The Fancy Times

Fine Slop for the Discerning Tastemaker

Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy, 1985

War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.

Judge Holden

Three hundred and fifty pages of frontier violence and depravity. A novel about the American West that manages to avoid being a Western to the point of Anti. Essentially depicting the lifestyles of the old filibusters of the early 1800s. Filibusters were like an early form of mercenaries for the New World, guns for hire, soldiers of fortune, etc. The setting is along and around the American-Mexican border of the 1850s. The main character is a broke fourteen-year-old who ends up with a crew of lunatic scalp-collectors.

The violence is graphic at times but often obscured in dizzying prose which I will example later. There are a lot of passages that I would finish and have to backtrack, having no clear idea how we got from that to this. I was playing a ton of Red Dead Redemption when I read this. Rather than adding to the experience, the book was so visceral that it made the game feel tame and childish.

I would say the book doesn’t bother much with character development, the people are as they are. However, the book’s mystique is held by a single icon known as the Judge. An enlightened psychopath or perhaps some supernatural demon. He philosophizes often and it’s always a joy to read. These scenes have a comparative clarity to them that the more active, violent ones lack.

Like many of McCarthy’s novels, the story ends abruptly and ambiguously. In that spirit, I’ll part on the novel’s most famous sentence.

A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skin of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided calvary jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear or crane feathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeon tailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horse from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools. 

Cormac McCarthy

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