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Iron John: A Book About Men

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In this deeply learned book, poet and translator Robert Bly offers nothing less than a new vision of what it is to be a man.Bly's vision is based on his ongoing work with men and reflections on his own life. He addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Finding rich meaning in ancient stories an In this deeply learned book, poet and translator Robert Bly offers nothing less than a new vision of what it is to be a man.Bly's vision is based on his ongoing work with men and reflections on his own life. He addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Finding rich meaning in ancient stories and legends, Bly uses the Grimm fairy tale "Iron John," in which the narrator, or "Wild Man," guides a young man through eight stages of male growth, to remind us of archetypes long forgotten-images of vigorous masculinity, both protective and emotionally centered.Simultaneously poetic and down-to-earth, combining the grandeur of myth with the practical and often painful lessons of our own histories, Iron John is a rare work that will continue to guide and inspire men-and women-for years to come.


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In this deeply learned book, poet and translator Robert Bly offers nothing less than a new vision of what it is to be a man.Bly's vision is based on his ongoing work with men and reflections on his own life. He addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Finding rich meaning in ancient stories an In this deeply learned book, poet and translator Robert Bly offers nothing less than a new vision of what it is to be a man.Bly's vision is based on his ongoing work with men and reflections on his own life. He addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Finding rich meaning in ancient stories and legends, Bly uses the Grimm fairy tale "Iron John," in which the narrator, or "Wild Man," guides a young man through eight stages of male growth, to remind us of archetypes long forgotten-images of vigorous masculinity, both protective and emotionally centered.Simultaneously poetic and down-to-earth, combining the grandeur of myth with the practical and often painful lessons of our own histories, Iron John is a rare work that will continue to guide and inspire men-and women-for years to come.

30 review for Iron John: A Book About Men

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ruzz

    Having just pushed through the deep lakes of thought Bly makes us dwell in, and having exhausted a lot of energy traveling miles and miles of metaphor I feel short of power to describe this book. I can say that I am, and few would disagree, the least among you to be found in a drum circle, or even drinking starbuck's. Which is not to say that I am better, only more stubborn about these things. And now further admitting my manhood is not at all comfortable with the idea of needing a "men's moveme Having just pushed through the deep lakes of thought Bly makes us dwell in, and having exhausted a lot of energy traveling miles and miles of metaphor I feel short of power to describe this book. I can say that I am, and few would disagree, the least among you to be found in a drum circle, or even drinking starbuck's. Which is not to say that I am better, only more stubborn about these things. And now further admitting my manhood is not at all comfortable with the idea of needing a "men's movement" and winces at the very thought. Now, having admitted both above to for your consideration I wish to say only that this book is not what I thought it would be, and I am deeply grateful for that. It is not a manifesto, or a self help instructional, nor commentary passing as self-aggrandizement. It is not an attack (backhanded or otherwise) at women--though I can understand why some modern thinking mothers may feel it is--in fact I felt too often he wasted repeated qualifying line after qualifying line for the sole sake of comforting his women readers, soon to be attackers. in any case, despite his verbosity he has a genuine richness of mind and spirit and perhaps his real gift is to free men to think in myth again. Perhaps in time the true value of this meandering philosophical work will be revealed as stealing back some wonder and mysticism in an age of reason. humans love metaphors because most things that mean anything are not so tame as to fit into a single word. Witness the blandness of the word love, or hate, or orgasm when compared to the complexity and depth of the actual thing. And the metaphor is often the closest an author can get to the real thing in written form, and in many ways its the closest some of us can come to painful parts of ourselves. Through this perhaps Bly has found a language for self interaction that free's us from the clinician lurking within us. Gone are terms like Self Esteem or Ego or confidence and in come the king, and the warriors who protect them and perhaps we find we still have some fight left in us. Perhaps, freed from science we can use imagination to bridge an otherwise uncrossable divide between where we are and where we need to be. Bly hands us this and I think it is on us resist its complexity, and our desire to consume it. It's on us to allow it to sink in and become part of our vocabulary for visualizing the world, and ourselves.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    Oh, man. We all know how it's said that we can't judge books by their covers, or at least that we shouldn't...but this book can be judged easily with a quick glance at the back cover. Here is the author. Note the "ethnic" vest over the button-up shirt and velvet ascot. This sums up, metaphorically, my experience of the contents of the book. A little bit hippie, a little bit new-age fetishist, a little bit ladies-man-of-the-1970's...and a little bit straightlaced and conservative underneath it al Oh, man. We all know how it's said that we can't judge books by their covers, or at least that we shouldn't...but this book can be judged easily with a quick glance at the back cover. Here is the author. Note the "ethnic" vest over the button-up shirt and velvet ascot. This sums up, metaphorically, my experience of the contents of the book. A little bit hippie, a little bit new-age fetishist, a little bit ladies-man-of-the-1970's...and a little bit straightlaced and conservative underneath it all. So, he's basically promoting the male version of the "bleeding warriors of peace" women who paint murals of pregnant goddesses growing out of trees. I tried really hard to give this book a fair chance. After all, Robert Bly has taken the time to suggest that men are alienated from their masculine natures and that this condition is bad for everybody. I can get behind that. But I just can't tolerate sentences like "Men and women alike once called on men to pierce the dangerous places, carry handfuls of courage to the waterfalls, dust the tails of the wild boars". WTF? "Dusting" the tails of pigs?

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sohaib

    A big "poem" on masculinity, every man should read this book. I don't think I can emphasize this enough. And I guess conjoining the word "masculine" and the word "poem" here is "pregnant" with meaning; that is, so much can be induced here. I'm not saying that poetry is exclusively feminine. It's just that being masculine but lacking the ability to "shudder," as Robert Bly puts it, isn't the real thing—it's the masculine shadow, ungrounded, holding the sword, and swinging it sideways, aimlessly. A big "poem" on masculinity, every man should read this book. I don't think I can emphasize this enough. And I guess conjoining the word "masculine" and the word "poem" here is "pregnant" with meaning; that is, so much can be induced here. I'm not saying that poetry is exclusively feminine. It's just that being masculine but lacking the ability to "shudder," as Robert Bly puts it, isn't the real thing—it's the masculine shadow, ungrounded, holding the sword, and swinging it sideways, aimlessly. True masculinity, in other words, is capable of feeling. The goal of this book is to initiate men from boyhood (or pretence of manhood) into manhood. The journey begins with the mother and father, building the bond, swimming in their pond, breaking away, stealing the keys from under the mother's pillow, meeting the Woman with the Golden Hair, cultivating the garden, winning the battle. And finally, the boy once, a man now, a Golden Man now, proposes to the Golden Woman. In Iron John's story, these events build up quickly. In real life, however, the individuating man would be fifty by the end. Iron John, The Wild Man, is a symbol: not for the macho/alpha male we see in popular culture, but for that man in touch with the earth, grounded in his lower body, in touch with his instinct, with the uncanny impulses of the deep waters of the unconscious—spontaneous, vigorous, and alive. In a word, he has a strong emotional body that can endure Life. All I can say, I love this book! I'm definitely reading it again!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    The promising start: 1. 'Modern men' are losing their identity •"...the images of adult manhood given by popular culture are worn out; a man can no longer depend on them". p.1/237 2. 'Feminised men' are unhappy •"[the soft male has] a gentle attitude toward life...but many of these men are not happy...women begand to desire softer men...it isn't working out". p.3/237 3. 'Feminised men' arose from recent historical changes in parenting •"The Industrial Revolution...pulled fathers away from their sons a The promising start: 1. 'Modern men' are losing their identity •"...the images of adult manhood given by popular culture are worn out; a man can no longer depend on them". p.1/237 2. 'Feminised men' are unhappy •"[the soft male has] a gentle attitude toward life...but many of these men are not happy...women begand to desire softer men...it isn't working out". p.3/237 3. 'Feminised men' arose from recent historical changes in parenting •"The Industrial Revolution...pulled fathers away from their sons and, moreover, placed the sons in compulsory schools where the teachers are mostly women". p.19/237 If this doesn't interest you, stop here. So, I thought, this book seems to describe how a son's relationship with his parents (mainly father) might gauge his masculinity. Despite the troubling lack of evidence or logic, and the suspicious repetition of the above three points with the dogmatic tone of "we all know that...[gender bias/phenomenon]" leading every chapter, I thought, this book might offer practical advice for Bly's so-called 'soft' males. ---- My disappointment: Maybe this book does, did or will help some men discover their identity, which is great, but the few glimmers I found in this I already think I understood by more transparent, recent sources (Freud/Jung/fiction to my own observations). I tried to like this book, but by the end, disliked this book for 2 main reasons. SPOILER ALERT (If this book can have one?) 1.It offers no clear practical advice "Moreover, I am afraid of how-to-do-it books on the Wild Man". p.233/237 This bothered me, as reading 200 pages of, let's face it, very abstract, unrealistic symbolic descriptions of "finding one's masculinity", one is left thinking how exactly this could be done. The only worth I could give this Iron John analogy was if it suggested a method, which if applied, helped one find what the book was suggesting was lost, 'masculinity'. Empiricism: uncredited theory>test> result>credit theory. However, I sometimes feel as if the descriptions served more to change the reader's political views. The president, the use of drugs, and gang warfare were repeatedly sneaked in as the only evidence for something to do with men without fathers. I felt like I was reading a sneaky propaganda piece trying to woo me in with claims to a higher power I alone lacked, no method of attaining it, and out-of-nowhere sociopolitical comparisons embedded as conclusions to a shaky argument. 2. I think this is potentially misleading to the majority of presently young men I'd say this is presently outdated for men already in their 18-30s, and to me this seems counter-intuitive for finding one's masculinity. Third wave feminism began after the publishing of this book which I think in Western societies has radically changed the general consensus on, and therefore usefulness, of 'traditional gender roles'. Also, doesn't 'poeticising' masculinity without providing practical guidance to attain it encourage men already trapped in 'female realm' to indulge further into the female realm? As in, describing figures as Kings and Godesses encourages men to idealise others, which is in itself seems to contribute directly to the rejection of the soft male. What use are principles grounded in fairy tales? Their context provides them no prescription to the possibilities, requirements or desires of reality. There are no bounds to it. For example, I could develop a fairy tale where (something like) the Wild Man exists as a non-human animal spirits which can be reached only by the closeness afforded by domestic household pets...everyone knows that cats inhabit the female realm and dogs inhabit the male realm *rolls eyes*...and say that dog owners are far more likely to find the Wild Man, and the basis for just 'how appealing' this sounded, some people might see this as actual advice. That might sound as ridiculous as Russell's teapot, but how many assertions of this book really satisfy a burden of proof? I just feel this book paints a picture of a boy whom becomes a man solely by having "the courage" to rely on others, which I think leaves no room for a more promising interpretation that a boy becomes a man when he becomes unreliant on others. Especially when there seems to be no one way to reach the Wild Man, or one way to 'ride the horses' provided by the Wild Man, it just seems like nothing concrete has been said at all even within the mythopoetic context for how and how not to find the path. --------- I would only recommend this to fatherless men particularly interested in acting on understanding the effects of the relationship they have/had/would have with their father. I'm trying to find books more constructive to discussing the current situation for masculinity in Western societies, I welcome recommendations.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amelia

    My boyfriend gave this to me and said "Please read this, I think it will help you understand me." So, with grim determination, and a not all too pleasant mindset, I began to read Iron John. Robert Bly is a respected poet and a "leader of men" or, a man who thinks he knows how to make men better men by teaching them to find the wild man inside of them and showing them when and how to make use of his characteristics. I'm not really a fan of the book. I couldn't finish it. This could be because I'm My boyfriend gave this to me and said "Please read this, I think it will help you understand me." So, with grim determination, and a not all too pleasant mindset, I began to read Iron John. Robert Bly is a respected poet and a "leader of men" or, a man who thinks he knows how to make men better men by teaching them to find the wild man inside of them and showing them when and how to make use of his characteristics. I'm not really a fan of the book. I couldn't finish it. This could be because I'm a woman. At first, I found it interesting, but as soon as he started talking about how woman have good intentions when trying to help men grow into themselves or assist in their daily problems we are doing more harm than good. While I agree that this might be true, he just says it too many times for me to be able to stand reading the book without feeling like a useless piece of crap. It disheartened me so much that I could not finish reading it. And Robert states that he means no ill will towards women, and he thinks we are wonderful creatures and have a large purpose in the lives of men, but we just can't do anything to help them and should probably stop trying. I handed it, unfinished, back to my boyfriend, apologized for not wanting to finish it and stated that I did understand him a little better, but I wasn't willing to buy into everything Bly is selling. He believes too firmly in ONE thing for me to be able to agree with him. There is no wiggle room in his theories for other things. If you are a man, chances are you will find a lot in this book helpful and informative, but if you're a woman, this book isn't for you, unless you are intellectually curious about what Bly has to say about the plight of the modern man.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bart Breen

    One of the Best Books I have ever Read .... Truly one of the best books I have ever read, and I have read many. Robert Bly is a Poet and the founder of a Man's Movement. In Iron John he brings both elements to bear in a way that will only truly be understood by men. That's right. I said it. This book requires a man to truly understand it. Women are welcome. I suppose a man can read Cosmo and come away with something too. You may find that sexist. You may find that unfair. Tough. That's the way it i One of the Best Books I have ever Read .... Truly one of the best books I have ever read, and I have read many. Robert Bly is a Poet and the founder of a Man's Movement. In Iron John he brings both elements to bear in a way that will only truly be understood by men. That's right. I said it. This book requires a man to truly understand it. Women are welcome. I suppose a man can read Cosmo and come away with something too. You may find that sexist. You may find that unfair. Tough. That's the way it is written and for whom it is written. There are some differences between Men and Woman that go beyond nature's plumbing. Society has a tendency to "civilize" men to keep them "safe" and "productive." There's good reason to do this. What is sad is when men are effectively emasculated and no longer able to commune and rejoice in that "Wild Man" Archetype from whence we came. The hunter, protector and leader. "Iron John" to be precise. Now don't get me wrong. This is not a book to walk away from and remake yourself in the image of an unkempt slob who scratches himself in public. This is not a shallow, "Be a MAN!" kinda read. I found myself profoundly affected in reading this as a man in his mid 30's (the age I was at the time.) I did not have a particularly close relationship with my father. In fact there were very few men to whom I could be said to have had a close friendship let a lone a mentoring relationship. Along comes this book and it presents through beautiful and accessible imagery a book that is about me. I found myself relating and understanding things that I long suspected, but didn't know. Robert Bly as it were put his arm around me and showed me through his imagery and modelling, what was missing in me. My identity and celebration of myself as a man. No woman can give that to me, though I love and respect women. My father didn't give it. I am the target of this book. A man who is drifting unable to connect with something essential. It's not surprising to me that the evaluations of this book are all over the map. If you aren't a male and if you aren't attuned to and needing the message of this book, it probably feels like you are reading someone else's "male" (pun intended) This book is especially great for men in their so-called "mid-life" crisis trying to come to terms with who they really are. Any man wanting to "find himself" can benefit from the work if they are able to assimilate and personalize what is presented here. Iron John has no particularly strong religious overtones. If you want a similar book with Christian context try John Eldridge's "Wild at Heart." I recommend Iron John strongly. I've experienced the message it brings and it is sorely needed in our society by men who have lost touch and connection with what it means to be a man.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    A book about perspectives on the "wildness" of men throughout history, with emphasis on the need for a return to the rites of passage laid out metaphorically in the "Iron John" tale as told by the Brothers Grimm, which likely dates back to ancient times. Sounds interesting, right? Except that it turns into a disconnected ramble that assumes anything "ancient" is automatically better than anything contemporary. This is a logical fallacy that makes me more angry every time I come across it. The re A book about perspectives on the "wildness" of men throughout history, with emphasis on the need for a return to the rites of passage laid out metaphorically in the "Iron John" tale as told by the Brothers Grimm, which likely dates back to ancient times. Sounds interesting, right? Except that it turns into a disconnected ramble that assumes anything "ancient" is automatically better than anything contemporary. This is a logical fallacy that makes me more angry every time I come across it. The reason humanity sought development was because the ancient world was a swirl of misery. Just because our attempt to perfect ourselves was a failed project, that doesn't mean the starting point was "better." In the typical style of adherents to this position, Bly points to the virtues of ancient religious & mythological sources (Shivaism, cult of Dionysis, etc.) without ever judging the actual outcomes for those who chose to participate in these systems. I mean, they're very old, so they must have been better, right? After a few good introductory chapters the Freudian and Jungian nonsense begins, often signified by phrases like "clearly this means" in reference to the most nebulous concepts. If someone dreams of swimming: "clearly this means his greatest wish is to return to the watery roots of the earliest organisms." Barf. Because of the incessant pseudo-mysticism, I was reminded of the time I tried to read Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces." At least the Star Wars movies came out of that...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    Nuggets of wisdom scattered amid the psychobabble.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ben De Bono

    Iron John is commonly regarded as one of the major men's books written over the past few decades. In many ways it functions as a secular Wild at Heart. It's an easy read that covers a lot of deep issues relating to masculinity. There's a lot to like about this book, as well as a few problems. I'll start with the good stuff. First, I love the mythological approach Bly takes to masculinity. He's considered one of the foremost figures in the Mythopoetic Men's Movement, and for good reason. He not o Iron John is commonly regarded as one of the major men's books written over the past few decades. In many ways it functions as a secular Wild at Heart. It's an easy read that covers a lot of deep issues relating to masculinity. There's a lot to like about this book, as well as a few problems. I'll start with the good stuff. First, I love the mythological approach Bly takes to masculinity. He's considered one of the foremost figures in the Mythopoetic Men's Movement, and for good reason. He not only understands the value of mythology, he's able to draw you into the myth and teach from it. Second, the book represented some unique takes on masculine initiation. Much of the discussion of initiation was familiar to other sources, and necessarily so. The only idea of initiation is walking a tried and true path, not reinventing the wheel. However, that doesn't mean there's no room for fresh perspective. I found Bly's suggestion that it may be beneficial and necessary for the lover archetype to come into a boy's life before the warrior to be fascinating. I'm not sure to what extent I agree, but I love the idea. Third, Iron John represents a balanced and holistic view of masculinity. There's no part of the book where it feels like Bly is short shifting one issue and overemphasizing another. As a result, this is a great introduction to masculine issues. Now for a couple of drawbacks. First, Bly can be a bit long winded at times. He's a terrific writer, and I certainly don't want a book that's so condensed and digestible that it loses the beauty of the language. Honestly, I can't stand books like that (I'm looking at you John Maxwell). However, there were times where it felt like a little more trimming would have been appropriate. Second, I come at men's issues from a mostly evangelical perspective, which Bly does not share. As a result there are places where Bly and I part ways rather decisively. This isn't a criticism in the sense that I expect Bly to share my views, but I also can't pretend as a reader to not be reading from my Christian worldview. As a result, I see Bly's work, while being very good and worthwhile, as ultimately falling short in several areas. The good far outweighs the bad in this one. This is a must read for any man seeking to understand himself or any woman interested in learning more about the men in her life

  10. 5 out of 5

    Evie

    What misogynistic drivel. "Real men" are dying off. Shut the fuck up. Hey boys (and yes I mean boys) and little girls who can't do things for yourself: Go live in a cave and draw on walls while your "aggressive and dangerous" man drags you by your hair and throws you on the bed because he doesn't respect you as a human being. After he's done banging on his chest you can watch him try to figure out how fire works. I'll stay in the 21st century with ACTUAL REAL men who aren't threatened by a chang What misogynistic drivel. "Real men" are dying off. Shut the fuck up. Hey boys (and yes I mean boys) and little girls who can't do things for yourself: Go live in a cave and draw on walls while your "aggressive and dangerous" man drags you by your hair and throws you on the bed because he doesn't respect you as a human being. After he's done banging on his chest you can watch him try to figure out how fire works. I'll stay in the 21st century with ACTUAL REAL men who aren't threatened by a changing world of female empowerment. And for those of you who think that that somehow equals man hate, I feel sorry for you.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Fuller

    Bly is sly. He talks about men without isolating women, without excluding the Divine Feminine from the male experience. In a day and age where the alpha male has been replaced by the only rational option, the beta male, Bly offers a third way, the nurturing Father. I really like the way Bly brings in fairy tale, mysticism, some gnosticism, and paganism, and um, even mythicism and also um the kitchen sink to describe the male ego in all of it's complexity. The most telling, for me, is the chapter on Bly is sly. He talks about men without isolating women, without excluding the Divine Feminine from the male experience. In a day and age where the alpha male has been replaced by the only rational option, the beta male, Bly offers a third way, the nurturing Father. I really like the way Bly brings in fairy tale, mysticism, some gnosticism, and paganism, and um, even mythicism and also um the kitchen sink to describe the male ego in all of it's complexity. The most telling, for me, is the chapter on the lost King, concerning modern men's relationships to their workaholic distant Fathers, and embracing of their Mothers. The mothers encouraged men to eschew manual labor (vulgar!) for more 'spiritual' work involving intellectualism. And obviously, with the Enlightenment and the dispatch of Kings, the male ego has no really earthly Father to gaze upon as a Spiritual Guide. Bly rightly points out that in aboriginal tribes such as Indian and Australian, male initiation still takes place for boys where today in postmodern Western society, the lack of men intervening in boys' lives makes the process much more drawn out, much more protracted and even postponed. What happens in some aboriginal boys' lives at age thirteen only happens to young 'men' aged forty in Western society. Initiation, for me personally, occurred anonymously and in my late thirties, and lasted much too long. I only now am just coming to grips with the fact it happened and the resultant implications. It is uncanny the path and waypoints the initiation takes as described in Bly's book and how it was meted out in my own experience, pointing to what must be a universal phenomenon that encompasses many cultures. I recommend this book for any man who has ever failed miserably at being a 'man'. The rest already have this stuff down pat, I'm sure.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Grant

    This book is absolutely loaded with psychological insight. Reading this book felt almost surreal at times because of how it brought together so many different things that I have read into a cohesive whole. Robert Bly discusses the importance of male initiation rituals on a male's psychological in theself-development in ancient societies. I had first become aware of the existence of these male initiation rituals through reading Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology. When I first read that book I This book is absolutely loaded with psychological insight. Reading this book felt almost surreal at times because of how it brought together so many different things that I have read into a cohesive whole. Robert Bly discusses the importance of male initiation rituals on a male's psychological in theself-development in ancient societies. I had first become aware of the existence of these male initiation rituals through reading Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology. When I first read that book I was thinking that modern men need a similar kind of system in order to harness the masculine power within in a constructive way. Men and male development are more complicated issues than contemporary society is willing to recognize. There is, as Robert Bly says and which I have noticed long before I even read this book, a subtle crisis in the modern world in regards to male mental health. Men are much more likely than women to commit suicide, and this is especially true in western countries. Obviously something must be done, and Robert Bly points the way. I will write a more in-depth review when I have the time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aric

    A cross between Jungian psychology, Poetry, and Fairy Tales, this book neatly intersects many of my primary interests. Written by the poet Robert Bly, it's an odd journey through the archetypal psychic development of men in western culture, focusing on the uses of and need for initiation rites and spiritual life, and a Jungian interpretation of the fairy tale "Iron John". There are some remarkable insights here, though also some pretty specious claims.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Donn

    This book is why I love Robert Bly. The modern man is lost, disheveled, and more broken everyday because there is no guidance to lead him into maturity, and through self-discovery. Utilizing the myth of Iron John, Robert Bly offers some answer to the wounds we receive in life, and how those too are means for us to grow well.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    I really don't like to give a book only three stars, especially when it's obvious the author worked so hard researching and writing. But, this book really only deserves three stars, in my opinion. Robert Bly really did his homework when he researced the myth of Iron John. He has an historical illustration for almost every word of the story. It's very impressive. But, for some reason I can't explain, Bly's writing is difficult for me to understand. I read most of his paragraphs over and over again I really don't like to give a book only three stars, especially when it's obvious the author worked so hard researching and writing. But, this book really only deserves three stars, in my opinion. Robert Bly really did his homework when he researced the myth of Iron John. He has an historical illustration for almost every word of the story. It's very impressive. But, for some reason I can't explain, Bly's writing is difficult for me to understand. I read most of his paragraphs over and over again before giving up and moving on, hoping I got the gist of what he's trying to communicate. That's one reason I gave it three stars. The other reason is I think some of his explanations and illustrations for situations in the story are really far-fetched. I think he does alot of stretching, and I'm not swallowing it. Really, do all of our actions have mystical implications? My favorite part of the book is when Bly encourages the reader to decide what he wants, and then pay for it. I repeat that sentiment to anyone who will listen. I also appreciate Bly's attempt to sypathize with and support the history and pertpetuation of human masculinity. I'm saddened to think of all we've lost as a species in that regard. So, I think it's a good book, and I recommend it to everyone; just be aware, you may find it difficult to understand and rather far-fetched at times.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Friedrich Haas

    There was a literal moment when my thinking shifted from hating my father to understanding how his life had broken him. In understanding and forgiving him, I also can do so for myself, and some others. I see how people get broken like bones, and heal with limps, and restrictions, and anger that they can not be who they wanted to be, and they might not realize it within themselves. My father never would have. People never thought that way then. I miss my father now, knowing we could have finally There was a literal moment when my thinking shifted from hating my father to understanding how his life had broken him. In understanding and forgiving him, I also can do so for myself, and some others. I see how people get broken like bones, and heal with limps, and restrictions, and anger that they can not be who they wanted to be, and they might not realize it within themselves. My father never would have. People never thought that way then. I miss my father now, knowing we could have finally done stuff together and enjoyed each others company. Arguably the most important book in my life. Wish I had had it while he was still alive, but it was still important to the quality of the rest of my life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sandy Maguire

    Too mystical, too much reliance on shaky metaphors and mythological reinterpretations of bullshit. Also, one gets the impression that Bly is absolutely in love with himself; he'll present poems written by himself as evidence for his point, which would be sketchy under the best circumstances, but when combined with terrible poetry, it becomes unforgivable. Save yourself some time and skip over this one.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Done in Robert's own special style. I could hear his voice as I read the book. An excellent book recommended for all guys and women if they want a glimpse into men's inner workings.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Rodriquez

    Men and masculinity have been under attack as of late. There are shouts of "toxic masculinity" and how males are a "problem" in society today. None of that is true. Whatever is masculine cannot be toxic and whatever is toxic cannot be masculine. "Toxic masculinity" is an oxymoronic statement. Robert Bly suggests that there are two choices in which a man can behave; there is "Savage" and there is "Wild". Bly uses an ancient fable of "Iron John" to illustrate and differentiate between the two. I gai Men and masculinity have been under attack as of late. There are shouts of "toxic masculinity" and how males are a "problem" in society today. None of that is true. Whatever is masculine cannot be toxic and whatever is toxic cannot be masculine. "Toxic masculinity" is an oxymoronic statement. Robert Bly suggests that there are two choices in which a man can behave; there is "Savage" and there is "Wild". Bly uses an ancient fable of "Iron John" to illustrate and differentiate between the two. I gained an incredible amount of insight from Bly in his explanations (& many poems) that he shares in this book. For me, I realized that the "Savage" man is someone who succumbs to their unbridled emotions and creates a prison for himself while the "Wild" man is a man of agency. A "Wild" man uses that agency to create and maintain his own freedom. Freedom from the bonds of emotional fallout and forcing that fallout upon others. Read IRON JOHN: A BOOK ABOUT MEN and discover for yourself what makes YOU "Savage" and what gives you the freedom of the "Wild" man.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Bethea

    This is what happens when a poet and literary critic fancies themselves a scientist and starts trying to extrapolate from myths to the real world. You end up with a load of gibberish. I'm giving it two stars instead of one because I feel like his heart is in the right place, and that there is an actual issue here that needs solving. I think he just completely fails to address anything reasonable at all.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Evghenii Sologubenco

    Interesting take on manhood. One thing that stood out was the lack of initiation of boys into manhood in the modern western society. The lack of male figures in the life of a boy can crate a very distorted image of a man. There is quite a plethora of thought that accompany the main premise, but at times it feels more like musings on the subject. Would be interesting to read a critique from a phycologist. Hesitate to give it 4 stars. Maybe after a few other books on the subject-matter at hand.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Claxton

    SO MUCH I disagree with, am concerned by, etc., but this book made me think more, take more notes, annotate harder, reach for other sources, consider my life more than any book I've read in I don't know how long. Dangerous, perhaps, but fascinating, and enlightening if read carefully, I think.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nestor Leal

    Jungian analysis of manhood in Brothers Grimm's Iron John fairy tale. A bit elaborate but still interesting.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    Stupendous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Charming. Inspired. Magical. Loved it :-)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Toward the end of the first chapter, Bly describes how he used to enjoy criticizing older writers’ (should clarify here that he’s very specific about only being concerned with male writers) work when he was younger. While not only serving as a personal anecdote in his elucidation of a “lack of respect for masculine integrity,” it also, conveniently, anticipates and dismisses future criticisms of his project as merely youthful students displaying a lack of respect for their elder (should also men Toward the end of the first chapter, Bly describes how he used to enjoy criticizing older writers’ (should clarify here that he’s very specific about only being concerned with male writers) work when he was younger. While not only serving as a personal anecdote in his elucidation of a “lack of respect for masculine integrity,” it also, conveniently, anticipates and dismisses future criticisms of his project as merely youthful students displaying a lack of respect for their elder (should also mention here that Bly develops this insecurity throughout the book, frequently referencing “soft” PhDs and describing how education is a feminine system that puts students at all levels to sleep). Unfortunately for Bly, these preemptive statements don’t make his book any less problematic. To begin, the crux of his book’s argument, that post-WWII masculinity is facing a crisis inherently tied to ineffective fathers, is set against an antiquated heterosexual male/female binary. I realize this was first published in 1990, making it ~26 years old, but considering the progress achieved by the LGBTQ and non-binary communities within those 26 years, the reductive and biased arguments advanced in the book have not aged well. Essentially, Bly’s entire argument hinges upon this masculine/feminine polarity, and while at the very end he discusses how there are masculine elements in females and vice versa, any substantial demonstration of a spectrum between the heterosexually masculine/feminine identities seems to Bly to be the result of some sort of failure on the socialization of this individual, which is clearly problematic for readers not fitting into Bly’s implicit straight white male readership. Similarly, his failure to include or address non-heterosexual matrices in his book is a glaring, and likely intentional, oversight, considering how high of a profile queer identities already had at the time of this book's publication. Heteronormativity aside, Bly also avoids a substantial acknowledgment that not all males in Western society are white (on page 227 he does mention how “our treatment of blacks is ashes,” and while he's not wrong, the word "our" implicitly supports the idea that he’s only writing for white guys). Furthermore, in addition to centrally focusing on the Grimm brothers’ story Iron John to explain how masculine initiation rituals are missing in contemporary society, Bly also cites (without citation) rituals performed by a wide variety of cultures over a wide timespan to show how men have been initiated into society elsewhere. Presumably, this is to demonstrate the universal need for masculine initiation rituals. But while Bly pulls examples of rituals from all time periods all over the world, the assertion that masculinity has only recently been under attack is a tone-deaf argument, considering the pervasive (and persistent) racial inequality throughout the history of the United States. Whose wholeness, exactly, is only recently under attack? Bly also has a tacky habit of citing his own poems as evidence for his claims, and most of his arguments are based on unsubstantiated hypothetical situations. In this sense, Iron John is a rambling literary hybrid: part criticism, as it unpacks the plot devices of the Grimm brothers’ story, and part persuasive essay, which is filled with more straw men than Bly could fit in a drum circle at a secluded men’s retreat. While much of his discussion of the original tale is interesting (although he clearly owes a huge debt to Joseph Campbell), the underlying assumptions of, and approaches to, his arguments are questionable (at best). It’s still worth checking out from your local library, but only to admire his outfit in the photo on the back cover. It's certainly provocative. He also uses the word “groovy” unironically on page 225, if that does anything for you.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Zaltsman

    Nature made men's DNA at least 3% different from women and in that small difference there is a lot. This book retells a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm and looks at the evolution of a man. Robert Bly writes poetically and references a ton of literature jumping from greek mythology to native american and african traditions and to writes of the modern era. All this weaves together a compelling case for why men have, over the last 50 years especially, become nice guys and in the process lost the w Nature made men's DNA at least 3% different from women and in that small difference there is a lot. This book retells a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm and looks at the evolution of a man. Robert Bly writes poetically and references a ton of literature jumping from greek mythology to native american and african traditions and to writes of the modern era. All this weaves together a compelling case for why men have, over the last 50 years especially, become nice guys and in the process lost the wild man, and the decisiveness and power that comes with that from nature. The book is an insightful read for men and women alike, to better understand why men are the way we are and what we may be missing to get the full experience.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    In my ongoing attempt at self-improvement -- or self-understanding, or whatever -- I finally picked up "Iron John," Robert Bly's 1990 bestseller that gave rise to a thousand drum-beating retreats. I've been a male for all of my 51 years, but I'm not sure I've ever been a man, or what "being a man" means. I'm hopeless with tools and my last experience with playing football was in junior high school. I'm not a huge fan of action films or explosions. I used to not cry -- "boys don't cry," right? -- In my ongoing attempt at self-improvement -- or self-understanding, or whatever -- I finally picked up "Iron John," Robert Bly's 1990 bestseller that gave rise to a thousand drum-beating retreats. I've been a male for all of my 51 years, but I'm not sure I've ever been a man, or what "being a man" means. I'm hopeless with tools and my last experience with playing football was in junior high school. I'm not a huge fan of action films or explosions. I used to not cry -- "boys don't cry," right? -- but I realized the foolishness of that when I suffered the painful, irreplaceable losses that every human being goes through, whether breakups or death. I've tried to be compassionate and good, and I hope that counts for something, but whether it's manly or simply humane is beyond me. Bly uses the story of Iron John, which comes to many of us through a Grimm fairy tale, to illustrate his points. Iron John is a wild man (or Wild Man, as Bly has it) who lives in the forest. He is eventually captured by a nearby kingdom and housed in a cage, but is freed by the king's son and returns to the forest with the kid. Iron John then becomes a father figure to the boy, urging in him caution, then industriousness, then warlike strength, and finally wisdom and confidence. Bly departs from the tale many times to explain its symbolism and lament the lack of men in Western society, noting that icy distance nor wanton violence nor pure sensitivity makes a man. I think he makes some good points, and given my fascination with Jungian psychology, there was plenty of food for thought. But oh, this book became a slog after awhile. Bly grasps for ancient tales and mythology as if trying to round up all buried knowledge, but instead of clear connections, his meandering writing feels more like digressions surrounding his main point. A poet, he quotes himself (and, to his credit, some others), weakening the book. (His poetry, at least the material in "Iron John," is far weaker than, say, Yeats, Blake or Frost.) What's worse is that he comes across as an anthropology dilettante -- which is not to say that he doesn't know his stuff, just that he's so enthusiastic about offering it that it comes across as messy and unfocused. This may have made a better longish essay. (It does make me want to read a book on the Grimm brothers to see how they compiled their fairy tales, and if they were aware of all the psychological resonances we see today.) He does make one excellent point towards the end. When "Iron John" came out, it was criticized as suggesting that men get back in touch with nature and their own raw interiors to become better men -- that is, promoting the undisciplined, beastly side of males. But that isn't Bly's point at all, as he notes: "The aim is not to BE the Wild Man, but to be IN TOUCH WITH the Wild Man ... in American culture, past and present, we find people who want to be the Wild Man -- writers as intelligent as Kerouac fail to make the distinction between being, and being in touch with." And, indeed, the tale of Iron John ends by revealing that Iron John was a king himself who had been enchanted, presumably for some violation of nature or spirit. He, too, had to learn discipline. It's a nice message and one that resonates with me. But it took a long time to get there with Bly.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dustin Rose

    Bly uses a lot of myths and stories as metaphors on how to reconnect with the "Wild Man" that we may or may not have allowed to be buried in our psyche. It talks a lot about understanding yourself, and your story, and being brave enough to dive deep into our own pasts and memories in an effort to re-connect with our own masculinity. Identifying wounds and understanding where they came from. Because it's so based off of stories and myths, the lessons that can be learned are applicable in a lot of Bly uses a lot of myths and stories as metaphors on how to reconnect with the "Wild Man" that we may or may not have allowed to be buried in our psyche. It talks a lot about understanding yourself, and your story, and being brave enough to dive deep into our own pasts and memories in an effort to re-connect with our own masculinity. Identifying wounds and understanding where they came from. Because it's so based off of stories and myths, the lessons that can be learned are applicable in a lot of different settings. Some favorite sections: "I began to think of him [my father] not as someone who had deprived me of love or attention or companionship, but as someone who himself had been deprived, by his father and his mother and by the culture. This rethinking is still going on." " 'Your father can't help it.' So the son often grows up with a wounded image of his father - not brought about necessarily by the father's actions, or words, but based on the mothers observation of these words or actions." "A wound that stops you from continuing to play is a girlish wound. He who is truly a man keeps walking, dragging his guts behind. Our story gives a teaching diametrically opposite. It says that where a man's wound is, that is where his genius will be." "Wherever the wound appears in our psyches, whether from alcoholic father, a shaming mother, a shaming father, abusing mother, whether it stems from isolation, disability or disease, that is precisely the place for which we will give our major gift to the community." "Addiction to perfection, as Marian Woodman reminds us, amounts to having no garden. The anxiety to be perfect withers the vegetation. Shame keeps us from cultivating a garden." "The inner boy in a messed-up family may keep on being shamed, invaded, disappointed, and paralyzed for years and years. 'I am a victim,' he says, over and over; and he is. But that very identification with victimhood keeps the soul house open and available for still more invasions." "He wants the conflict to end because he is afraid, because he doesn't know how to fight, because he 'doesn't believe in fighting,' because he never saw his mother and father fight in a fruitful way, because his boundaries are so poorly maintained that every sword thrust penetrates to the very center of his chest, which is tender and fearful. When shouts of rage come out of the man, it means that his warriors have not been able to protect his chest; the lances have already entered, and it is too late." "The adult warrior inside both men and women, when trained, can receive a blow without sulking or collapsing . ." "The Wild Man leads the return we eventually have to make as adults back to the place of childhood abuse and abandonment. The Wild Man is a better guide in some ways to that pain than our inner child is, precisely because he is not a child. Because he is not a child, he knows stories, and can lead us into personal suffering and through it."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Steven Rider

    Iron John is the first book I've read that's specifically aimed at for fathers of boys. This was recommended to me by Elliot Hulse and I enjoyed the majority of it. Occasionally poems and some of the analogies became a little confusing or too artsy, but overall the messages were powerful tools for the dedicated father looking to guide their sons to be the strongest version of themselves. The biggest takeaway for me was the missing "initiation" of men in our society. Most indigenous cultures had t Iron John is the first book I've read that's specifically aimed at for fathers of boys. This was recommended to me by Elliot Hulse and I enjoyed the majority of it. Occasionally poems and some of the analogies became a little confusing or too artsy, but overall the messages were powerful tools for the dedicated father looking to guide their sons to be the strongest version of themselves. The biggest takeaway for me was the missing "initiation" of men in our society. Most indigenous cultures had their boys go through some ceremony or act of rising up to be a man. Right now, our young men lack that specific step. Strangely, in my own upbringing, I had a sort of male initiation playing pickup basketball with my father. Battling it out with grown men when you're 14-16 years old was truly a "coming of age" experience for me, and has likely guided me, at least in some degree, to enjoy the success I have at the corporate level. Another meaningful point was that with fathers going away from the home for work, as they often have done since the Industrial Revolution, sons tend to lack the guidance necessary that they innately need from grown men. Again, strangely, I was immune to this while growing up as my father worked out of a home office. Since I travel for work, I may need to make an effort to drag my son to work one of these days. He'll probably hate it, but it's good for him to see what his old man does.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Knut

    One can be cynical about Iron John, indeed. Yes, it’s a bit like Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan accounts. But wasn’t that a cool dude? Yes, its fuzzy. But who expects a poet to write like a scientist? Yes, Bly wrote Iron John after his 24-year marriage to award winning essayist Carol Bly ended 1979 in divorce. But isn’t this book a constructive way to digest those years and man’s identity in general? If a piece of literature, which is written in a novel style like Iron John, stays for 62 weeks on t One can be cynical about Iron John, indeed. Yes, it’s a bit like Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan accounts. But wasn’t that a cool dude? Yes, its fuzzy. But who expects a poet to write like a scientist? Yes, Bly wrote Iron John after his 24-year marriage to award winning essayist Carol Bly ended 1979 in divorce. But isn’t this book a constructive way to digest those years and man’s identity in general? If a piece of literature, which is written in a novel style like Iron John, stays for 62 weeks on the NYT bestseller list, then it must have strung a chord with a wide readership - not male only – and must be put on compulsory reading lists for generations to come. I was lucky to get the recommendation. The NYT bestseller list finds for reasons of brevity only one sentence to describe Iron John: The passage of the male from boyhood into manhood, as practiced in various cultures. The book is though so much more. In style it is a marvelous and to me novel blend of non fiction and poetry. It is an encyclopedia of tales, legends and myths which span from Homer to the Brothers Grimm, from the South American Hopis to the North American Senecas, from Pre-Christian Celtic culture to the roots of Hinduism. In contents it touches deep on the essence of man’s psyche with eloquent reference to Freud, Reich and in particular Jung. Bly somehow manages to cut through the subjects of psychology, education and religion with the blade of a poet and creates from the resulting slumps a, yes, fuzzy, but beautiful new body of thought. It is not a coincidence, I think, that Martin E. Seligman, by some called the modern father of positive psychology, published in the same year as Iron John a popular scientific volume titled Learned Optimism. He writes there that most of the developed world experiences an unprecedented epidemic of depression – particularly among young people. Why is that in a nation that has more money, more power, more records, more books, and more education, that depression should be so much more prevalent than it was when the nation was less prosperous and less powerful? He elaborates that three forces have converged: An inflated “I” failing in its own eyes relative to its goals; an erosion of the “WE”, i.e. faith in God, community, nation, and the large extended family give way to the I; and the self-esteem movement. Seligman did without doubt point at a very important development in the affluent West, and was at center stage to develop the probably single most important and most widely recognized psychotherapy method, the cognitive behavioral therapy, but he did miss an important point, which Bly understood very well: positive thought and thus constructive behavior alone can’t make up for a culture which does not satisfy our human needs in terms of developmental psychology. Bly might not have been familiar with the theories of Erik Erickson or Jean Liedlhoff, but he clearly observed that the progress of the industrial revolution did deprive society of essential characteristics which make man (and woman) whole and sane. What he observed throughout the 1980s in an America which experienced the third Industrial Revolution in full swing is still true today: The traditional way of raising sons, which lasted for thousands and thousands of years, amounted to fathers and sons living in close – murderously close – proximity, while the father taught the son a trade: perhaps farming or carpentry or blacksmithing or tailoring. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, the love unit most damaged by the Industrial Revolution has been the father-son bond. […] The grief in men has been increasing steadily since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the grief has reached a depth now that cannot be ignored.’, he writes somewhere else without knowing that about 30 years later mental health data in most industrial nations confirms this grief with a 3:1 men-women-ratio in suicides - in many societies as the second most frequent cause of death. Bly writes in Iron John at length about a missing element in modern culture, which is the ritual of initiation. He writes only about the male initiation, but concedes that initiation is needed for both sexes and falls victim to the social changes brought upon the Industrial Revolution, the separation of labor and the substitution of small communities with large societies. The fault of the nuclear family today isn’t so much that it’s crazy and full of double binds (that’s true in communes and corporate offices too – in fact, in any group). The fault is that the old men outside the nuclear family no longer offer an effective way for the son to break his link with his parents without doing harm to himself. […] Much of that chance or incidental mingling has ended. Men’s clubs and societies have steadily disappeared. Grandfathers live in Phoenix or the old people’s home, and many boys experience only the companionship of other boys their age who, from the point of view of the old initiators, know nothing at all. […] The German psychologist Alexander Mitscherlich writes about this father-son crisis in his book called Society Without the Father. The gist of his idea is that if the son does not actually see what his father does during the day and through all the seasons of the year, a hole will appear in the son’s psyche and the hole will fill with demons who tell him that his father’s work is evil and that the father is evil. Bly’s insights have therefore rightly led to an entire mythopoetic movement which builds on the assumption that men of all ages have to come closer again to, well, mend traumas, forge identity and develop suitable roles for 21st century mankind. However, I feel that such a holistic psychology approach of going on retreats with likeminded men or meet regularly in self help groups, can only late in life satisfy some, if any needs at all. Men, aged 35 to 50, working on the separation from their parents, which they were not able to undergo due to lack of initiation, are, yes, deplorable, but shouldn’t be a social norm. Coolness, which Bly uncovers as a mask of the uninitiated men who lack empathy, shall not be an accepted behavior, even if the newly elected US president displays it as daily routine. A genuine change in culture, is what is actually required to experience true brotherhood, not only amongst men, but in society at large at the respective age of evolutionarily defined psychological development. There is a strong need to internalize this feeling of brotherhood, which most of us, growing up as automatons in mechanized societies, don’t know at all. War correspondent Sebastian Junger describes the power of and the addiction to brotherhood, which soldiers face once deprived of it in civil society. They idealize war and want to get back into combat asap. No, I don’t idealize war, but I point at the connection between genuine brotherhood and altruism as formulated in many religions e.g. in the Christian Great Commandment Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Bly extends his analysis specifically to the work environment. Contemporary business life allows competitive relationships only, in which the major emotions are anxiety, tension, loneliness, rivalry, and fear. After work what do men do? Collect in a bar to hold light conversations over light beer, unities which are broken off whenever a young woman comes by or touches the brim of someone’s cowboy hat. Having no soul union with other men can be the most damaging wound of all. Iron John is not cool and superficially strong, but wild and deeply emphatic. Bly writes that mythological systems associate hair with the instinctive and the sexual and the primitive. What I’m suggesting, then, is that every modern male has, lying at the bottom of his psyche, a large, primitive being covered with hair down to his feet. Making contact with this Wild Man is the step the Eighties male or the Nineties male has yet to take. The 21st century Western male tried to fill this void superficially with the full beard hipster movement, but most women clearly sense that behind fragile boys loom behind the hairiness. That’s why some women recently posted on facebook pictures of full beard hipsters with the caption: Don’t wear a full beard if you can’t kill an animal. Its not about the hair. Its about being wild, i.e. courageous. And there we have a problem in the post-modern Western world which is still stuck in its collective unconscious Judeo-Christian mindset. Bly explains, that the ethical superstructure of popular Christianity does not support the Wild Man, though there is some suggestion that Christ himself did. The metaphysical superstructure of the Judeo-Christian tradition is dualistic in its essence, therefore the Wild Man is considered as a whole evil and as such physical desires in their entirety if not straight out sinful, then at least weird. Jesus was a mystic who recognized that dualism is only a method of the analytical mind to describe the spiritual and moral world. He never condemned anybody in his entirety, knowing that there are more than 50 shades of grey. Bly writes somewhere else that ‘If the wild man returns to his forest while the boy remains in the castle, the fundamental historical split in the psyche between primitive man and the civilized man would reestablish itself in the boy.’ The wild man can therefore be understood as the incarnation of the Freudian it, which we have pushed in its entirety into hell, whereas our superegos save us to heaven. Quite the opposite is the consequence. Bly continues: Eventually a man needs to throw off all indoctrination and begin to discover for himself what the father is and what masculinity is. For that task, ancient stories are a good help, because they are free of modern psychological prejudices, because they have endured the scrutiny of generations of women and men, and because they give both the light and dark sides of manhood, the admirable and the dangerous. Their model is not a perfect man, nor an overly spiritual man.

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