The Iron Man masterfully mixes science fiction with a modern fairy tale and remains among Ted Hughes’s best known books for children.
What happens in The Iron Man?
The poet and children’s writer Ted Hughes was born in Yorkshire, in 1930. His writing is immensely varied, but often concerns the relationship between nature and industry.
The Iron Man tells the story of a gigantic metal robot who appears out of nowhere, crashing onto the beach and shattering into many parts. He is discovered by a young boy called Hogarth, who becomes his friend. The Iron Man proceeds to devour farm machinery, until the farmers rise up against him and threaten to bring in the army. Hogarth comes to his rescue and suggests that the monster should be left in peace to feed from the scrap metal yard.
But the Iron Man isn't the only strange creature to visit Earth. The story continues with appearance of the ‘Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon’, an alien monster from outer space. Will the Iron Man defeat him? Is he a friend or foe? Will there ever be lasting peace on Earth and harmony between man and nature?
Popularity and legacy
Hughes first created his classic tale The Iron Man as a bedtime story for his own children, giving it the title The Iron Man: A Story in Five Nights. It has been enduringly popular with children since it was first published in 1968. In 1993, twenty-five years later, Hughes even published a sequel called The Iron Woman. This book carries a stronger ecological message about pollution.
Hughes's vivid imagery and poetic use of sound are also key to The Iron Man's popularity. The opening image of the metal giant is iconic: 'Taller than a house, the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness'. As ‘the Iron Man stepped forward, off the cliff, into nothingness’, readers are visually alerted to the loud ‘CRRRAAAASSSSSSH!’ that occurs!
This is the first edition, published in 1968 by Faber & Faber, with drawings by George Adamson. Adamson was born in 1913 and held dual British and American nationality. He was an experienced illustrator, a cartoonist for Punch, and had served as an official war artist during World War Two. He worked on several of Hughes’s books for children, including The Iron Man.
- Full title:
- The Iron Man: A Story in Five Nights / by Ted Hughes; Illustrated by George Adamson
- 1968, Faber & Faber, 24 Russell Square, London
- Faber & Faber
- Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
- Ted Hughes, George Adamson
- Usage terms
Ted Hughes: © The Ted Hughes Estate. No copying, republication or modification is allowed for material © The Ted Hughes Estate. For further use of this material please seek formal permission from the copyright holder.
© Reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.
George Adamson: © George Adamson / Bridgeman Images. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Simon Armitage
- Literature 1950–2000
Ted Hughes believed that poetry had the power to heal and transform, to change perceptions and to alter states. Like many of us, Simon Armitage first encountered Hughes’s poetry at school and was captivated by his ability to distill the complexity of human experience. Here he explores some of Hughes’s themes and interests and the impact he had on his own life and work.
- Article by:
- Jamila Gavin
- Fairy tales and folktales, Go deeper
Fairy tales and folktales are so much more than entertainment. They reflect our history and culture, our fears and our dreams. When did we start to write them down and how have they changed over time?