After reading the last line to ansate's node about the acceptance of gay men calling for men's liberation, I was reminded of a paper I wrote for my freshmen level university english class a few years back. The class was about fairy tales, and for a final paper I chose to write about fairy tales and the masculinist movement, mostly because it was different and no one else would have done it. Anyway, though I still think a good majority of the so-called men's movement is crap, there were a lot of interesting things in the story "Iron John," selected by Robert Bly, a leader of the men's movement, as the definition of the movement.

“Iron John” was one of the many fairy stories discovered by the brothers Grimm for their collection, and in modern times, has been translated by Robert Bly. It has many of the elements of normal fairy tales: kings, princesses, magic, and heroism. On the surface there doesn’t seem to be anything more extraordinary about this tale than in any other. Some would claim, however that this is not true. The masculinists, for one, would disagree, as they hold this to be, perhaps the greatest example of their view in the literature of fairy stories. Why do they hold this story to be so great? Because they say that it symbolizes a near perfect progression of a male from the beginning of his walk into complete manhood to the end.

Robert Bly writes of the male progression of receptiveness and freedom through the past four decades. He describes the males of these times in general terms. The males he described are the males of the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties. Our knowledge of what he said about these males, as well as the masculinist view as a whole, will advance as we progress through the story of “Iron John.” Here presented are, what I feel to be, the most important parts of the story, as an entire in-depth look at this story is far beyond the scope of my modest talent and the length of this paper. The story is simple, though not familiar to many. The first part reads as follows: There was a king who lived near a dangerous forest. No one who entered the forest ever came back out. One day a hunter entered the forest, and saw his dog snatched by a naked arm rising out of a pond. He went to the king and gathered three men, who helped him bucket out the water. At the bottom they found a man, the color of rust, with hair down below his knees. This man they took to the king’s courtyard and had him caged. The king ordered that the Wild Man should not be let out. The key was then given to the queen, who put it under her pillow.

Let’s stop here for a moment to reflect on what meanings masculinists derive from the events already happened. First, they say that the most important step, the step which most males never take, has just been taken. The male has entered the woods alone, and found the Hairy Man or the Wild Man. He has, with the help of other men who will enter the forest, looked deep within the waters of his soul, and found the Wild Man. A step which has eluded males for generations.

As we learn from Bly the male of the fifties was an aggressive, patriotic, provider; he was nonreceptive, and kept himself emotionally isolated. He knew decisively what man was, but his lack of open-mindedness rendered him obsolete. The male of the sixties began to question the fifties image of what a male was. This reflectivness was fueled by the Vietnam War. It caused many men to reflect on their feminine side. If their masculine side was to be nurtured through Vietnam, as many came to believe, they would concentrate on their feminine side. The masculinists see nothing wrong with this, but many men think it is the last step, when in reality, it is one of the first. The seventies are where the “soft male” began to emerge. The “soft male” is one who can say, “I can feel your pain, and I consider your life as important as mine, and I will take care of you and comfort you. But he could not say what he wanted and stick by it." These “soft males” are life-preserving, but not life-giving; they are compliant, peaceful, and sympathetic, but not happy. He is, in the eyes of feminists and masculinists, superior to his father, however, feminists see the male’s progress as needing to go further in their direction, while the masculinists see males as needing to regain their vitality and travel a different path.

There is a fear of change that is apparent upon the finding of the Hairy Man. His discovery can open up a receptive side that, if developed, means the man “gets to write poetry and go out and sit by the ocean, he doesn’t have to be on top all the time in sex anymore, he becomes empathetic."

The story continues when the young prince loses his golden ball in the cage of the Wild Man. The Wild Man agrees to give it back, but only if the young prince releases him. He runs away, and the same thing happens again on the second day. On the third day, the prince admits he does not know where the key is. The wild Man tells him, the prince retrieves the key, opens the lock, which pinches his finger, and lets the Wild Man out. He then cries because his parents will beat him for disobedience, so the Wild Man takes him to the forest with him.

Something very important has just happened here, probably one of the most significant things, in my opinion. If you agree with Bly’s interpretation, then the golden ball “reminds of that unity of personality we had… a kind of radiance, or wholeness, before we split into male and female, rich or poor, good or bad." We can all, whether you agree or not, look back to a simpler time when we were not male or female, rich or poor, we were just us, and that was good enough, not only for us, but for all of our peers. The Wild Man offers us this ball back, but only at a price.

Now we look at the recovery of the key, which Charles Upton believes to be the key factor of the first part of this story. He states more explicitly that it is “the primary separation of the young male from the maternal principle, which leads to, and is also precipitated by, the liberation of the Wild Man." Bly seems to take to Freudian psychology on this, indicating that “the key is right where Freud said it would be." I have to disagree with this one, as he indicates that Freud’s idea was that the pillow is important because it is where your mother makes love to your father. I do agree with Michael Meade, who says that the pillow comes into play because “the pillow is the place where the mother stores all her expectations for you."

At the close of his discussion, Bly makes a statement that fascinates me, and should initiate some thought. He states that “No mother worth her salt would give the key. If a son can’t steal it, he doesn’t deserve it." However, this “theft” can take a long time. It is suggested by both Bly and Upton that perhaps the first time the boy asks for his ball back he is eight years old, as suggested in the story. The second time he may be as old as twenty-two, and the third time he is even as old as thirty-five.

Then we have the pinched finger. I was not able to discern what the general idea of it represented, other than a self-inflicted wound we receive when we try and release the Wild Man. The releasing of the Wild Man does something to this wound though. When we finally release him, this wound is no longer regarded as bad luck, but a gift. This follows from the process of initiation.

An overview of a complete initiatory process is given by Bly, but further simplified by Upton into the following stages of “’Classic Initiation’ … as: bonding and separation from the mother; bonding and separation from the father; the drawing of the mentor, or ‘male mother’; apprenticeship to a god; and the Sacred Marriage." The first three of these stages, bonding and separation from mother and father and drawing a mentor, are achieved early in the story, by the theft of the key, the releasing of the Wild Man, and then running off with him into the forest. However, Bly and Upton disagree on the “male mother.” Bly insists that the mentor must be male, Upton doesn’t believe it has to be that way.

Towards the end of the story, the prince, returned from war, attends a festival in disguise. The princess throws out a golden apple on each day of the festival, and on each day the prince arrives in a different color of armor, red, then white, then black. Both Bly and Upton place similar themes to this, though through different stories.

Bly sticks to his evaluation of “Iron John” to give us meaning behind each of the colors. Red, he says, is a Martian hue. When the man is in the red, he will shout and be angry; he will fight and is not afraid. The next color is that of white, and because of today’s society, often males are rushed to the white stage, thereby being deprived of the valuable red stage. However, this takes away knowledge of how to use your anger, and lessens the experience you have with it; it makes the anger harder to control in the later years. White is an emblem of a warrior on the side of good; he is no longer “randomly antisocial” in Bly’s words. Saint George and the Dragon is a tale he refers to. The men of today who are pushed quickly through the red stage try to aspire to St. George, but are often insufferable due to the lack of time spent in the red. These people will “characteristically set up a false war with some concretized dragon, such as Poverty or Drugs.” Black symbolizes a descent into woundedness, further supported as the prince is wounded by a sword as he rides from the festival on the third day. Bly summarizes his own theories of the meanings of the colors in a simple rumor about an event during the last years of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

A mother once got into the White House and woke Lincoln up at five in the morning, saying her son had been sent by train to Washington a few days before, had had no sleep, had been assigned to guard duty on arriving, had fallen asleep, and now was going to be shot at eight that morning. If Lincoln had been in the red, he might have shouted for the guards, “Who let this woman in here? Get her out of here!” If he were in the white he might have said, “Madam, we all have to obey rules. Your son didn’t obey the rules, and I feel as bad about as you do, but I can’t intervene.” He didn’t say either of those things. He said, “Well, I guess shooting him wouldn’t help much,” and he signed a piece of paper. We notice that humor comes with the black.

Upton expresses similar thoughts on the colors, but uses an entirely different story, that of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The protagonist, Portia, is being pursued by three suitors. She conceals a portrait of herself in one of three caskets: a golden one, representing the red; a silver one, emblematic of the white; and a leaden one, symbolic of the black. Further each has an inscription: The golden reads, “Who chooseth me shall get what many men desire”; the silver reads, “Who chooseth me shall get as he deserves”; the leaden one reads, “Who chooseth me must hazard all he hath.” Here Upton calls upon terms originated by the Sufis to further describe the colors.

The first (red) represents the state of an individual ruled by lower desires and willfulness, what the Sufis call “the commanding soul.” The second shows an individual ruled by scruples; the Sufi term is “the accusing soul.” The third is the state of an individual ruled by the Spirit of God; the Sufis name this state “the soul at peace.”

These certainly seem to correspond to Bly’s definitions. The red is equated with displays of anger, then with an individual ruled by primal urges. The white is equated with a man who is certain of his righteousness and may even fight false dragons, then is given the name “the accusing soul.” And the black, equated with woundedness and humor, is later named “the soul at peace.” The black is the one, to me, which seems to carry the tones of justice, and is the most refined of the three. The masculine movement is a reality in this day and age. It is often laughed at and scorned by many. And, while many of the stereotypes associated with it --men out in the woods naked, beating on drums—have served to cripple its public image, it continues on, undaunted. I can see a certain validity in many of their interpretations. They try and give examples of a perfect ascension from child to man, the bulk of which I haven’t even scratched. However ludicrous I find some of their assumptions and ideas, I see a certain validity in many of the things they have presented: The golden ball interpretation, the definition and progression of the three colors, and the idea of the initiation. They are not only present in the stories mentioned here, but elements of them can be found all over literature. The golden ball can be found in the “Frog Prince”, the colors in “Prince Ivan and the Firebird”, and the idea of initiation in almost any classic story told to children. In fine, despite its lack of credibility and often ridiculous notions, the masculine viewpoint has the ability to expand our perception of certain fairy story and other literary elements, if and only if, we suspend the notions given us by society, and look at it from a black perspective.

One day coming up I will actually node the fairy tale Iron John itself if anyone has any interest.

The full story:

There was once upon a time a king who had a great forest near his palace, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out a huntsman to shoot him a roe, but he did not come back. Perhaps some accident has befallen him, said the king, and the next day he sent out two more huntsmen who were to search for him, but they too stayed away. Then on the third day, he sent for all his huntsmen, and said, "Scour the whole forest through, and do not give up until you have found all three." But of these also, none came home again, and of the pack of hounds which they had taken with them, none were seen again. From that time forth, no one would any longer venture into the forest, and it lay there in deep stillness and solitude, and nothing was seen of it, but sometimes an eagle or a hawk flying over it. This lasted for many years, when an unknown huntsman announced himself to the king as seeking a situation, and offered to go into the dangerous forest. The king, however, would not give his consent, and said, "it is not safe in there, I fear it would fare with you no better than with the others, and you would never come out again." The huntsman replied, "Lord, I shall venture it at my own risk, of fear I know nothing."

The huntsman therefore betook himself with his dog to the forest. It was not long before the dog fell in with some game on the way, and wanted to pursue it, but hardly had the dog run two steps when it stood before a deep pool, could go no farther, and a naked arm stretched itself out of the water, seized it, and drew it under. When the huntsman saw that, he went back and fetched three men to come with buckets and bale out the water. When they could see to the bottom there lay a wild man whose body was brown like rusty iron, and whose hair hung over his face down to his knees. They bound him with cords, and led him away to the castle. There was great astonishment over the wild man, the king, however, had him put in an iron cage in his courtyard, and forbade the door to be opened on pain of death, and the queen herself was to take the key into her keeping. And from this time forth every one could again go into the forest with safety.

The king had a son of eight years, who was once playing in the court-yard, and while he was playing, his golden ball fell into the cage. The boy ran thither and said,"Give me my ball."
"Not till you have opened the door for me," answered the man.
"No," said the boy, "I shall not do that, the king has forbidden it," and ran away. The next day he again went and asked for his ball. The wild man said, "Open my door," but the boy would not. On the third day the king had ridden out hunting, and the boy went once more and said, "I cannot open the door even if I wished, for I have not the key." Then the wild man said, "It lies under your mother's pillow, you can get it there." The boy, who wanted to have his ball back, cast all thought to the winds, and brought the key. The door opened with difficulty, and the boy pinched his fingers. When it was open the wild man stepped out, gave him the golden ball, and hurried away. The boy had become afraid, he called and cried after him, "Oh, wild man, do not go away, or I shall be beaten." The wild man turned back, took him up, set him on his shoulder, and went with hasty steps into the forest. When the king came home, he observed the empty cage, and asked the queen how that had happened. She knew nothing about it, and sought the key, but it was gone. She called the boy, but no one answered. The king sent out people to seek for him in the fields, but they did not find him. Then he could easily guess what had happened, and much grief reigned in the royal court.

When the wild man had once more reached the dark forest, he took the boy down from his shoulder, and said to him, "You will never see your father and mother again, but I shall keep you with me, for you have set me free, and I have compassion for you. If you do all I bid you, you shall fare well. Of treasure and gold have I enough, and more than anyone in the world." He made a bed of moss for the boy on which he slept, and the next morning the man took him to a well, and said, "Behold, the gold well is as bright and clear as crystal, you will sit beside it, and take care that nothing falls into it, or it will be polluted. I shall come every evening to see if you have obeyed my order." The boy placed himself by the brink of the well, and often saw a golden fish or a golden snake show itself therein, and took care that nothing fell in. As he was thus sitting, his finger hurt him so violently that he involuntarily put it in the water. He drew it quickly out again, but saw that it was quite gilded, and whatsoever pains he took to wash the gold off again, all was to no purpose. In the evening iron Hans came back, looked at the boy, and said, "What has happened to the well?"
"Nothing, nothing," he answered, and held his finger behind his back, that the man might not see it. But he said, "You have dipped your finger into the water, this time it may pass, but take care you do not again let anything go in." By daybreak the boy was already sitting by the well and watching it. His finger hurt him again and he passed it over his head, and then unhappily a hair fell down into the well. He took it quickly out, but it was already quite gilded. Iron Hans came, and already knew what had happened. "You have let a hair fall into the well," said he. I shall allow you to watch by it once more, but if this happens for the third time then the well is polluted, and you can no longer remain with me."

On the third day, the boy sat by the well, and did not stir his finger, however much it hurt him. But the time was long to him, and he looked at the reflection of his face on the surface of the water. And as he still bent down more and more while he was doing so, and trying to look straight into the eyes, his long hair fell down from his shoulders into the water. He raised himself up quickly, but the whole of the hair of his head was already golden and shone like the sun. You can imagine how terrified the poor boy was. He took his pocket-handkerchief and tied it round his head, in order that the man might not see it. When he came he already knew everything, and said, "Take the handkerchief off." Then the golden hair streamed forth, and let the boy excuse himself as he might, it was of no use. "You have not stood the trial, and can stay here no longer. Go forth into the world, there you will learn what poverty is. But as you have not a bad heart, and as I mean well by you, there is one thing I will grant you. If you fall into any difficulty, come to the forest and cry, "Iron Hans," and then I shall come and help you. My power is great, greater than you think, and I have gold and silver in abundance."

Then the king's son left the forest, and walked by beaten and unbeaten paths ever onwards until at length he reached a great city. There he looked for work, but could find none, and he had learnt nothing by which he could help himself. At length he went to the palace, and asked if they would take him in. The people about court did not at all know what use they could make of him, but they liked him, and told him to stay. At length the cook took him into his service, and said he might carry wood and water, and rake the cinders together. Once when it so happened that no one else was at hand, the cook ordered him to carry the food to the royal table, but as he did not like to let his golden hair be seen, he kept his little cap on. Such a thing as that had never yet come under the king's notice, and he said, "When you come to the royal table you must take your hat off." He answered, "Ah, lord, I cannot. I have a bad sore place on my head." Then the king had the cook called before him and scolded him, and asked how he could take such a boy as that into his service, and that he was to send him away at once. The cook, however, had pity on him, and exchanged him for the gardener's boy. And now the boy had to plant and water the garden, hoe and dig, and bear the wind and bad weather.

Once in summer when he was working alone in the garden, the day was so warm he took his little cap off that the air might cool him. As the sun shone on his hair it glittered and flashed so that the rays fell into the bedroom of the king's daughter, and up she sprang to see what that could be. Then she saw the boy, and cried to him, "Boy, bring me a wreath of flowers." He put his cap on with all haste, and gathered wild field-flowers and bound them together. When he was ascending the stairs with them, the gardener met him, and said,"How can you take the king's daughter a garland of such common flowers? Go quickly, and get another, and seek out the prettiest and rarest."
"Oh, no," replied the boy, "the wild ones have more scent, and will please her better." When he got into the room, the king's daughter said, "Take your cap off, it is not seemly to keep it on in my presence." He again said, "I may not, I have a sore head." She, however, caught at his cap and pulled it off, and then his golden hair rolled down on his shoulders, and it was splendid to behold. He wanted to run out, but she held him by the arm, and gave him a handful of ducats. With these he departed, but he cared nothing for the gold pieces. He took them to the gardener, and said, "I present them to your children, they can play with them." The following day the king's daughter again called to him that he was to bring her a wreath of field-flowers, and when he went in with it, she instantly snatched at his cap, and wanted to take it away from him, but he held it fast with both hands. She again gave him a handful of ducats, but he would not keep them, and gave them to the gardener for playthings for his children. On the third day things went just the same. She could not get his cap away from him, and he would not have her money. Not long afterwards, the country was overrun by war. The king gathered together his people, and did not know whether or not he could offer any opposition to the enemy, who was superior in strength and had a mighty army. Then said the gardener's boy, "I am grown up, and shall go to the wars also, only give me a horse." The others laughed, and said, "Seek one for yourself when we are gone, we shall leave one behind us in the stable for you." When they had gone forth, he went into the stable, and led the horse out. It was lame of one foot, and limped hobblety jig, hobblety jig, nevertheless he mounted it, and rode away to the dark forest. When he came to the outskirts, he called "Iron Hans" three times so loudly that it echoed through the trees. Thereupon the wild man appeared immediately, and said, "What do you desire?"
"I want a strong steed, for I am going to the wars."
"That you will have, and still more than you ask for." Then the wild man went back into the forest, and it was not long before a stable-boy came out of it, who led a horse that snorted with its nostrils, and could hardly be restrained, and behind them followed a great troop of warriors entirely equipped in iron, and their swords flashed in the sun. The youth made over his three-legged horse to the stable-boy, mounted the other, and rode at the head of the soldiers. When he got near the battlefield a great part of the king's men had already fallen, and little was wanting to make the rest give way. Then the youth galloped thither with his iron soldiers, broke like a hurricane over the enemy, and beat down all who opposed him. They began to flee, but the youth pursued, and never stopped, until there was not a single man left. Instead of returning to the king, however, he conducted his troop by byways back to the forest, and called forth iron Hans. "What do you desire?" asked the wild man.
"Take back your horse and your troops, and give me my three-legged horse again."
All that he asked was done, and soon he was riding on his three-legged horse. When the king returned to his palace, his daughter went to meet him, and wished him joy of his victory. "I am not the one who carried away the victory," said he, "but a strange knight who came to my assistance with his soldiers." The daughter wanted to hear who the strange knight was, but the king did not know, and said, "He followed the enemy, and I did not see him again." She inquired of the gardener where his boy was, but he smiled, and said, "He has just come home on his three-legged horse, and the others have been mocking him, and crying, here comes our hobblety jig back again." They asked, too, "Under what hedge have you been lying sleeping all the time?" So he said, "I did the best of all, and it would have gone badly without me." And then he was still more ridiculed.

The king said to his daughter, "I shall proclaim a great feast that shall last for three days, and you shall throw a golden apple. Perhaps the unknown man will show himself. When the feast was announced, the youth went out to the forest, and called iron Hans. "What do you desire?" asked he.
"That I may catch the king's daughter's golden apple."
"It is as safe as if you had it already," said iron Hans. "You shall likewise have a suit of red armour for the occasion, and ride on a spirited chestnut-horse." When the day came, the youth galloped to the spot, took his place amongst the knights, and was recognized by no one. The king's daughter came forward, and threw a golden apple to the knights, but none of them caught it but he, only as soon as he had it he galloped away.

On the second day iron Hans equipped him as a white knight, and gave him a white horse. Again he was the only one who caught the apple, and he did not linger an instant, but galloped off with it. The king grew angry, and said, "That is not allowed. He must appear before me and tell his name." He gave the order that if the knight who caught the apple should go away again they should pursue him, and if he would not come back willingly, they were to cut him down and stab him.

On the third day, he received from iron Hans a suit of black armour and a black horse, and again he caught the apple. But when he was riding off with it, the king's attendants pursued him, and one of them got so near him that he wounded the youth's leg with the point of his sword. The youth nevertheless escaped from them, but his horse leapt so violently that the helmet fell from the youth's head, and they could see that he had golden hair. They rode back and announced this to the king. The following day the king's daughter asked the gardener about his boy. " He is at work in the garden. The queer creature has been at the festival too, and only came home yesterday evening. He has likewise shown my children three golden apples which he has won."

The king had him summoned into his presence, and he came and again had his little cap on his head. But the king's daughter went up to him and took it off, and then his golden hair fell down over his shoulders, and he was so handsome that all were amazed. "Are you the knight who came every day to the festival, always in different colours, and who caught the three golden apples?" asked the king. "Yes," answered he, "and here the apples are, and he took them out of his pocket, and returned them to the king. If you desire further proof, you may see the wound which your people gave me when they followed me. But I am likewise the knight who helped you to your victory over your enemies."
"If you can perform such deeds as that, you are no gardener's boy, tell me, whom is your father?"
"My father is a mighty king, and gold have I in plenty as great as I require."
"I well see," said the king, "that I owe thanks to you, can I do anything to please you?"
"Yes," answered he, that indeed you can. Give me your daughter to wife." The maiden laughed, and said, "He does not stand much on ceremony, but I have already seen by his golden hair that he was no gardener's boy," and then she went and kissed him. His father and mother came to the wedding, and were in great delight, for they had given up all hope of ever seeing their dear son again. And as they were sitting at the marriage feast, the music suddenly stopped, the doors opened, and a stately king came in with a great retinue. He went up to the youth, embraced him and said, "I am iron Hans, and was by enchantment a wild man, but you have set me free. All the treasures which I possess shall be your property."

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