The Iron King by Maurice Druon – Book club discussion questions
A reminder, all our book club discussion questions contain spoilers
“Kingdoms were often handed over to adolescents, whose absolute power fascinated them as might a game. Hardly grown out of the age in which it is fun to tear the wings from flies, they might now amuse themselves by tearing the heads from men. Too young to fear or even imagine death, they would not hesitate to distribute it around them.” – Maurice Druon.
The Iron King is the first book in a seven part series, which charts course of the French monarchy from the reign of Phillip the Fair, through the tempestuous reigns of his sons. It concludes during the Hundred Years War, against England’s Edward III, himself a nephew. This book spends much of its time setting up key players for the conflicts later in the series.
At the volume’s centre is Phillip, who is the most powerful man alive. He has crushed all of his enemies, enslaved the Church, and forged France into a tool of his will. His sons are foolish, his daughters-in-law adulteresses, and his courtiers scheme against each other. When Phillip finally incinerates his last potent foe, the leader of the Templars, his house is cursed. In the first volume, we watch Phillip’s power fracture, so that his heirs can squabble over it. Once the battles begin, this dark time, oppressed by a king more statue than man, will be looked back upon as a golden age.
- Phillip believes that all of his immoral actions are justified if he is doing them for the good of France. His end justifies any means, including the torture and murder of the innocent. To what extent does this view find acceptance with modern political leaders, and on what controversial issues?
- Do you think people prefer a leader who will do terrible things, so that the public retain both the rewards of the terrible action, and a clear conscience? What has been done in your name that appalls you?
- Why does the princesses take lovers? Were they justified?
- Medieval curses often take a generational form. Is it moral to curse the children of a wrong-doer, or are our sins personal to us? If we inherit the rewards of sin, as Phillip’s son does, do we carry a portion of the responsibility for the sin?
- Are any of the characters likeable? Do you want anyone in particular to be victorious?
- George R R Martin has noted, in the newer translation, that this work is “the original Game of Thrones.” What similarities do you see between the texts?
- The book was originally written in French, and has some strange idioms in it. Which did you notice, and what do they say about differences between French culture at the time the books were written and modern Australian culture?
City Libraries has copies of the book in both text and audio formats.