The iron man with a heart of gold is a phrase I heard on the news a while ago, and it struck me.
To lift a quote from Peter Dickenson’s fantastic book The Flight of Dragons: “One day a stranger comes, a strong man scarred with many fights and carrying a weapon the like of which they have not seen, no flint axe or hammer but a long thin blade of apparently magical strength and sharpness.” Despite the vast leaps humanity has made in metallurgy since the beginning of the Iron Age, we in the West have clung onto this idea of iron being almost supernaturally strong. When we want to emphasise something’s unyielding strength, we still call it ‘iron’, not steel or carbon fibre or any other metal which is, in fact, far stronger. (Like ‘an iron fist’ or Marvel’s Iron Man. There’s even a suggestion that Superman earned his ‘Man of Steel’ moniker in an attempt to ‘one-up’ Philip Wylie’s ‘Gladiator of Iron’.)
The heart is the home of the emotions and the soul. I’m not sure if that’s something we’ve picked up from the Ancient Egyptians, but they were most probably saying it before us in Western Europe and we’re still saying it today. The heart is the home of the everything which makes us human, more than the sum of our biological parts.
And gold is more than a precious metal. It’s pure, and it’s beautiful.
So the person on the news wasn’t talking about an iron statue with a lump of gold stuck it his chest. He’s talking about a supernaturally strong man with a pure and beautiful soul.
It just struck me because, without all that cultural context, it must seem like a pretty odd way to describe someone.
Something to bear in mind when one is writing.
… Oh, okay. Here you go: