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on 20 February 2017
It's never explained where the Iron Man came from, and nobody knew how he was made. The Iron Man has no sense of human laws or morals, as he steals and consumes anything made of metal, including expensive machinery belonging to local farmers. So the Iron Man begins this story as the Iron Monster, an unwelcome stranger that the local community is keen to be rid of, understandably so.

There is no evidence in the story that the Iron Man has any compassion for humanity or conscience, or any emotional sense other than for the urgency of his own preservation and the satisfaction of his hunger. The only sign of any discernment is that the Iron Man's eyes change colour at times, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, to indicate variable responses to visual stimuli. But this seems to be an entirely mechanical process. In short, the Iron Man is a man...being....machine...entity...robot...person (I'm not sure) - a thing - without a heart. Or is he?

When he does save humanity, from a still greater monster - in a way, saving the monster in the process - it seems the Iron Man is merely acting in a functional sense, to preserve himself, having been warned that his own destruction would follow if he does not stop a terrible Space-Being - a lizard that threatens to consume everyone and thereby wipe Man from the face of the Earth. And yet, during his elective trials of strength with this Space-Being, the narrator tells us that the Iron Man feels fear. Or maybe it is not fear? Maybe it is just another mechanistic response that the author anthropomorphises? It's not made clear, and the lack of clarity makes the story all the more intriguing.

At what point does a machine become a person? It's not difficult to imagine that in the future machines might assume legal or juristic personality, but here I refer to personhood in the natural sense. I would say personhood requires rudimentary intelligence, including sentience, and a conscience, but in practice this is an entirely subjective designation and I am unclear at where the demarcation would be between machine and person, let alone between human beings and non-human animals. Higher order primates such as chimpanzees and bonobos present a particular difficulty. It's not hard to see them as people, but that being so, should we treat them as such? And if we decide to, what are then the implications for human societies, for human identity, ethics and morality?

The Iron Man is called a 'man', and he displays many of the required characteristics of personhood, but he remains just a machine, or so it appears, and in the early part of the story he is treated as such, as there is an attempt to destroy him on the basis of functional problems he causes, without regard to any rights or dignities he may have. When later he is given some consideration, this is only in an effort to neutralise the issues and conflict he would otherwise cause for the community. There is never any recognition that he is a citizen or worthy of rights as such. This is perhaps because to do so would then threaten the integrity of human identity. If this Iron Monster is actually a person worthy of similar consideration to a human, then the implications would be fundamentally significant, and frightening. But it's interesting to ponder whether the Iron Man in this story, hitherto patronised by humanity, is 'accepted' as an equal after he saves everyone by going through a trial of strength with a terrible and frightening lizard monster. Is he then accepted by the community, and thus designated as a 'person'? Hughes leaves this to our imaginations.

Hughes' story is very 'pagan' in sensibility in that the two great monsters - the Iron Man and the lizard-like Space-Being - are god-like and yet not only susceptible to defeat, but also fallible. This essential fallibility is brought out in the concept of a trial of strength, which features prominently in the story, probably influenced by Norse mythology, specifically the tales of Thor. I detect the influence of the Prose Edda in particular, in which Útgarða-Loki tricks Thor into a trial of strength. Trials of strength were also common among the ancient Northern peoples - for instance, Caesar wrote of how the Germanii tribes would have a rite of passage for their young men, known as a 'trial of strength', which would involve the killing of an auroch.

In the course of being defeated, the lizard is tricked by the Iron Man, much like Útgarða-Loki tricked Thor. Thus the Iron Man reveals himself to be deceptively wily, and not just (or perhaps at all) a simple, blundering mechanical monster, while the Space-Being shows himself to be rather simple-minded, despite his great and imposing physical presence and frightening nature. The lizard is an interesting counterpoise to the Iron Man. They are both monsters, and both have unclear origins. The lizard Space-Being is unequivocally alien in the extra-terrestrial sense, whereas the Iron Man might be terrestrial as unlike the lizard, his composition is recognisable. Both monsters repel humans, but both do good and are of benefit to humanity in the end. This presents the reader with a clear moral: Don't judge somebody on the way they look. But more importantly, I think there is another lesson, which is that we are who you choose to be, and who we are is mainly determined by our actions. In the end, the lizard turns out to be a relatively benign creature, just misguided.

The Iron Man is excellent and will be enjoyed by both adults and children. It's often described as a 'novel', but I think it would be more accurate to describe it as a story, and technically a novella. Incidentally, I recall back in my childhood in West Yorkshire there was a local legend of an "iron man", who it was said lived by the local canal and would snatch young boys and girls away. These sorts of precautionary legends were probably common for children back then - and maybe still are. I would assume that Ted Hughes, also from West Yorkshire, was influenced by similar tall-tales as a child. There are also allusions in the story to Hughes' upbringing around the farms of the Calder Valley. But whatever the origins of Hughes' classic, it's a very enjoyable read.

This review is of the 2005 edition, with illustrations by Tom Gauld.
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on 29 October 2017
The iron man is quite a good kids story which is what is supposed to be it does have it’s flaws as most works do and I’ll go over them, as well as it’s strengths right now

• all of the heroes are really likeable from the humans who are just trying to do the best they can with the information and resources they have available to them to the giant himself who proves to be quite brave and intelligent In how he defeated an enemy so much bigger and stronger than himself.
•the story is really easy to follow giant comes out of the sea, giant eats thing, gets trapped, escapes, is given his own junk yard to feed on, dragon turns up flattens a
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on 24 January 2018
I used to love reading this to my primary classes - they loved it too !! as did also my two daughters ( now 36 and 39 ) who have read it to their children ( 9 , 8 , 7 and almost 6 ) and we continue to find it a book one NEEDS to read . Please join us . You will not be disappointed .
Sincerely , Martin Robinson
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on 24 October 2016
Brilliantly entertaining and thought provoking. Used with 7/8year olds. To write persuasive letters, stories by the same author and performance poetry (using metal to add sound and create a beat) art & dt links: creating our own iron man, topic links: recycling and our planet/local environment.

The children thoroughly enjoyed and there's great comprehension resources available too.
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on 5 August 2017
Oh how lovely it was to revisit this lovely tale of the iron man who found his nirvana in a scrapyard and saved the world from a space monster! After a horrible day, a childhood favorite book was just what I needed and this one did not disappoint!
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on 18 April 2015
Our eight year old has enjoyed the Oxford "School Reading Series" but now had reached the stage for slightly more challenging material. At Easter half term, the school gave his class a list of more substantial books from which to choose one. He chose this one, hoping that the book would refer to one of his beloved comic characters - which, of course, it doesn't! The book is, indeed, a more substantial which is beautifully written and and just right for an eight year old, introducing him to not only a more complex story but also to the imaginative use of adjectives and adverbs. As one would expect from the Poet Laureate, the language he uses has a cadence and a structure which is quite different from that to which our lad is accustomed thus far and he initially found it strange and not to his immediate liking. The story, however, resonated with him and he is now reading more of Hughes' books. Our son is not particularly "into" books and English is not his favourite subject: so we did not know whether he would take to this author's style. If we are to judge from the ease and pleasure with which he has gone on to read "Ffangs the Vampire Bat and the Kiss of Truth" and "How the Whale became", we need not have been worried.
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on 29 September 2016
I used this as a class text with my Year 5 class. We have used it as a topic for the entire term. It is a fantastic story with many themes within to work around. From generating different genres of writing, to calculating how tall the Iron Man is in maths and to creating sculptures and drawings of him in art, there is plenty to gain from this. The copy is in larger writing so it is easier for children to read and the illustrations are fantastic too! Both to look at and to recreate. I extremely recommend this book to older primary school children.
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on 13 February 2013
I do remember reading and enjoying this book as a child but I had trouble remembering the plot. This I now know is because this book is incredibly short (64 pages some of which are taken up by full page illustrations) and the plot can essentially be divided into two sections:

1. A giant iron robot destroys the countryside, humans don't react favorably.
2. Same giant iron robot defends earth from alien threat, humans react favorably.

This is a short tale which is simply written, I really agree with the quote on the book which states 'one of the greatest of modern fairy tales', (observer), in that the writing style does make this feel very folk/fairy tale esque. This makes it a very quick one sitting read, I imagine it would also be a great book to read aloud to children.

Essentially I would definitely recommend this story if you want to read a charming children's story featuring a giant iron man trying to find the place in the world, silly humans, pernicious seagulls and a space-dragon.
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on 3 August 2016
I used this as a class text with my Year 4 class. They absolutely loved the story, as did I, and we got 5 weeks worth of work out of it. Covers all sorts of environmental and moral dilemmas for PSHE too. A great story!
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on 16 July 2015
A childhood favourite and a great book. The actually copy is in large text for children. Whilst the pictures are good I was disappointed not to find the same copy I read as a child because the illustrations have been haunting me since. 4/5 not for content (a five) but because the illustrations don't live up to my original!
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