cover image The Iron Woman: 9

The Iron Woman: 9

Ted Hughes. Dial Books, $14.99 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1796-1

Employing thunderously expressive language and searing imagery, the poet laureate of England concocts a nightmarish morality tale about ecology. Unfortunately, the sonorous prose and Moser's haunting engravings fail to camouflage a simplistic plot and shaky premise. A vast Iron Woman arises out of a marsh and vows, to a schoolgirl named Lucy, to destroy those who have poisoned the waters. Afraid for her father and the others who work at the toxin-dumping Waste Factory, Lucy contacts Hogarth, the boyish handler of the Iron Man (a figure introduced more than 20 years ago in Hughes's The Iron Giant). The children's warnings do not stop the polluters, and so the Iron Woman, after being energized by Iron Man's Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon from outer space, turns every adult male in the country into some type of water creature. They resume human form only after a monstrous Cloud-Spider gets sucked off into space, which also causes the country's refuse to transform, miraculously, into a nonpolluting fuel/fertilizer/pesticide (""`Our problems,' said the prime minister, `seem to be strangely solved'""). Hardly a timely or instructive parable for readers who, despite their youth, know that there are no magical solutions to a pressing global concern. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)