By Kimberly Schroeder, Gloria Hernandez, Diego Jauregui, and Andrew Folmar
Ted Hughes’s 1968 science fiction fantasy novel The Iron Giant is a timeless, inspirational tale that sparks readers’ imaginations by instilling in them a sense of curiosity. Hughes uses the topics of community and war to drive the plot of the story.
The Iron Giant appears as if from nowhere upon the top of a cliff. “How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.” Hughes immediately sparks the reader’s curiosity by introducing his story with a list of unanswerable questions. This leaves the reader wanting to read more to find out exactly who the Iron Giant is, and what he is doing. This curiosity of the reader is matched by the curiosity of the Iron Giant as he gazes at the sea. “Never before had the Iron Giant seen the sea.” It is additional curiosity that leads the giant to the town and eventually into a trap.
Venturing too close the edge of the cliff, the Iron Giant falls off and breaks into pieces. His various appendages race around to put themselves back together. When Hogarth first sees the Iron Giant towering above him with his eyes glowing like beacons in the night, he is terrified. Joining forces, the townsfolk devise a plan to trap and then bury the Giant beneath the ground, but to no avail. It is Hogarth who thinks of a plan that uses the Giant’s curiosity to lure him into the trap. Hogarth taps two pieces of metal together to get the giant’s attention, “At the sound of the metal, the Iron Giant’s hands became still. After a few seconds, he slowly turned his head and the headlight eyes shone towards Hogarth.” His plan works and the giant falls into the trap. Afterwards, Hogarth feels guilty as the townspeople cheer with delight that their trap has succeeded. A year later the Iron Giant breaks free of his underground prison and resumes roaming the town. After the townsfolk realize that the giant will not stay trapped, Hogarth divulges a plan to have the giant live in the scrap yard where he can enjoy an endless feast without bothering the town.
When a “space-bat-angel-dragon” invades the earth and overtakes the continent of Australia, the citizens of earth do not know what to do. Only the Iron Giant has the brains and the brawn to outwit and outlast the dragon and save the world from eminent doom.
True to the conventions of children’s fantasy literature, the book features Hogarth, a young protagonist who takes the lead by not only capturing the Iron Giant for the sake of the town but also by cleverly coming up with a plan to appease the giant after his escape. It is also Hogarth that convinces the giant to fight for the survival of Earth. As in so many children’s fantasies, a child prevails over evil when no one else can. “‘Please think of something,’ cried Hogarth. ‘If this space-bat-angel-dragon licks all life off the earth, that’ll be the end of your scrap iron-there’ll be no people left to make it.’”
Hughes follows the theme of a town afraid of an outsider for the first half of the story and then turns it around to where the town needs the outsider to survive. He uses fear of the unknown to band the townsfolk together against the Iron Giant. The same fear of the unknown comes into play later when the space-bat-angel-dragon comes to earth, this time uniting the world against the new monster–who actually does threaten the earth. The Iron Giant, however, later proves to the people that first impressions are not always correct by going on to become the world’s savior.
Named Poet Laureate in 1984, Hughes is considered one of the greatest poets of all time. His short, decisive sentences flow together in a melodic rhythm that makes The Iron Giant a fantastic story to read aloud. Perfect for children ages 7-12, The Iron Giant keeps the reader’s imagination sparking and curiosity peaking.