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The Iron Man is a science fiction novella, written by Ted Hughes, and published in 1968.

The Iron Man, his head as big as a dustbin, his chest the size of a cattletruck, his arms like cranes, is devouring the tractors, fences and ploughs. Mankind must put a stop to the dreadful destruction by the Iron Man... but can they?

Not to be confused with

  • ...the 1995 young-adult novel Ironman by Chris Crutcher.
  • ...the Marvel superhero 'Iron Man' and his eponymous comic books and films.
  • The 1999 animated feature film The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird, is loosely based on Hughes' book. Among other changes, it relocates the setting from the UK to the USA. The film's title was changed from The Iron Man to The Iron Giant to avoid confusion (and legal problems) with the Marvel Comics character.

Reader's Reviews


Should be read. A superb modern fairytale. Highly acclaimed.


Excellent book. A good mix of fantasy and real-life adventure. Should be read.


The Iron Man by Ted Hughes is the story of a giant man made of iron, who wakes up in pieces on a beach, assembles himself, and sets about wandering the English countryside. He meets humans, who initially fear him, though soon accept him. When Earth is threatened by a gigantic monster from space, the Iron Man takes it upon himself to save mankind and bring peace to the world.

The story is excellent, as it deals with issues of inclusion, teaching children not to fear people who are different to themselves, but to learn to understand and accept them. It is also harshly critical of warfare and violence, showing how intelligence can succeed where weaponry fails. The story is quite short at 62 pages, with five easy to follow self-contained chapters that could be read aloud to a class. It has simple but very descriptive language, large text and illustrations throughout, so a child would have little trouble reading it themselves. The story has elements of fantasy and science fiction (such as monsters from outer space) that children of 8-10 will find interesting and exciting.


Ted Hughes' The Iron Man is a story of contrasts that vividly depicts the unlikely meeting of a “space-bat-angel-dragon” with the tractor-crunching metal giant, village farmers and a little boy called Hogarth. It is an engaging tale that teeters on the edge of being a dramatic piece of science fiction and a social commentary on the dangers of alienating and demonising newcomers to our society whose culture and customs are different from our own. The importance of working together to help and understand each other through the use of mediators is a focus of the story and this is illustrated by the actions of Hogarth, a farmer’s son.

Hogarth endeavours to understand why the Iron Man continually angers the farmers by eating the metal farm machinery and when he finds out the reason and explains this to the villagers they realise there is a way to help the Iron Man that will also help themselves. Good relationships are then formed and it is this that they will rely on when both parties face a threat to mankind, robot-kind and the planet they inhabit together. The fate of the world is now in the hands of the Iron Man who must overcome challenges in competition with the dragon, who has been drawn to the earth by the sights, sounds and destruction of war.

The Iron Man is a book you cannot put down easily and each page will keep you turning to the next instalment of stark descriptions, flamboyant imagery and a gripping resolution to this modern allegory. Who will win the ferocious battle for planet Earth? Isn’t it time you found out?


“The Iron Man came to the top of a cliff”. We are introduced to this strange being without any pre-amble, immediately being drawn into a modern fable. This book tells the story of a giant who is feared by his neighbours, who eats their fences, their machinery, in fact anything made of metal. After being trapped by his neighbours and escaping, a boy pleads with the Iron Man to save the Earth from a terrible monster from outer-space, the “Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon”. What will the Iron Man do?

This book, suitable for ages 7 to adult, explores the themes of bravery, prejudice, irrational fear and the dual nature of the things around us; the Iron Man is destructive but has a good heart, the dragon is also an “angel” and a “star spirit”. The tale is shot through with beautiful language- “the wind sang through his iron fingers”, “the music of the spheres” “as peaceful as starry space”. This version of the Iron Man is illustrated by Tom Gauld, the pictures somehow manage to convey warmth even though they are dark, I particularly love the depiction of the dragon wheeling through the night sky.

To teach this book I would ask the children to read it aloud in turns, to get a sense of the language. After each chapter I would set tasks, such as drawing the Iron Man or the dragon, or writing a newspaper report describing the events as they unfold.


Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man is the story of a man, made of Iron, who arrives on the coast of England. We do not known from where he has come, or why he has come. Hughes uses descriptive language to tell his story which has a strong moral grounding. The iron man begins to destroy a local community in search of food and in response the farmers in the community bury the iron man. It is only the insight of a small child that saves him. As the story develops we can to see that perhaps the community have entirely misunderstood the iron man, and they come to understand his value.

The vocabulary is sometimes challenging, but children in Key Stage 2 should find they are able to read most of the book independently.The 2005 Faber and Faber edition is beautifully illustrated throughout by Tom Gauld.


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Parental Guidance

  • Reading Age: 8+
  • Reading Aloud Age: 7+

A monster comes from Outer Space, and claims he is a "star spirit".

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