice that his role is not to stay a Wild Man in the woods, but to go to the City and join Gilgamesh in his quest for meaning.

In fact the main value of this is maybe not so much to help grownups evaluate their own lives, as to make them think about how they deal with any young lads they may be responsible for. Liberal parents (of the type who would rather buy their son tin pacifists than tin soldiers) could do worse than bear its ideas in mind. It's an interesting read for those intrigued by the collective unconscious and all that jazz; just don't take the detail too seriously. Did Bly in fact write it as an excuse to publicise some of his bloody awful poetry? There's so much of it in some passages, it really is off-putting. Anyway, poetry is more the territory of that soppy Soft Male than the Wild Man, isn't it?
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on 31 March 2015
Still an astonishing book which leads one on a journey into the forest.
"Society without the father produces these birdlike men, so intense, so charming, so open to addiction, so sincere..."

"The process of bringing the inner king back to life, when looked at inwardly, begins with attention to tiny desires - catching hints of what one really likes."

"The walled garden is a shelter from the world, and a place to recover from broken trust."

"It is in the garden that the man finds the wealth of the psyche."

"Paying attention to tiny, hardly noticeable feelings is the garden way. That's the way lovers behave."
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on 22 January 2013
Robert Bly is a poet first and foremost, a Jungian mythopoet - and lest not we forget it. Reading this book made me realise I was "being let in" to the personal reflective meanderings of a bard who has hinged his self renderings on a Bros Grimm fairy tale and his emanated musings on loosely ascribed citations from ancient literal sources. For, as mythopoetic poets are wont to do, they therapeutically uncover the many multi-textured and layered meanings of their's and our unconscious forces, and in the case of 'Iron John' such meanings are marinated and pondered in a tone that can sometimes appear seminary, never preachy but intensely fascinating.

Like the lake that prefigures the story this book is one giant metaphorical mirror into the author's soul washed with a dose of late 1980s self-help and 1960s/70s men's movement brotherhood. At times it is deeply poignant, thought provoking and incredibly connective in charting the developmental blocks of male ancestral lineage. At other times, depending on one's mood - and light hearted playfulness is sometimes bereft - the constant waves of interpretation at various junctures, that hold onto micro points of the story line can be over load. It left me wanting to switch the remote.. though this may be symptomatic of my 'Google-itis' rather than always having the patience to totally plummet to the bottom of this guy's loch. By the time, though, I had fully comprehended the full extent of the magical lore of understanding this book contains - the breadth and comprehensiveness of Bly's personal assault on 'Iron John' with every ounce of meaning he manages to tease out - it made me wonder at the depth of Bly's learning and capacity for poetic evocation of memories, emotions and images from our mythic past.

For me his treatment of the warrior spirit, which is at the heart of the story line, was particularly insightful: "Warriorship inside, then amounts to a soul alertness that helps protect a human being from being turned into copper wire, and protects us from shamers, unconscious swordsmen, hostile people, and greedy interior beings."

Taking aside any reservations and the wiki-like application of anthropological and cultural data there are a number of engaging aspects to this work that are possibly the reasons why it has become an enduring classic. None-the-least is Bly's emotional honesty about his psychological and mythic construction of a man in post-modern times and his uniquely penetrating interpretation of the Shadow (in Jungian terms). There is also the broadcasting of a unifying message for fatherhood - a call to our lost elders as mentors that are often missing in a 21st century boy's maturation. Also there is the most enticing message of all: the call to action (not passivity, numbness and naivety) of the wild man within.

I would surmise that each man carries in them their our own book in the respect of these points but the richness and interweaving of Bly's telling is what marks 'Iron John' out as proto-typical and most deserving to be read. A deluge of mythological material for inner world dot joiners (and JR Tolkien devotees!). Maybe scientific realists might find the subject matter a long day dream.
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on 8 July 2015
So, quite a complex book, taking you through a Grimm Brothers fairy tale that I had never heard of before, and unraveling the various aspects of that tale to the journey boys need to take in order to become a fully mature man psychologically.
What it really needs for dimbos like me is a connection from the narrative to what it means to the modern man. I am sure there are lessons to be learned and things to take away from this book, and i was desperately hoping that as the book moved forward there was going to be a damascus moment where what i was reading would fall into place with who I am as a man in 2015. So while you do get the gist of what Robert Bly is talking about I have not been able to connect the concept of King, and stealing the key from your mother and the other leitmotifs with what it means to be a modern man, from a personal perspective.
Perhaps I just need it spelling out more. I don't think I am stupid, certainly not uneducated, but perhaps I just don't get the connections. My bad perhaps.
However do read this book, it has resonance for the modern man, and perhaps it will gel with you and your experiences more than it did with me. I started this after King, Warrior, Magician, Lover as i was hoping it would be an introduction to that book, and would perhaps prepare the ground for that. I started KWML and found it heavy going, and thought maybe IronJohn would allow me to understand the principles Moore was introducing in KWML more easily (from the perspective of a fairy tale)
I need to now reengage with KWML to see if the two together will allow me more insight.
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on 28 August 2016
An American writer, so does make reference to American men and says that he finds European men have a better cultural experience. I am a female counsellor and find that often the men I see are losing their wild man side that leaves them off balance. I believe that there is quite a lot of expectation put on men to be 'more' for women whether it is looking after babies, or cooking or cleaning, or being a better emotional partner they are loosing some of the masculine qualities that often attracted the women in the first place. The whole book is based around the analysis of the Iron John story, not one that I was familiar with, again most the of the old tales I am familiar with are the ones based on young women such as Cinderella.

It is a good read, and easily accessible not only for men but for mothers of boys/men.
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