Wednesday, April 29, 2015

NBC's "Grimm" Tackles "Iron Hans"

Grimm has been doing some interesting things with fairy tales this season. While I haven't been entirely on board with the occasional defaulting to the "wesen of the week" formula, and it was all I could do not to throw something at the screen when we took a left-nose dive into soap-land with -yet another- baby (seriously - if there must be a baby - can't we have the one that we're already attached to?), BUT they've been doing some very interesting explorations of the fairy tale referenced for the episode. It isn't just in the 'mystery of the week/wesen of the week' aspect (which have been variable) but with regard to the main characters' evolutions and challenges - that's where the use of fairy tales in the show has gotten quite noteworthy.

This week (aired April 24th, 2015) it was Iron Hans - which was also the title of the episode. We started, however, with a quote by Jack London from Call of the Wild:
The main story line was a little predictable, but if you tuned into the theme and watched what was going on with the other characters, things got a WHOLE lot more interesting.

For those of you not familiar with Iron Hans, it's one of those stories I feel is truly important if you are working with little boys*, or boys in general, or men. This isn't "no girls allowed" territory so much as addressing the importance of boys and men learning to deal with their wild sides (aka testosterone etc) and all that comes with it. Women have their stories (which men can learn from of course, but they're still primarily women's stories) and this is a man's story. And it's an important one.

Why? Because it's a story that emphasizes what's needed to become the best man you can be - by understanding and embracing 'both' sides of a male's nature and a man having mastery over himself - his whole self.

In case you're not familiar with the fairy tale, here's a quick synopsis of Grimms' Iron Hans:

Iron Hans by Xun Wang
Iron Hans is a tale type listed under "Wild man as helper" (AT-type 502) and sort of has two parts: One is about the Wild Man himself, with skin as hard and dark as iron, who makes the forest a very dangerous place at the beginning of the story, with many great hunters disappearing never to be seen again. Eventually, though, the Wild Man is captured, caged and put on display as a curiosity.

That's the first part of the first story - the rest is revealed as part of the second.

The other part  - considered the main part - is about a young prince, who, years after the Wild Man, also known as Iron Hans (or Iron John) is captured, sets him free. The Prince, destined for punishment for this deed, is then pitied by the Wild Man and kindly taken into the forest.

It turns out Iron John is powerful and guards secrets he trains the boy to also look after. But the boy, playing one day, does what he shouldn't, his hair turns to gold as a result (making his misstep obvious) and the Prince is sent away, though Iron Hans tells the boy he can call on him should he ever really need it.

The Prince, covering his hair, masquerades as a gardner for a king then in a time of war, sees an opportunity, calls on Iron Hans to be provided with armor & other warrior requirements, goes into battle and is successful. The Prince then returns all he borrowed to Iron Hans before going back to his former post, by which time the king is looking for the valiant knight so he can give his daughter's hand in marriage as a reward. (Don't worry - the princess isn't as passive in this whole thing as this summary would lead you to believe.) Eventually the Prince is found out, returned to his station, married and reunited with his parents. As for the Wild Man, he attends the wedding as well, but as his newly revealed, real self - a man who was under enchantment until someone worthy and pure of heart set him free.

(You can find the full text at the trusty SurLaLune site HERE and a nice audio retelling of the Grimm's tale (via YouTube) HERE.)

Now that you have an overview, it should come as no surprise that the 'wesen of the week' side of things dealt with wesen boys being initiated into manifesting their 'true' (wesen) natures - and going on a hunt. Not a hugely new concept - I've known of adventure treks and survival camps that "make men out of boys" my whole life, but this had the wesen twist, of course. The point of this being that these little modern wesens are required to "disconnect" from their devices, go camping without too many comforts and, ultimately hunt. But unlike their ancestors it was rabbits - not people. And therein lies the conflict because someone IS hunting people... yadda yadda.

So you get the idea - wild natures, having to come to terms with that, accept not reject, yet mastery of instincts not slaves of ones urges etc etc

On the main character's arcs, though, the theme is far more interesting. You have Monroe, a reformed Blutbad (think Big Bad Wolf) who has to face his past in which he gave into his nature and hunted - for real, and how far he's come and how that's all come together to be a good thing now - and he gets to explain this to these young boys, in the wild.

Considering the role of prey versus predator and the roles in the show of hunting predators (that Monroe is now part of), it mixes it all up quite nicely.



... Nick's girlfriend, Juliette, is not only accepting her new 'state' as a Hexenbiest, she's loving it and she's loving the power and being bad. And that's a whole bunch of bad news. When we see Juliette last, it's via the light of the flames of Aunt Marie's trailer as it - and the most precious Grimm resources and history on the planet - go up in smoke. As far as mythology for the show goes, that's about as unforgivable as you can get. Even being unfaithful to Nick doesn't come close to that betrayal - and she's putting much of humanity in danger as a result too. It's seriously bad stuff. Because she's completely giving in to her 'wild' side, she's losing her humanity as a result.


It's the exact opposite of what the Prince learns with the Wild Man with the iron skin.

There's more but I'm not intending to go into the show in detail, just to point out a very interesting use of the fairy tale - from both a male point of view and a female one.

And if you're connecting parts of Iron Hans with other fairy tales you know (and there are a few!) then you can see reflections of other themes at play in this episode and this story arc as well. (If you do a mind map and take the various motifs you can see the connections very clearly.) I could also totally segue into a discussion on the Green Man similarities as well as Cernunnos and other forest man but that's a different discussion that would take more coffee than I've had today, but once your mind starts wandering in those directions, you find yourself coming back around to the importance of man being connected to nature as well as 'men's nature'.

If you're following Grimm, there's a fun review and recap of the episode HERE which I recommend, and it talks about some of the other aspects of the episode in detail too, which, now that you know the fairy tale a little better, you can consider in the light of the Iron Hans theme.

And a little trivia: this isn't the first time Iron Hans has been referenced in NBCs Grimm. In the first season, the opening quote from an episode called Cat and Mouse, was also from the fairy tale. (The part at the beginning where all the great hunters were disappearing into the forest never to be seen again, perplexing, and frightening everyone.)
* Having a son of my own, that I am trying to guide to become the best man he can be, it's a great touchstone story to help me in parenting decisions. [There's a great book I need to pull out and read again, now my son is a little older, called Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly. Although some of the issues discussed might be dated (eg the impact of Vietnam etc) overall I remember it being an excellent consideration of true manhood.] From the preface of Bly's Iron John:
"We are living at an important and fruitful moment now, for it is clear to men that the images of adult manhood given by the popular culture are worn out; a man can no longer depend on them. By the time a man is thirty-five he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work in life. Such a man is open to new visions of what a man is or could be... In this book I am talking about male initiation... this book does not seek to turn men against women, nor to return men to the domineering mode that has led to repression of women and their values for centuries. The thought in this book does not represent a challenge to the women's movement. The two movements are related to each other, but each moves on a separate timetable."

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I've read this story a number of times and I've never thought of the whole "male coming-of-age/mastering his nature" interpretation. As much as I like fairy tales, I don't think I'm particularly good at reading into and interpreting them. Maybe because I still let myself be so dazzled by the fantastical elements.