Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The characters in Men of Iron divide into two groups. The novel focuses on those characters belonging to the boyworld, including Myles Falworth and the other squires and bachelors gathered at Devlen Castle to train for knighthood. The second group of characters consists of those remote adults who regulate castle life and are responsible for training the boys in their charge. These adults operate largely behind the scenes, the boys often remaining puzzled by their actions and motives. During the course of the novel, however, these two groups gradually converge as Myles and his cohorts mature and gain admittance into the adult-world. At the end of the novel, Myles recognizes how the adults surrounding him have been watchful and concerned while allowing him repeated opportunities to prove himself and to grow in mind, spirit, and body.

Myles Falworth, the central character in the novel, is a lad of spirit, pluck, and mettle, an acknowledged leader in the boy-world. Bold and outspoken, he is also generous and openhearted, winning firm friends and admirers as well as enemies among his peers at Devlen Castle. Myles faces a difficult position at the castle: his father, Baron Falworth, is in exile, unjustly accused of treason, and Myles's patron and kinsman, the powerful Earl of Mackworth, can show him no open favor. Not understanding that the Earl is in a delicate position for harboring the son of an accused traitor, Myles denounces the Earl for cowardice in not declaring the Baron's innocence before the King. Feeling isolated and friendless, Myles is quick to imagine slights and often fights before thinking. He leads a rebellion among the younger boys against the senior bachelors, organizes a secret club based on romantic Arthurian notions of honor and chivalry, and engages in serious and bloody battles with his bitter rival, Walter Blunt. In addition, Myles foolishly trespasses in the ladies' garden to visit the Earl's daughter and his ward, the Lady Alice, an infraction of castle rules few others have dared.

Though hotheaded and often heedless, Myles remains ever honorable, admirable, and attractive. He counters boyish recklessness and excesses with skill, bravery, and dedication to his tasks, earning the regard of the Earl, who champions him secretly, eventually arranging for Myles's knighting by the King himself. Once Myles has transformed himself into a serious, levelheaded, virtuous knight and has earned the respect of the adult-world, he is able to defeat his family's enemy and regain his good name, titles, and possessions. He reaches his full maturity when he marries Lady Alice and returns to his estates to live "rich and happy and honored and beloved after all his hard and noble fighting."

Other central characters in the novel's boy-world include Myles's first and truest friend, Francis Gascoyne, and Myles's foe, Walter Blunt. Francis shows little of Myles's ambition, initiative, or prowess, but he remains goodhearted and ever faithful. An ordinary boy, Francis is an engaging confidant and supporter for Myles and at times serves as a refining influence on Myles's "ruder and more uncouth character." Walter Blunt, on the other...

(The entire section is 1295 words.)