It analyzes Iron John, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale in Joseph Campbell fashion to find lessons especially meaningful to men. Bly believes that this fairy tale contains lessons from the past of great importance to modern men.
It builds upon material in "What Do Men Really Want?: A New Age Interview With Robert Bly" by Keith Thompson, New Age Journal, May 1982 and first appeared as a series of pamphlets. The pamphlets were quoted by Susan Faludi in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1992 ISBN 0-385-42507-4)
Some feminists and pro-feminist men argue that Bly is guilty of essentialism and biological determinism where the historical and cultural evidence is in disagreement with his claims. Following this criticism, R.W. Connell's popular response to Bly, Masculinities (1995), contends that the notion of a single source or essence of masculinity and men is faulty, since definitions and descriptions of men are as multiple as the various cultures across the world that have sought to describe them. However, other feminists are encouraged by Bly's attempt to encourage men to examine themselves, and believe that men's and women's movements can coexist to bring about an equal relationship between men and women.
The Mythopoetic Men's Movement was spoofed by several authors; Iron John was specifically singled out by some. Two such spoofs were Iron Joe Bob by Joe Bob Briggs and Fire in the John: The Manly Man in the Age of Sissification by Alfred Gingold (whose title also spoofed another Mythopoetic work, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man by Sam Keen).