Combining a couple of my obsessions for an explanatory post…
Was at a bookstore tonight and saw they had a new edition of the book THE IRON GIANT by Ted Hughes.
Doesn’t look a whole lot like Brad Bird’s amazing animated movie from 1999, does it?
Gather round children, I’ll explain this to the best of my ability.
THE IRON GIANT was originally published in England as THE IRON MAN in 1968.
It was a very simple story Hughes, the British Poet Laureate, created for his children after the death of their mother, THE BELL JAR author Sylvia Plath.
When the book was published in the US, Marvel Comics already had Iron Man coming out as a comic, so the book was re-titled THE IRON GIANT. Here’s the cover to the first US edition.
The book tells the story of a giant iron being that appears from nowhere, feeds on scrap metal, befriends a boy named Hogarth…and helps save the world from a giant “Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon” that is actually there to help bring about world peace.
You probably don’t remember that from the film.
The history actually gets a little stranger here!
In the 1980s, Pete Townshend of The Who turned the story into a rock opera, which featured vocals from the likes of John Lee Hooker and Nina Simone, which followed the original novel’s story.
A few years after that, in 1995, Ted Hughes wrote a SEQUEL called THE IRON WOMAN, which had chilling wood-cut illustrations by Barry Moser.
This features the same characters from before, but is more of an environmentally-themed story about an Iron Woman that rises up out of a swamp and takes a horrifying revenge on some polluting bureaucratic fat-cats.
Meanwhile, Warner Brothers decided to make a film of Pete Townshend’s album, which again, was based off the original novel.
They gave the project to Brad Bird, who was coming off a run on THE SIMPSONS and a number of other acclaimed animated projects for TV.
Bird was given heavy creative control, and after Warner Brothers cut their feature animation department following the failure of the musical QUEST FOR CAMELOT, he found himself with a fair amount of creative freedom on a reduced budget…
…actually convinced Warner Brothers to let him cut Townshend’s songs and turn the story into a period Cold War piece.
Townshend still received a producer credit on the final film, and was reportedly cool with the cuts.
The film’s release prompted a reprint of the original novel in time for its anniversary…
This was the version I read, though I remember thinking, “Hmm, I didn’t see any Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon in the trailer…”
The book was reprinted in the US under its original name in 2005, with no mention of the film on the cover:
Hughes himself died in late 1998. I have no idea if he saw the film, but according to Warner Brothers’ web site for the feature, he read and enjoyed the script very much.
THE IRON GIANT film fared very poorly at the box office, with bad promotion and a crowded marketplace blamed. But it got great reviews, and has since earned a loyal following on TV and DVD, even running in marathon on Cartoon Network at one point.
It also inspired some fun toys from Trendmasters, including my favorite, this “Utlimate Iron Giant” that can eat junk pieces.
(It also had the voice of Vin Diesel, who voiced the giant after PITCH BLACK and before THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS)
I’ll have to give this latest version of the book a look — it apparently has fold-outs and die-cuts in its illustrations, and I’m all about that!
So now you know the strange history of THE IRON GIANT. THE IRON WOMAN, though, remains more or less stuck in her swamp.