27 December 2010

Book of the Week (82): "The Iron Man" by Ted Hughes, illustrated by Laura Carlin

This powerful fable of an extraordinary, mysterious giant metal man still haunts me from childhood, and is now brought to resonant and compelling life by Laura Carlin. Rarely has the artwork in a book become so integral to the reading. This edition celebrates the book as artefact, with all kinds of unexpected openings and surprises as we inhabit the perspective of the characters within the book, especially the young hero, Hogarth. I developed an anticipatory pleasure about turning the next page that had as much to do with the beauty of this book as the compelling story it describes. My young son was similarly transfixed, returning several times to key sections, such as the flaps that allow the iron man to literally burst out of a hill. Carlin is equally assured handling the truly menacing space bat angel dragon, focusing on aspects of it as if the whole were too terrible to grasp, and the panoramic chaos of humanity’s attempts to stop it. The poetic rhythm of the prose is captured and accentuated, as the images dominate or comment on the narrative in a carefully controlled rhythmic dance, culminating in the surprisingly moving transformation of terror into beauty at the story’s close. If children’s books, and science fiction in particular, are about evoking a sense of wonder, this book succeeds wholeheartedly. A work of art that stimulates the imagination, and, in our household, brought adults and children together in a celebration of the pure joy of reading, looking, experiencing.

Recommended by Ariel Kahn

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