cover image Iron John

Iron John

Marianna Mayer. Morrow Junior Books, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-688-11554-8

Adopting a storyteller's voice for the narration of this bewitching tale, Mayer (Pegasus) skillfully weaves together the essence of several Wild Man myths. Here, Merlin takes on the guise of Iron John, who ""lived among the animals in the woodland as their protector."" Pels's (previously paired with Mayer for Turandot) dense paintings evoke medieval tapestries. The tendriled elegance of the fronds and ferns in the forest where Iron John dwells pulls readers into this mysterious world. Rabbits, squirrels and deer in fur that perfectly camouflages them against the trees reinforce the ""mantle of invisibility"" cast over the forest. Yet the Wild Man himself is not completely safe. One of the king's trappers captures him, and he is kept in a cage at the castle until the king's young son, Hans, sets him free--in innumerable ways. Mayer subtly works in the drawbacks of Iron John's seemingly idyllic life: ""But alas, there are consequences for such profound protection, for the forest ceased to grow and now stood frozen in time."" Only through Hans's maturation and example does the Wild Man find balance between seclusion and society. Pels reflects these changes in Iron John's portraits: early on in the book, the Wild Man appears almost unsightly. But as the man's relationship with Hans causes him to soften his own view of the world, his image in the artwork softens, too. By the close of the book, Iron John is restored to his former regal figure, complete with robes and crown the color of his verdant forest. A captivating take on an age-old story. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)