Andy Stanton on a story whose every turn is unexpected…
The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.
How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where did he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.
From those timeless, peerless opening lines I was hooked, wide-eyed and believing. The Iron Man is subtitled ‘A Children’s Story in Five Nights’, but its morality, lyricism and wisdom transcends such categorisations. This is a true modern fable, which will resonate with anyone possessed of the imagination and sensitivity to enter into its world.
And what a strange world it is. If the iron man himself is a frightening, alien thing (I remember being appalled/enthralled as his enormous, disembodied hands go crawling, crab-like, over the beach in search of the rest of his body), then wait until you get to the truly terrifying Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon which invades the earth...
Apart from the brilliant, lucid language, what I love is that every turn in the story is unexpected – and yet somehow perfectly inevitable. Touching on a number of big themes, it is nonetheless entirely of itself; and its lessons are never once preachy, obvious or contrived.
Years later, I parodied the opening lines in my first book:
One day a massive whopper of a dog came to live on the outskirts of town. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. What strange things had he seen? Nobody knows. What was his name? Everybody knows. It was Jake the dog.
I didn’t even need to look them up from the original. They’re hard-wired into me forever.
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, ill. Tom Gauld is published by Faber and Faber (978 0 5712 2612 2) at £4.99 pbk. Andy Stanton’s latest book, Mr Gum in 'the Hound of Lamonic Bibber', ill. David Tazzyman is published by Egmont (978 1 4052 5822 7) at £9.99 pbk.