"Iron John": A WHERE THE FOOTPRINTS END addendum
"My attitude always was, 'If it's real, it can take the pressure.'" - Terence McKenna
My criteria for any perspective on the paranormal is largely inspired by the above quote. What good is any hypothesis or set of observations if you can't see them play out, time-and-again, in personal accounts and folklore? A fan reached out a while back with a story Timothy Renner and I should have included in Volume I of Where the Footprints End: High Strangeness and the Bigfoot Phenomenon. The tale, which appears throughout Eurasia and Africa, is remarkable for how it ties together so many of the things found both in wild man folklore and in bigfoot accounts. The Bros. Grimm recorded it as "Iron John"—the synopsis from Wikipedia is presented below, with brief commentary afterward on how many aspects aline to what we discovered while writing WTFEv1.
"A king sends a huntsman into a forest nearby and the huntsman never returns. The King sends more men into the forest where they each meet with the same fate. The King sends all his remaining huntsmen out as a group, but again, none return. The king proclaims the woods as dangerous and off-limits to all.
Some years later, a wandering explorer accompanied by a dog hears of these dangerous woods and asks permission to hunt in the forest, claiming that he might be able to discover the fate of the other hunters. The man and his dog are allowed to enter. As they come to a lake in the middle of the forest, the dog is dragged under water by a giant arm. The hunter returns to the forest the next day with a group of men to empty the lake. They find a naked man with iron-like skin and long shaggy hair all over his body. They capture him and he is locked in a cage in the courtyard as a curiosity. No one is allowed to set the wild man free or they will face the penalty of death.
Years later, the young prince is playing with a ball in the courtyard. He accidentally rolls it into the cage where the wild iron-skinned man picks it up and will only return it if he is set free. He states further that the only key to the cage is hidden beneath the queen's pillow.
Though the prince hesitates at first, he eventually builds up the courage to sneak into his mother's room and steal the key. He releases the wild iron-skinned man who reveals his name to be Iron John (or Iron Hans depending on the translation). The prince fears he will be killed for setting Iron John free, so Iron John agrees to take the prince with him into the forest.
As it turns out, Iron John is a powerful being and has many treasures that he guards. He sets the prince to watch over his well, but warns him not to let anything touch it or fall in because it will turn instantly to gold. The prince obeys at first, but begins to play in the well, eventually turning all his hair into gold. Disappointed in the boy's failure, Iron John sends him away to experience poverty and struggle. Iron John also tells the prince that if he ever needs anything, simply to call the name of Iron John three times.
The prince travels to a distant land and offers his services to its king. Since he is ashamed of his golden hair, he refuses to remove his cap before the king and is sent to assist the gardener.
When war comes to the kingdom, the prince sees his chance to make a name for himself. He calls upon Iron John who gives him a horse, armor, and a legion of iron warriors to fight alongside him. The prince successfully defends his new homeland, but returns all that he borrowed to Iron John before returning to his former position.
In celebration, the king announces a banquet and offers his daughter's hand in marriage to any one of the knights who can catch a golden apple that will be thrown into their midst. The king hopes that the mysterious knight who saved the kingdom will show himself for such a prize. Again the prince asks Iron John for help, and again Iron John disguises the prince as the mysterious knight. Though the prince catches the golden apple and escapes, and does so again on two more occasions, he is eventually found.
The prince is returned to his former station, marries the princess, and is happily reunited with his parents. Iron John too comes to the wedding. This time, he is seen without the shaggy hair or iron skin that made him frightening. Iron John reveals he was under enchantment until he found someone worthy and pure of heart to set him free."
Let's compile a "Paranormal Bigfoot" checklist as presented in both volumes of Where the Footprints End, shall we?
Mysterious disappearances. While a traditional view of bigfoot (i.e. the Flesh-and-Blood Hypothesis, or F&BH) falls short of explaining mysterious disappearances as popularized by David Paulides, a more supernatural view of the wild man phenomenon could account for some of their more peculiar aspects.
Mersquatch. The fact that Iron John resides in a pond closely corresponds to bigfoot's affinity for swimming, a predilection that doesn't square well with observed primate behavior—they notoriously avoid deep water, and certainly don't live in it—but is strongly resonant with wild man and faerie folklore.
Bullet/arrow/weapon proof skin. The skin from which Iron John derives his namesake is impervious to weaponry—an aspect noted in countless bigfoot reports. Where the Footprints End Volume I handily demonstrates why the F&BH falls woefully short of explaining the creatures' resilience to gunfire: primate skin is typically thinner, not thicker, when covered in hair, and even mammals with thick layers of protective fat (like grizzly bears), while not killed by small arms fire, react when hit with something as innocuous as birdshot. Any animal should at least flinch when struck by high-powered rifles, but this doesn't occur in many bigfoot reports. However, witches from folklore the world over describe incredible resilience to bullets and blades.
Language. Volume II of Where the Footprints End has an entire chapter dedicated to peculiar bigfoot vocalizations, including spoken language (and, more controversially, telepathy). While great apes certainly can understand human language, they are largely understood as incapable of replicating it, and the rare cases of mimicry are often very poor reflections.
Guardian of treasure. Though controversial to admit (one Coast to Coast AM listener mocked us on Facebook for saying this), bigfoot appear both literally and symbolically tied to concepts of buried treasure. Tim has noticed the tendency for bigfoot to appear in areas that share buried treasure legends, a trend that bears itself out in sightings from places like Robbers Cave State Park and even Oak Island. Even when not tied to explicit treasure, reports of bigfoot around abandoned mining operations are manifold.
Shape shifting. Iron John transforms into a regular, hairless human by the story's end. A portion of Where the Footprints End Volume II is dedicated to reports of wild men and bigfoot—in European legend, indigenous American belief, and eyewitness testimony—shifting in both size and shape, a talent shared with faerie folk.
As Tim eloquently wrote in his Introduction to Volume I: "... there is no shortage of strangeness; there is no want of weirdness; no deficit of oddities. Our forests seem to be hiding something much more complex than an undiscovered gorilla. Bigfoot may be howling from a lonely mountaintop, but the bigfoot phenomenon is whispering secrets... if we will only listen."
Order your copy of Where the Footprints End: High Strangeness and the Bigfoot Phenomenon - Volume I: Folklore here. Volume II of WTFE is currently on schedule for a late 2020 release.