By Cormac McCarthy
More than one Western writer diagnosed the collapse of the genre as the effect of too many stories based on formula plots and mindless bloodletting. Others thought there wasn’t enough mindless bloodletting. Long after the river of ink dried up, Cormac McCarthy dynamited the dam and let loose a blood-red flood.
Blood Meridian follows a nameless boy who drifts from Tennessee down to Texas in 1847, the journey is described in a vignette that foreshadows the explosion of murder that will follow. In a tent revival in Nacogdoches the Kid meets Judge Holden, a huge, hairless man of immense erudition and mercurial disposition. When the Kid gets down to San Antonio he falls among the would-be adventurers who swarmed along the border in the 1850s. The Kid rejoins the Judge, now aligned with Glanton, the chief of a gang of scalp-hunters paid by the Mexican government to kill hostile Indians.
The narrative propels the Kid into a maelstrom of bloodshed, rape, murder, and mutilation become the norm when man meets his fellow man in the wastelands south of the border. The obscene atrocities perpetrated by the Apaches on Mexicans are matched and exceeded by the savagery of the scalp hunters. Blood Meridian hovers on the edge of the surreal, as sardonic dialog moves alongside raw bloodlust. Once you’ve seen “Ft. Smith Arkansas” in the same sentence as “congress with a goat”, it just seems natural. Just as a bush hung with dead babies becomes natural. The horror is heightened for readers who are aware that by and large the crimes described are taken directly from actual events. McCarthy has added the sinister figure of the Judge, to bear witness to man’s inner core of evil and let the guilty condemn themselves with their own tongues.
As the Western faded into the sunset, the last refuge of sentimentalists yearning for a past of tradition and Christian values that never was, one writer was willing to look at just how truly Satanic the frontier was.