Books try giving new-age men clues to masculinity Finding the 'inner warrior' or the 'wild man' within

August 29, 1991|By Hartford Courant

"What Do Men Really Want?" Newsweek asked earlier this summer in its cover story on the burgeoning men's movement.

Whether they want it or not, men are in store for more books telling them how to be men. One look at the non-fiction best-seller list reveals why: Robert Bly's "Iron John: A Book About Men" and Sam Keen's "Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man" are surprising fixtures. With their success, at least three more books about male bonding are due from publishers this fall.

From men's weekends in the woods to TV sitcoms to books, the topic of men's finding the "inner warrior" or the "wild man" within is permeating the culture, even if it sometimes inspires skepticism. Nonetheless, believers are hugging, crying, emoting, beating drums and reading their way to a new definition of masculinity and manhood.

The founding father and father figure of the movement is Robert Bly, who was well-known as a poet before he began speaking to men's groups about 10 years ago, where he sensed a deep malaise. "Iron John," which uses fairy tales and mythology as guideposts for men who have lost their way in the modern world, was published last November.

Contemporary man, the theory goes, has lost his masculine vitality, tripped up by absent fathers, demanding mothers, strong wives and the lack of male initiation rites. Alan Alda, move over. Make way for models like Zorba the Greek, King Arthur and Odysseus -- "very virile men who can dance and sing and cry," says William Patrick, Mr. Bly's editor at Addison-Wesley, a Massachusetts publisher.

Mr. Bly's book says in plain English, that "guys can learn to talk about stuff without losing their masculinity," Mr. Patrick says, often by turning to each other.

Mr. Keen's book is more in thetraditional self-help mode, but it, too, has a new-age, spiritual veneer. The new men's movement, Mr. Keen notes, is not to be confused with the wimpy old "men's liberation" movement. The new vision of a man, Mr. Keen writes, is a guy "with fire in his belly and passion in his heart."

Rosemary Dempsey, a vice president for the NationaOrganization for Women, says she thinks the kind of consciousness raising going on among men is "very positive and very good," as long as "men are really taking a look at the problem of male violence and the problem of male dominance along with the problem of men being oppressed."

But she also questions whether there is a real men's movement, or if the publisher of "Iron John" has just done "a tremendous marketing job."

More men's books


Other men's books due out this fall or just published are:

"Knights Without Armor: A Practical Guide for Men in Quest of Masculine Soul" by Aaron R. Kipnis (Jeremy Tarcher, October).

"To Be a Man: Developing Conscious Masculinity," Keith Thompson, editor (Jeremy Tarcher, September). An anthology that features writings by men's movement leaders, as well as such literary figures as Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller.

HarperPerennial-HarperCollins has reissued Mr. Bly's poetry in six paperback volumes.

HarperCollins San Francisco has just published "Transformation: Understanding the Three Levels of Masculine Consciousness" by Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson ($14.95).

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