Monday, January 5, 2015

Review of The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes

I always loved the film The Iron Giant (which is a distant adaptation of the story written by Ted Hughes), so when I started reading Ted Hughes poems, which I also love, and learned that he had written The Iron Man which was later renamed The Iron Giant, I knew I had to read it.

It’s a great story. My 8 year old read it in one sitting, and she said it was really fun and imaginative. I agree. The storyline is a bit more eccentric and discursive than the film adaptation, but I expected that from a poet. I wouldn’t have wanted to read it if it was the same as the film anyway.

The allegory implicit in the story was fairly evident, the iron man being the threat of machinery and industrialism to agrarian culture, and the space-bat-angel-dragon-thingamabob was something like the personification of war and humanity’s self-destruction, though I think some would make it represent more specifically the threat of a nuclear holocaust. When asked why it came to earth to consume it, it replied, “It just came over me, listening to the battling shouts and the war cries of the earth—I got excited, I wanted to join in.”

The creature is defeated by the self-sacrificial cleverness of the Iron Giant that has now become a friend to men and women. In its defeat, the creature is condemned to use its powers of song to sing the enchanting ‘music of the spheres’ over the earth as it flies around it at night. It is a beautiful image of hate turned to love, destruction to beauty, and death to life. Humanity has used a machine in an unprecedented way to intellectually and gracefully preserve itself and ensure the welfare of its members. The monster of war and destruction is enslaved, and its more native voice is unleashed to raise peace in place of conflict and hate. Its voice was “like millions of voices singing together”, resonant of the unified song of people living in harmony.

The Iron Giant too is now fully synchronized and peacefully integrated with human beings. It becomes a tool that places demands on the world, requiring responsible handling and feeding, but it is now a servant and no longer a master, “humm[ing] in harmony to the singing of his tremendous slave in heaven.”

“And the space-bat-angel’s singing had the most unexpected effect. Suddenly the world became wonderfully peaceful. The singing got inside everybody and made them as peaceful as starry spae, and blissfully above all their earlier little squabbles. The strange, soft, eerie space-music began to alter all the people of the world. They stopped making weapons. The countries began to think how they could live pleasantly alongside each other, rather than how to get rid of each other. All they wanted to do was to have peace to enjoy this strange, wild, blissful music from the giant singer in space.”

I think we could all use a space-bat-angel-dragon in our world now. Or maybe not. Maybe just the singing?

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