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This report is taken from PN Review 180, Volume 34 Number 4, March - April 2008.

Archive Corner 9: Conjuring Up Presences Stella Halkyard

The Letters of Ted Hughes

When the eponymous hero of Ted Hughes' children's story, The Iron Man, steps off the cliff in the opening scenes of the narrative and crashes into the nothingness of destruction, his broken and dismembered body parts lie 'scattered far and wide, silent and unmoving'.1 Yet as the plot unfolds these inert lumps of metal revive and determinedly begin collecting themselves together to be reconfigured into the shape of the Iron Man. According to the OED, the practice of collecting has various functions, among them to 'regain or reassert control over something' or to act as a 'recalling to order and a summoning together'. To collect oneself means to 'gather together one's scattered thoughts, feelings and energies in order to compose one'. In the case of the Iron Man, collecting oneself becomes an act of self-preservation. 'Here is saving in its strongest sense, not just casual keeping but conscious rescuing from extinction - collection as salvation... In the myth of ... [the Iron Man] as urcollector resonate all the themes of collecting itself: desire and nostalgia, saving and loss, the urge to erect a permanent and complete system against the destructiveness of time.'2

Like the 'team of engineers' who fit the Iron Man together on his arrival in Australia in readiness for his epic battle with the Space Lizard, literary scholars and editors have, during the ten years ...


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