I just finished reading a family favorite to my youngest son: Men of Iron by Howard Pyle. It’s an old book about an even older time, but stirs the soul of most any boy with the usual craving for rough and tumble adventure, breathtaking danger, and contests of brute strength.
It also happens to be the favorite of many a girl I happen to know, but usually for other reasons. No girl alive doesn’t want to know a boy like Myles Falworth, or look forward to some day meeting the kind of man he grows up to be.
Men of Iron takes place during the reign of King Henry IV, at the peak of the days of chivalry. The story opens at a defining moment of the young boy’s life when his father’s castle is attacked, his father is permanently wounded in defending his family, and they are swiftly whisked away to live in poverty and obscurity until the day Myles is taken to be trained in the arts of knighthood in the prosperous castle of an old friend of his father. Not till then does Myles begin to learn the ways of the world and just how untried and untested he is. As he realizes his disadvantages in training, he discovers his lessons are as much about suffering injustice and learning self-mastery, as they are handling himself on a horse in full armor.
Though naive and unpolished, Myles’ indomitable and fearless character soon gains him lasting friendships, as well as the respect of those in authority over him. It isn’t long before he begins to discern that a plot of intrigue surrounds him, in which he is being maneuvered as a pawn in the hands of some ruthless and powerful enemies. His impetuous and willful nature strengthens into stunning courage as he faces each contest of wit and body with awe-inspiring bravery. These experiences shape his character and ultimately lead him to the most dangerous battle of his life as he seeks to regain and restore his family’s noble position in a life and death tournament.
As the adult reader, I naturally gravitate to the wisdom the author periodically inserts in his creation of those pictures. Though the years of raising boys pass swiftly, I know the perils of boys growing to maturity, and the heart-thumping panic their parents frequently suffer as those boys recklessly gallop down the lists of life.
Little asides such as this reassure me:
“Mostly they spoke the crude romantic thoughts and desires of boyhood’s time – chaff thrown to the wind, in which, however, lay a few stray seeds fated to fall to good earth, and to ripen to fruition in manhood’s day.”
Much later in the tale, my heart rejoiced in this summary of his service in France:
“The warfare, the blood, the evil pleasures he had seen had been a fiery, crucible test to his soul, and I love my hero that he should have come forth from it so well. He was no longer the innocent Sir Galahad who had walked in pure white up the Long Hall to be knighted by the King, but his soul was of that grim, sterling, rugged sort that looked out calmly from his gray eyes upon the wickedness and debauchery around him, and loved it not.”
So don’t just hand this book to your boy of nine or nineteen, but read it for your own edification, not to mention breathless suspense. If you’ve ever wondered at the innate ability of your toddler to utilize any stick as a weapon, but pray fervently he will someday stand strong in the armor of God, fighting battles of life and death in His Kingdom, this story may sow enduring seeds in the fertile imaginations of your child, bestowing the gift of a gallant and courageous hero to remember and emulate.