Iron John

Iron John

Book - 1994
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With help of Iron John, the wild man of the forest who is under a curse, a young prince makes his way in the world and finds his true love.
Publisher: New York : Holiday House, c1994
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780823410736
0823410730
Characteristics: 1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 29 cm
Alternative Title: Eisenhans

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FindingJane Mar 19, 2017

Mr. Kimmel dispenses with the opening of this Grimm fairy tale, in which a curious king has his people capture and pen a dangerous man living wild in the forest. That part of the story is displayed by Trina Hyman’s vivid illustrations, which begin on the title page and continue through the dedication to the opening paragraph. She also displays a greedy king’s delight in odd acquisitions with a couple of cages near that of Iron John, one holding a curious giraffe.

The story proceeds in familiar fashion as little prince Walter impulsively helps Iron John escape in exchange for getting back his golden ball after it falls into the wild man’s cage. You wonder why a prince would fear punishment so much that he would go off with a stranger who looks more like a beast than a human being. But such concerns vanish as we see a civilized boy turn to forest living as if he’d been born to it.

The gorgeous illustrations pull you into a world of primeval greenery, with ancient trees overshadowing a mysterious stream so dark it looks like a cloudless, starless sky. Ms. Hyman’s distinctive illustrations are matted and with softened edges so that a man becomes like a ghost and a garden bursts with flowers that seem about to fall out of the page and into the reader’s lap.

There is at times a lack of passion in fairy tales. Walter grows up to be strong, tall and healthy in Iron John’s shadowy world. It states that he loves Iron John like a father but he shows no grief at leaving him only fear that he’ll fail in the tasks that he’s been set. He never speaks of love to his intended bride either; it’s just taken as a given.

The story takes a sharp turn from Grimm’s original story as young Walter makes a startling choice for his bride-to-be. Mr. Kimmel evidently sees love as something belonging to the worthy and not necessarily because of elevated status, royal lineage or gorgeous looks.

But it is Iron John who remains an captivating figure in spite of his cryptic revelation near the end of the story. Ms. Hyman’s depictions make him appear to be a creature out of myth. His massively wavy hair actually becomes horns as the story progresses. Is he Cernunnos, the Celtic horned god? If so, his teaching of Walter in the ways of the woodland acquires a deeper meaning than a mere story for children.

This is a glorious picture book, one that would be a guilty pleasure for adults as well as a story for little girls and boys. Consider adding it to your collection.

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