Sunday, 30 December 2007

The Not So Iron Man

Currently reading Letters of Ted Hughes and very good they are too; though you have to read extremely carefully between the lines a lot of the time, especially the 1961 and 1962 letters, and there is disappointingly little about his own methods of writing, (a lot about Crow, though, which is fair enough).

Of The Iron Man he writes:

I intended it as a blueprint imaginative strategy for dealing with a neurosis. That is, ideally anybody familiar with that story will have a plan of action for dealing with neurosis in themselves. It is a story intended to cure the mentally sick, and to put people in contact with their real nature.


I don't think he was taking the piss, but I have to admit this had never occurred to me. Assuming it is the space-bat-angel-dragon suffering the neurosis, I suppose he means you need someone to challenge you, and to force yourself into change by agony and defeat. But the dragon thingy is not changed, as much as trapped by the terms of its defeat by the IM. It might have got out of its neurosis through its defeat and collapse but it had no choice. Maybe that's the point. A more interesting concept is that the IM himself is not quite himself: he falls to bits and puts himself together at the beginning (which strongly reeks to me of a shamanic experience), is hidden underground for months and eats every bit of metal in sight. He only agrees to take on the dragon when the child offers him limitless metal for life - he's a surprisingly unaltruistic hero. And he goes into the fire three times. but he spends the rest of his life aimlessly chewing metal (until the events of the not-as-good but still cool Iron Woman, at least). The Iron Man seems to me the one with the problems, although admittedly he's not trying to destroy earth.

But this brings me to my next point. It's a lazy and dull idea, sure, but I think The Iron Man is an allegory. The Iron Man=Ted. Metal=poetry. Farmers=critics. Space-bat-angel-dragon (controversial, this)= Sylvia. The reason is this. The sbad is originally a star spirit meant to sing beautiful songs to the universe (ie to write lovely poetry). Through the ghastliness of earth it ends up with a mass of serious problems (somewhere in the letters he refers to the damage she would do to people who loved her); and the Iron Man defeats it ("...the way I caused Sylvia to suffer..."p218) by fire, making it his slave but freeing it to resume its original function (ie in death she becomes the poet she was going to be). I guess the allegory breaks down here...

I can hear my dear readers ask why I am spending my life thinking about this crap. The main reason is that I have taught the damn book about a million times to primary children so it's kind of stuck in my head.

Anyhow, as a parting shot: I still think Ted Hughes is an underrated poet, whose reputation will grow as time goes on. He really was one in a million. As was Sylvia Plath. No doubt the controversial Graham Hancock would claim Ted Hughes as one of the 2% of the population who can experience shamanic-type visions without the aid of fasting or drugs...perhaps he was. It says a lot that when he died I remember the Torygraph writing, "at the tragically early age of 68". With someone like him, only a lifespan of 150+ would have seemed enough.

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