Book

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

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I’m uncertain what to make of this book, especially since so many critics have compared it to Homer and Melville. I’d read the Odyssey, and found the pace and twists in the plot fairly readable. I’d felt compelled to read McCarthy often, but the heavy themes and tough characters in most of the film adaptions of his work (The Road, No Country, All the pretty, The Counsellor) don’t entice me to invest time and effort to read a five hundred page opus chronicling American history, identity and politics.

Blood Meridian is short and surprising easy to read, that is apart from the metaphorical prose and archaic language, diverges into strange parables about god and death.

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I’d read the novel after reading appalling reviews of the latest film The Counsellor (directed by Ridley Scott), which was written directly for the screen and was not adapted from a novel. It was said that the great Hollywood director (known for Gladiator, Blade Runner, Alien, Black Hawk Down and Thelma & Louise) had wanted to adapt Blood Meridian into a film, but I could imagine the difficulties of bringing such a diverse and controversial anti-Western to the big screen; problematic due to the inherent racism, the historical scenes of genocide and atrocities committed against the native Americans, and not least due to the episodic structure of the narrative and the lack of an obvious central hero with any redeeming qualities.

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THE BLACK ROBE, Tantoo Cardinal 1991. ©Samuel Goldwyn Films

For me, moments seem to recollect or pay some homage to films with similar themes, notably Apocalypse Now, Ride With The Devil, Little Big Man, Cold Mountain, Heaven’s Gate and Lonesome Dove. Essentially, the plot resembles  a blend of the two epic sagas Apocalypse Now and Heaven’s Gate, if you will, where the narrative occurs through the lost eyes of ‘The Kid’. The young and aimless (and violent) adolescent who arrives on the scene similar to Ismael in Moby Dick, or Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, and follows his journey on a series of adventures and battles for the enterprise of the mystical and grotesque leader Glanton and his henchman ‘The Judge’.

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The chapters are short and novel itself is only 340 pages, and I’m glad that McCarthy chose to narrate it from the position of a single character to show the shifts in the story. I’m not sure would’ve enjoyed it was much if I knew the length would’ve continued to the duration of Moby Dick or Paradise Lost. I think what makes this novel so good is that it feels like a film, it constantly reminded me of films I’d enjoyed, and you could easily imagine Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Fassbender, Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day Lewis slipping into the skins of the characters.

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The fact that the book is based on true events taken from the allegedly fictionalized biography of Samuel Chamberlian from his experiences with Glanton in the 1849 range wars is equally disturbing and astonishing. I would like to compare this account with Blood Meridian, but I think it would deflate some of the lurid imagination of the novel. There’s something about engrossing about the style and content of this novel, it’s morbid themes seems to make it comparable to other novels presenting political and historical events, such as Primo Levo If This Is a Man, Bret Easton Elllis’s American Psycho, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front or the documentaries I’d seen about the Chernobyl disaster. Disturbingly, these tragic tales of war and genocide become like a playground for a Dionysus type destruction of the self and an emergence for free will, redemption and a deeper knowledge of the soul, which McCarthy acknowledges as ‘War is God’.

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Our first real glimpse of the canyon ahead. That rounded dome on the left would be Cold Mountain. Photo is about mid-day.

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