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 Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 08/25/2004 :  23:03:20  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
I have just finished reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and wanted to recommend the book highly. It isn't about skepticism or science at all so I'm unsure whether this is allowed, but I didn't see any rules against posting book reviews that are off topic. The book qualifies as literature, but science--specifically the limits to man's understanding of his world--is a theme, so I think it squeaks by.

Well, where to begin. First of all, I went into the book with no preconceptions, which is entirely a good thing. I know from my studies (I'm a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in creative writing) that nothing can ruin art quicker than over-analysis. The disection process should occur only after you have sufficiently digested the material. So throughout this review I shall only speak in generalities, rather than give away too much of the book (including its ultimate conclusion, which shocked).

The book takes place in the early 1800s and follows the exploits of a nearly silent Tennessee youth referred to only as "the kid," who leaves his home and seeks a future out west. After falling in with a belicose captain that entertains delusions of conquering Mexico, the kid barely surives a savage attack by Apaches upon their company. Shorty thereafter, he joins the Glanton Gang--a rabble of men who make their living from the flourishing scalp trade. It is in the company of these killers that the kid makes the acquaintance of the Judge--one of the most fascinating and horrific characters I have ever encountered in the entire cannon of the written word.

The book is violent in the extreme, yet McCarthy's command of language is so superb, his story telling so sublime, that the reader never feels a scene is cheap or gratuitous. It this duality between the incredible beauty of the language and the stark brutality of its subject that gives the book its power. Steven Shaviro comments, "the scariest thing about Blood Meridian is that it is a euphoric and exhilarating book, rather than a tragically alienated one, or a gloomy, depressing one." Critic Harold Bloom of The New York Observer writes: "Blood Meridian... seems to me clearly the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer."

McCarthy also researched his book heavily, so that descriptions of landscape, fauna, and life in that period ring true. Apparently the characters of Glanton and the Judge are based on real people. Samuel Chamberlain, who rode with the real Glanton, gives an icy account of the fun had on their bloody conquest in his memoirs, entitled "My Confession." And the scalp trade is faithfully depicted and historically accurate, though some may have a hard time envisioning when such a time in America could ever have existed. But the book isn't merely about America or the acts of violence of any one period in human history; it really is a meditation on the human animal, our limitations, and our collective character. McCarthy opens his book with this telling passage:

"Clark, who lead last year's expedition to the Afar region of northern Ethiopia, and UC Berkley colleague Tim D. White, also said that a re-examination of a 300,000-year-old fossil skull found in the same region earlier shows evidence of having been scalped."
--The Yuma Daily Sun, June 13th, 1982.

Lastly, I cannot stress how rich this book is. Yes, it is a difficult read--McCarthy dislikes punctuation and has an enormous vocabulary, I recommend keeping a dictionary handy--but the rewards are immense. The best literature to me has always included not only soaring language, but ideas worthy of such language. Blood Meridian is perhaps the purest example of this I have ever found. I'll leave with this passage, taken shortly after the kid arrives in a rough desert outpost and is drawn toward the light of saloon:

"Then he pushed open the door and entered. A dimly seething rabble had coagulated within. As if the raw board structure erected for their containment occupied some ultimate sink into which they had gravitated from off the surrounding flatlands."

Comparing men to objects affected by gravity also ties into one of the book's main themes, yet I hope you all will attempt to discover that on your own. (Yes, I'm ending my review with a cheesy "If you want to find out more, please read the book." ) A++


P.S. And here's another review I found. It's humorous but contains minor spoilers. He writes: "I'm fighting a losing battle, here, folks. I'm going into this knowing that no review that I write can do justice to this book. But, if I can get just one other person to read Blood Meridian, I can die a happy man."
[Edited to modify book links - Dave W.]

"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie

Edited by - H. Humbert on 11/20/2004 00:36:46

Wendy
SFN Regular

USA
614 Posts

Posted - 12/21/2004 :  11:27:31   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Wendy a Yahoo! Message Send Wendy a Private Message
I just checked this book out from the library on my lunch hour. I already want to curl up in my chair in front of the fireplace and read until I'm done.

Damn clients, damn the office! I wanna go home and read!!

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do on a rainy afternoon.
-- Susan Ertz
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 12/21/2004 :  14:11:43   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
Cool, Wendy. You're in for a hell of a read. I look forward to your thoughts when you've finished.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 12/21/2004 14:12:02
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Wendy
SFN Regular

USA
614 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2005 :  12:15:13   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Wendy a Yahoo! Message Send Wendy a Private Message
Who would've thought - and eloquent Western? I am stunned. I want to thank you H. Humbert for recommending this book. It is not something I would ever have read on my own, and I enjoyed it immensely. I am so glad I started it during the holidays when I didn't have much time to read. Otherwise, I would have gobbled it up in a day or two. A book like this should be savored.

I love to read, and I always enjoy it, but this book made me fall in love with the written word all over again. That McCarthy wrote about this subject matter using his seemingly limitless vocabulary without sounding even remotely pretentious is astonishing, but true. I still don't know how he did it.

I envy anyone about to read this book for the first time. I checked it out from the library, but I plan to buy it so I can read it again any time I wish.

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do on a rainy afternoon.
-- Susan Ertz
Edited by - Wendy on 01/03/2005 12:19:11
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Siberia
SFN Addict

Brazil
2322 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2005 :  13:24:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Siberia's Homepage  Send Siberia an AOL message  Send Siberia a Yahoo! Message Send Siberia a Private Message
I'll see too it, though I'm generally not that type that reads a book due to its literary value/vocabulary/things that make literature professors happy.

"Why are you afraid of something you're not even sure exists?"
- The Kovenant, Via Negativa

"People who don't like their beliefs being laughed at shouldn't have such funny beliefs."
-- unknown
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 01/03/2005 :  18:28:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by Wendy

Who would've thought - and eloquent Western? I am stunned. I want to thank you H. Humbert for recommending this book. It is not something I would ever have read on my own, and I enjoyed it immensely. I am so glad I started it during the holidays when I didn't have much time to read. Otherwise, I would have gobbled it up in a day or two. A book like this should be savored.

I love to read, and I always enjoy it, but this book made me fall in love with the written word all over again. That McCarthy wrote about this subject matter using his seemingly limitless vocabulary without sounding even remotely pretentious is astonishing, but true. I still don't know how he did it.

I envy anyone about to read this book for the first time. I checked it out from the library, but I plan to buy it so I can read it again any time I wish.

Excellent. I'm pleased to know I share my esteem for this book with someone else. Such things can be so very subjective, and I was half-preparing myself to hear that you did not care for it.

McCarthy really does write beautifully. As you said, it made me fall in love with the written word once again. Practically anyone can write, but few possess the gift to truly make writing an art. I was absolutely floored by this novel.

I also did not find it in the least bit pretentious, though that is the critism most often leveled at it. I found it extraordinarly textured, rich, beautiful and disturbing. I'm curious to know, Wendy, what feelings did you come away with about the Judge, both of his character and his philosophy? Who was the Judge, if you get my meaning? Or as the kid said, "What's he a judge of?"


P.S. I also read the book on loan, and I also had to buy a copy once I finished. :)


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 01/04/2005 01:11:04
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Wendy
SFN Regular

USA
614 Posts

Posted - 01/04/2005 :  11:26:15   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Wendy a Yahoo! Message Send Wendy a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by H. Humbert

... what feelings did you come away with about the Judge, both of his character and his philosophy? Who was the Judge, if you get my meaning? Or as the kid said, "What's he a judge of?"


He's somethin' ain't he?

I hate to admit it, but I read purely for my own pleasure. It seldom occurs to me to wonder what the author intended, or to think of how other readers interpret a book. I consider a book as something given over to me for my private enjoyment. (Yes, I know how shallow that is!)

After I read your most recent post I searched the internet for reviews by others to get their point of view. I saw the Judge compared to Ahab, MacBeth, “The Devil”, Milton's Satan, a Darwinist, Iago, and others. None of those feel right to me. If the Judge is the Devil, he is Lucifer, God's fallen favorite. In my mind though, the Judge is God. He is both beautiful and terrible, cruel and compassionate, pure and perverse, creative and destructive, known to all, yet personal and intimate. He attempts to be omniscient and omnipotent by acquiring knowledge of all things and then controlling them through their destruction.

Did you ever see Highlander or watch the series? I am reminded of immortals battling for their immortality and absorbing the strength of the vanquished.

The way the author fails to simply state what the Judge has done, but rather lets the reader draw his own conclusions makes his deeds seem all the more terrible somehow.

What are your thoughts?

(Edited to add that I post from work with many interruptions, so of this seems scatter-brained - it is!)

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do on a rainy afternoon.
-- Susan Ertz
Edited by - Wendy on 01/04/2005 12:02:14
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astropin
SFN Regular

USA
970 Posts

Posted - 01/05/2005 :  11:46:03   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send astropin a Private Message
And soon to be a major motion picture directed by Ridley Scott!

http://www.thezreview.co.uk/comingsoon/b/bloodmeridian.htm

"Monday 10th May 2004: Blood Meridian Update:
William Monahan is in talks to write the adaptation of novelist Cormac McCarthy's book Blood Meridian. The project is being produced by Scott Rudin at Paramount Pictures. Also thought to be in talks is Ridley Scott to direct the project, an uncompromising depiction of a crucial junction in American history. Set in the 1840s, the story centers on a young boy who gets in with a gang of outlaws employed by the territorial governors to clear Indians from the Mexican border area."

PS. I just ordered the book from Amazon.


I would rather face a cold reality than delude myself with comforting fantasies.

You are free to believe what you want to believe and I am free to ridicule you for it.

Atheism:
The result of an unbiased and rational search for the truth.

Infinitus est numerus stultorum
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Wendy
SFN Regular

USA
614 Posts

Posted - 01/05/2005 :  13:42:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Wendy a Yahoo! Message Send Wendy a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by astropin

And soon to be a major motion picture directed by Ridley Scott!



It will certainly make for a gruesome flick, probably even more graphic than "Saving Private Ryan".

I'm not sure I'll see the movie, but I certainly enjoyed the book. Hope you like it, astropin!

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do on a rainy afternoon.
-- Susan Ertz
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 01/27/2005 :  22:07:12   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
First of all, Wendy, I apologize for taking so long to respond, but I wanted to have time to compose my thoughts. (With spoilers for those who wish to avoid them.)
quote:
Originally posted by Wendy
I hate to admit it, but I read purely for my own pleasure. It seldom occurs to me to wonder what the author intended, or to think of how other readers interpret a book. I consider a book as something given over to me for my private enjoyment. (Yes, I know how shallow that is!)
Well, first of all, that isn't shallow, but exactly how a book should be read in my opinion. I only try to "crack the nut" as it were of what the author might have intended after I've finished reading. If you try to analyse as you go you miss too much and ruin the effect. And I should add that I only really think about this stuff because it personally interests me. I understand fully that not everyone shares my interests. I do the same with movies. I can't just walk out of a good movie and leave it alone; I must go to a coffee shop or bar with someone and hash it out a bit.
quote:
After I read your most recent post I searched the internet for reviews by others to get their point of view. I saw the Judge compared to Ahab, MacBeth, “The Devil”, Milton's Satan, a Darwinist, Iago, and others. None of those feel right to me. If the Judge is the Devil, he is Lucifer, God's fallen favorite. In my mind though, the Judge is God. He is both beautiful and terrible, cruel and compassionate, pure and perverse, creative and destructive, known to all, yet personal and intimate. He attempts to be omniscient and omnipotent by acquiring knowledge of all things and then controlling them through their destruction.

Did you ever see Highlander or watch the series? I am reminded of immortals battling for their immortality and absorbing the strength of the vanquished.

The way the author fails to simply state what the Judge has done, but rather lets the reader draw his own conclusions makes his deeds seem all the more terrible somehow. What are your thoughts?
Ha! I like that Highlander analogy. Yes, very much like that in the manner he would destroy anything after he had added it to his sketch book. I hadn't really thought out of it that way, but his is a very canabalistic intelligence. Vampiric almost.

Yeah, I can't say I know exactly what to make of him either. There are very definite references to the Judge being the devil, clearly. It's there in the scope and breadth of his knowledge about human beings (and their failings), the mysterious "coin trick" he performed around the fire, and in his almost supernatural ability to survive impossible situations (he says that he will never die). But beyond that, the Judge is clearly called the devil in the very first scene in which he is introduced! I totally missed that the first time, and only managed to pick it up once I had read it over again.

But, as you note, what sort of devil? I don't know enough about Milton to comment on any classical references, but I do like your comment about "God's fallen favorite." The Judge is, to my mind, representative of everything that is good and everything that is evil about mankind's "two halves"--our animal and our intellectual side. He is something that I think we are all in danger of becoming.

But, I can't say I've really figured it all out either, which was why I asked for your thoughts. I'm not entirely decided on any one interpretation. One interesting thing tha

"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 02/08/2005 16:03:36
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Wendy
SFN Regular

USA
614 Posts

Posted - 01/28/2005 :  09:09:15   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Wendy a Yahoo! Message Send Wendy a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by H. Humbert

But beyond that, the Judge is clearly called the devil in the very first scene in which he is introduced! I totally missed that the first time, and only managed to pick it up once I had read it over again.


AWWGGGH! I can't believe I missed that!

quote:
Originally posted by H. Humbert

He is something that I think we are all in danger of becoming.

Do you, really? That is a truly terrifying thought.

quote:
Originally posted by H. Humbert

He adds that epilogue about the expansion of the railroad, which did ultimately "tame" the west. It seemed to me to be a hopeful ending, in that respect.

I agree. The book inspired me to do some non-fictional reading about "The Glanton Gang". I'd like to read Samuel Chamberlain's memoirs. I probably shouldn't have been as surprised as I was by how few liberties McCarthy took in his novel. It is a thought provoking book. One I am sure to read again, and again.

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do on a rainy afternoon.
-- Susan Ertz
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 01/28/2005 :  16:42:42   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by Wendy
AWWGGGH! I can't believe I missed that!
Like I said, I missed it too. Plus McCarthy was clever in that respect. He puts the words into the mouth of the "discredited" minister. Another line which I now recall said something about a time when the Judge (and I paraphrase) "looked over the land and appeared satisfied, like a man who had been consulted in its creation."
quote:
quote:
Originally posted by H. Humbert

He is something that I think we are all in danger of becoming.

Do you, really? That is a truly terrifying thought

Well, I use "we" in the collective sense. The lesson of that book, to me, was that human life was not always treated with as much regard as we assign it today, and very easily (indeed, one could argue it's happened already), we might return to a time when human life matters very little. The danger of the Judge is that he provides a philosophy of war that excuses, or really promotes, such violence. How many politicians do we hear today speaking of the "need" for war?


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 01/28/2005 16:43:51
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 02/08/2005 :  15:58:38   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
Reading some Amazon.com reviews, I found a description of the Judge that finally clicked for me. At one point I had written...
quote:
Originally posted by H. Humbert
The Judge is, to my mind, representative of everything that is good and everything that is evil about mankind's "two halves"--our animal and our intellectual side.
To expand on that idea, here is what another reviewer wrote:
quote:
I found it helpful to come across an interpretation that the Judge is mankind-eternal, from humans' existence to its end. The Judge symbolizes man's determination to educate himself, categorize and control his surroundings, learn languages, history, art, philosophy etc etc. On the other hand the Judge symbolizes the absolute, basal violence that man is molded from, and is ever reverting to when confronted with even remote intimidation. McCarthy equates or describes his characters at least 7 or 8 times as ape-like. Man, no matter how evolved will always be a chest-pounding ape.
It occurs to me, Wendy, that instead of saying the Judge is something we are all in danger of becoming, what I really meant was that he is something we all are in danger of reverting to.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 02/08/2005 16:02:04
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Wendy
SFN Regular

USA
614 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2005 :  12:53:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Wendy a Yahoo! Message Send Wendy a Private Message
quote:
Man, no matter how evolved will always be a chest-pounding ape.

Ain't THAT the truth?

quote:
Originally posted by H.Humbert
It occurs to me, Wendy, that instead of saying the Judge is something we are all in danger of becoming, what I really meant was that he is something we all are in danger of reverting to.

In that case, I agree completely.

One of the things I considered while reading the book is what kind of person I would be had I lived under those circumstances and in that time. I certainly would not be the woman I am now. Adversity has served to strengthen me in my own life, but I won't go so far as to claim I could thrive under such conditions as McCarthy's characters endured.

Hey, astropin, have you read this yet?

Millions long for immortality who don't know what to do on a rainy afternoon.
-- Susan Ertz
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slipnduck
New Member

2 Posts

Posted - 05/30/2005 :  08:40:29   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send slipnduck a Private Message
First of all I'd just like to say hello as this is my first post.

I first read Blood Meridian in about 1996 as part of a degree in American Studies that I was doing. I have no doubt that it left me wondering about it for no short time on that occasion, although I can not recall any conclusions I came to now. Then last week whilst looking for something to read I spotted it on my shelf and decided to reread it, and for the next two days I did little else.
Even whilst approaching the end of the book my mind was spinning with questions, and in the four days or so since then the book and lines from within it, usually spoken by the Judge, have never been far from my mind. Who was the Judge? What did he represent? What was his special relationship with the Kid? Or did his relationship with the Kid just seem special because the story concentrated on the Kid, and in fact the Judge had a universal relationship with all men? What was the Kids final fate? Was it merely that which awaits us all? And if so then did the Judge actually exist on the same plane as the other characters?
It was only after pondering these things for a few days whilst ignoring people as they spoke to me that I thought of looking online to see if anyone else might shed some light. I'm glad that i did because I've found that this book has had a similar effect on others.
I really like this passage:
The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the or derin creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has it's own order and that no man's mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.

A great book
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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 05/30/2005 :  13:05:06   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message
Welcome to the SFN!

I don't know about anyone else, but I read for two reasons. Most often for entertainment, and then for education (the sharing of information in written form).

The analysis of writing, looking for meaning other than the obvious, has always seemed a self flagellating (or masturbatory) excercise to me.

To my way of thinking writers have one of two intents when they put pen to paper, to entertain or inform.

I have serious doubts that most writers fill their work with hidden meaning and deliberately obtuse symbolisms. The search for such things is pointless, because no two people really get the same thing from reading the same paragraph.


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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