Iron HansFall 2007 Picture Books
Hard on the heels of his translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s grisly tale, The Tinderbox (illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, Candlewick, 2007), comes this Grimm and mysterious tale of a rust-colored giant-sized man who dwells at the bottom of a deep pool in a dangerous forest. Dragged from his den and placed in an iron cage in the castle courtyard, he forms a deep attachment to the kingdom’s young prince and, in exchange for his freedom, takes the lad with him, back into those very same woods. Beside a golden pool he prepares a bed of moss for his young companion. Iron Hans’ only requirement, in exchange for this "kindness" is that the prince must guard the pool and allow nothing to fall into it. But when he fails the for the third time to keep the golden pool untainted, he is cast out into the world to "learn what it is to be poor." While kids may be justifiably intrigued and a little bit envious of this adventurous lifestyle, adults may find the dynamic to be psychologically fraught and even, possibly, tinged with distasteful undercurrents. Be that as it may, Mitchell’s translation is straightforward if stolidly paced and the formality of the language blunts the emotional impact of the more terrifying events. For example, when the royals discover the loss of their child the text observes blandly "the king guessed what had happened, and grief reigned in the royal court." No weeping, wailing, or beating of kingly breasts in this version. Matt Tavares’ suitably antique illustrations are embellished with a wide variety of page lay-outs and unusual perspectives; the iron man, most often depicted with only one eye showing through his bristling knee-length hair, is appropriately scary; and the whole is infused with the golden glow of a fairytale world. Middle grade readers will appreciate this diminutive hero’s quest and eventual triumph.