Or the Evening Redness in the West
by, Cormac McCarthy
“Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor the weak.” The Judge (250)
I have a penchant for Cormac McCarthy’s wholly original and enthralling prose. First introduced to him by the Coen Brother’s film No Country for Old Men I have been drawn to his novels time and again because I am never disappointed. The breadth of his themes are universal and entirely raw in their gritty humanity and it takes the type of mind willing to accept the perspective of the passage I’ve noted above to find comfort within his brutal perspective. McCarthy is a prosaic master with the ability to reincarnate violence into a beautiful inevitability bound within the spectrum of the arc of life.
Blood Meridian is by the far the most violent of McCarthy’s works and not more than ten pages pass before there is another barroom murder or meeting with a swollen corpse or ceaseless rally of war or encounter with sun parched bones. From any other author the violence would seem senseless but McCarthy is a storyteller with a deeper intent than to entertain. This novel is a western unlike all other westerns. This novel murders the mythology of the glory of the Western fable and in so doing causes the reader to question the mythology of human history itself. McCarthy succeeds in this mission through the allure of his language, for example take this passage that depicts the often cliché western scene of the riders riding off into the setting sun:
“they had turned their tragic mounts to the west and they rode infatuate and half fond toward the red demise of that day, toward the evening lands and the distant pandemonium of the sun.” (185)
Or take this example of the classic Mexican standoff with heroes and villains pointing their guns at each other triangularly in nervous anticipation for the first shot fired:
“he found them frozen in deadlock with the savages, they and their arms wired into a construction taut and fragile as those puzzles wherein the placement of each piece is predicated upon every other and they in turn so that none can move for bringing down the structure entire.” (229)
Such writing is of the highest form of the craft. More than once did I find myself turning the page to be suddenly awake and aware that my hand was there turning the page for in reading I was so in engrossed in each brutal, beautiful word, shocked with excitement for the power of language that I found myself thankfully aware of the textile presence of the page in my hand as I turned to the next, for without this awareness I would become a proselyte to McCarthy’s heradling brutality.
Blood Meridian is a novel that at face value could be described as the story of a band of scalping miscreants who traveled across the then Mexican wilderness of the mid 19th century delivering misery upon the lives of all Mexican and Apache indigenous that they encounter. However, I must admit that that brief description does no justice to the linguistic dance that violence steps within the purpose of this novel.
I find that novelistic purpose is best explained in the following passage taken from a story told by the charter named The Judge. This story told around the campfire reveals the Judge’s intent in the slaughter of the Apache:
“The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes. This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, other sons.” (146-7)
The ruins that judge speaks of are the ruins of the Anasazi, a long extinct people that built stone cities in the southwest desert, but all history of them is lost to war or some other unknown savagery. Their disappearance is much like the disappearance of a murdered traveler, who leaves behind an unknown inheritance lost to the brutality of man. All of this is the way of things as they are and no more.
Blood Meridian is the story of the continuity of man on this earth, for every age has its own violent wounds worn from the pilgrimage of life.
“The desert wind would salt their ruins and there would be nothing, nor ghost nor scribe, to tell any pilgrim in his passing how it was that the people had lived in this place and in this place died.” (174)