blood meridian & beloved: evil twins

two words: irresistible evil

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, by Cormac McCarthy, 1986, is the filthy brutal expectorating brother to Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987. Both novels, set in mid 19th century USA, around the time manifest destiny became more than just a notion, explore twin sides of a blood-soaked history: As the atrocity of slavery is perpetrated in the east, the other monster America’s legacy is built on, genocide keeps wicked hands busy in the barren west.

This is a hungry country. p.17

Both novels have a breathtaking lyrical pulse, but while Beloved has beauty (and a plot), everything is harsh, heavy, ugly and relentless in Blood Meridian.

This does not diminish its appeal.

Blood Meridian is McCarty’s imaginative take on the Glanton Gang‘s bloody rampage across the south-western border between 1849 and 1850. (Beloved too is a retelling of the trial of slavewoman, Margaret Garner, c.1856.) Adapted from Samuel Chamberlain’s visual and romanticized memoir,  My Confessions: The Recollections of a Rogue, written for his daughters, McCarthy reinvents the Glanton Gang Moby Dick style. Unlike Chamberlain’s version, we are spared no blood-spatter or braining or entrailspill or infantkill: I lost count of the scalps, ears, hearts, heads and testicles taken in BM. Just when you think there is no other way to kill or rape man, woman, child or beast, another is invented in brutal effect. Every kill or near-kill is significant, even the one too cruel to describe. Evil and dominion, as echoed in BM‘s epigraphs, are not exclusive to the American story, they are part of the larger human story. The judge preaches,

War endures. Before man was war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting the ultimate practitioner. War is god. p.p. 248-249

and the truth of it registers in our annals.

The central character in Blood Meridian, ‘the kid’, a 16 year old runaway, is violent but not evil. He remains incorruptible even as he finds a home among the rabid and vicious scalp-hunters. Judge Holden, a Gene Hackman type meets Milton’s devil, has full control of everyone, John Glanton especially. But he wants the kid. He and his natural rival, the expriest Tobin, another member of the gang, in a “secret commerce” wage a tacit battle to claim him across the desert stretch, but the kid resists.

You alone were mutinous. You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen. p.299

It is only after a near three-decade chase that the judge finally gets the kid, now ‘the man’, to ‘dance’.

here beyond mens judgment, all covenants are brittle. p. 106.

I winced and moaned my way through Blood Meridian. When I got to the dead centre of that terrible book, by the lake, at the very threshold into evil the title describes, I had to put it down and wait a few hours to pick it up again. It went that way for days over the second half of the novel. My heart pounded, I could barely breathe, as a morbid compulsion to see the bloody spectacle through took hold. I am desperate still for it to let me go, as I am haunted by the question: What did the judge do to the man?

cormac mccarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s epic is masterfully told. His forensic ability to stare unflinchingly at the heart and entrails  of American history and say what he sees is remarkable, matched only by his poetic proclivities. He covers not only the vast terrain of the American west, but the terrifying expanse of human capacity for evil.

A mans at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. p.19

Little Children‘s director Todd Field is/was attempting an adaptation after Ridley Scott rejected it as un-filmable. The sheer scale of the violence and terrain are mammoth challenges, so I agree with Scott that this is one for pages. As for Field, I wish him godspeed and good insurance.

cowboys and angels-george michael
war-bob marley

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