From Wildman to King: Another Look at Male Myth and Initiation Part 2

Most obviously, the tale of "Iron Hans" is about the process by which a boy becomes a man. The story concludes with its hero a married man assuming his place in the world. But the story also outlines the lifelong process of individuation. Jung described a progressive encounter with persona (one's adaptation to the social world), shadow (aspects of oneself that are denied in adapting to the world), anima/animus (the inner image of the opposite sex), and self (the totality of the psyche). While this schematic description of psychological growth can, like any other, be twisted into a mechanistic formula, many people have found it a useful map.

In "Iron Hans", the king at the beginning of the tale corresponds to the persona, the social role with which one is identified. But the king was inadequate to the challenge of the wild man (the shadow), for the shadow requires a response from a level deeper than that of persona. The little prince with his golden ball is a beautiful image of the undeveloped, largely unconscious self of early life. The fascinating princess, who perhaps knows more about the boy than he does himself, is of course representative of the anima. Finally, the royal couple (multiplied threefold by the presence of the prince and princess' parents) at the wedding feast is an image of the realized self, a concept also represented by the figure of the Mighty King who came to the wedding feast to announce himself as Iron Hans.

In becoming the person he was meant to be, in fulfilling his destiny, the prince unknowingly restored Iron Hans to his real identity, and was rewarded by the gift of Iron Hans' riches without measure. Iron Hans was the prince's second, initiating father who did what his first father could not. As the restored great king, Iron Hans represents the highest development of the boy's golden potential, a development that could be realized only after the wild man, the shadow of the king, had been duly acknowledged. In effect, the boy redeemed both his father and the wild man, joining them together in the figure of Iron Hans the Great. The spell that had hung over the kingdom since the beginning of the story was broken as prince and princess, the two royal families, and Iron Hans joined together in joyful celebration. So always, redemption of the world proceeds hand-in-hand with redemption of oneself.

X: Not Happily Ever After

Contrary to popular belief, few tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm end with, "And they lived happily ever after." While a particular problem may be resolved or someone established in her or his place in life, the future is usually left open. So it is with "Iron Hans". The tale concludes with the arrival of Iron Hans the Great King. The transformed wild man is indeed a symbol of completeness. But the prince and the princess have, in the words of a song, "only just begun." Having wed the princess, the prince must learn to live with her, and she with him. If he continues to depend on her to draw him out, there undoubtedly will be trouble ahead. But that is another story, and the one we are telling has come to an end.

Every psychological commentary is to some degree a personal statement. My amplification of "Iron Hans" in relation to the problems of contemporary manhood is, of course, a product of my own experience and personal process. Looking back over what I have written, I recall a dream from many years ago that seems to me to reflect both my personal struggle and those of many other men whom I have known:

There is a terrible drought. To relieve it a glass vial must be filled with water from Niagara Falls and then emptied into a local stream. A young man is chosen to carry out the task. But I know that he often blunders, and am afraid that he will fall and break the vial. I follow him as he obtains the water and pours it into the local stream. I fear that he has done it wrong, but then a geyser of water erupts in the dry river bed, and a woman opens a sluice gate to let the water flow again.

The hero may well be a blundering fool. But he persists and, with the help of the woman, succeeds. So my dream continues in the hope that this, foolish blunders and all, will go out as a vessel conveying a few drops of the healing water of life to the parched land in which we, men and women alike, find ourselves.


Bernheimer, Richard (1952), Wild Men in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press)

Blos, Peter (1985), Son and Father: Before and Beyond the Oedipus Complex (New York: Free Press)

Bly, Robert (1990), Iron John (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley)

Robert Bly (1986), "Men's Initiation Rites," Utne Reader, April/May 1986, pp. 42-49

Calvino, Italo (ed.) (1980), Italian Folktales (New York: Pantheon)

Campbell, Joseph (1968), The Masks of God, Vol. IV: Creative Mythology (New York: Penguin)

Campbell, Joseph (1972), "Folkloristic Commentary," in The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales (New York: Pantheon)

Cirlot, J. E. (1971), A Dictionary of Symbols, 2nd ed. (New York: Philosophical Library)

Clark, T. Rundle (1978), Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt (New York: Thames & Hudson)

Cooper, J. C. (1978), An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols (London: Thames & Hudson)

Eliade, Mircea (1959 [1954]), Cosmos and History (New York: Harper & Row)

Erikson, Erik (1963), Childhood and Society, 2nd. ed. (New York: W. W. Norton)

Gardner, John & Maier, John (eds.) (1984), Gilgamesh (New York: Knopf)

Gilmore, David D. (1990), Manhood in the Making (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Guggenbuhl-Craig, Adolf (1977), Marriage Dead Or Alive (Dallas: Spring Publications)

Jacoby, Mario (1985), Longing For Paradise (Boston: Sigo).

John of the Cross (1959), Dark Night of the Soul , E. Allison Peers (trans. & ed.), (Garden City, NY: Image)

Jung, C. G. (1980 [1944]), Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works Vol. 12), (Princeton: Princeton University Press)

Jung, C. G. (1977 [1955-56]), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works Vol. 14), (Princeton: Princeton University Press)

Jung, C G. (1976 [1911-12/1952]), Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works Vol. 5 ), (Princeton: Princeton University Press)

Jung, C. G. (1965), Memories, Dreams, Reflections (New York: Random House)

Jung, Emma & von Franz (1986 [1960]), Marie-Louise, The Grail Legend (Boston: Sigo)

Keegan, John (1983), The Face of Battle (New York: Viking)

Kohut, Heniz (1982), "Introspection, Empathy, and the Semi-Circle of Mental Health," International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 63

La Fontaine, J. S. (1985), Initiation (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin)

Le Goff, Jacques (1988), The Medieval Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

Lopez-Pedraza, Rafael (1977), Hermes and His Children (Zurich: Spring Publications,)

Maclagan, David (1977), Creation Myths (New York: Thames & Hudson)

Malinowski, Bronislav (1929), The Sexual Life of Savages (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World)

Radin, Paul (1956), The Trickster (New York: Philosophical Library)

Rudolph, Kurt (1987,) Gnosis (San Francisco: Harper & Row)

Samuels, Andrew (1992), "Men Under Scrutiny," Psychological Perspectives, 26,, pp. 42-61.

Samuels, Andrew(ed.) (1985), The Father: Contemporary Jungian Perspectives (New York: New York University Press)

Stevens, Anthony (1989), The Roots of War (New York: Paragon House)

Thompson, Keith & Bly, Robert (1982), "What Men Really Want," New Age, May 1982, pp. 30-37, 50- 51.

van Genep, Arnold (1960 [1908]), The Rites of Passage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

Von Eschenbach, Wolfram (1961), Parzival , Helen Mustard & Charles E. Passage (transl.), (New York: Random House)

Willeford, William (1969,) The Fool and His Scepter (Northwestern University Press)

Winnicott, H. D. (1988), Human Nature, (New York: Schocken)

Wolf, Ernest S. (1988), Treating the Self (New York: Guilford Press)

You may contact James Moyers by e-mail at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.