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Literature: Blood Meridian

This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

I dont see what that has to do with catchin' birds.

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I'd have them all in zoos.

Also known as Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, this 1985 novel is Cormac McCarthy's magnum opus. An extremely dark and esoteric novel, it's a total deconstruction of the Wild West and Injun Country, and its main theme, such as it is, could be reasonably argued to be the darkness and ugliness at the heart of the American Dream. It was controversial when it came out because of its relentless scenes of amoral violence. It was named by literary critic Harold Bloom as the greatest American novel by a living author.

The novel follows a teenage runaway, only known as the kid, who by coincidence stumbles into the company of the Glanton Gang. This troupe of historical scalp-hunters and later outlaws are employed by the Mexican government at Chihuahua to exterminate the native tribes waging war against the settlements of the surrounding countryside. Needless to say, it's not positive reading.

Soon to be a film by Todd Field.

Shows examples of:

  • Affably Evil Toadvine and Tobin are sympathetic for being scalp-hunters, and sometimes act as father figures to the kid. Tobin is particularly fond of the kid, and the feeling is mutual; after the gang's defeat, when given the opportunity to join the judge or Tobin, the kid chooses Tobin, and the two flee Holden together.
  • Axe Crazy: John Joel Glanton, the leader of the mercenary gang, has killed so much he has gone insane. Many of his men are even more blood-crazed than he is, but not Judge Holden, who is the sanest man in the group.
  • Bad Ass: Monsters as they are, all gang members are seriously badasses.
    • Badass Bookworm: The Judge is so well read he appears to be omniscient. And there's a chance he actually is.
    • Badass Preacher:
      • Tobin the expriest. There is some in-universe confusion about just how much of a priest he really is/was (he claims to have only been a seminary student and no real priest, while the judge says he used to be a "respected Doctor of Divinity" at Harvard), but he's still pretty faithful to the Christian God in his own way, and doesn't really show the typical traits of the Sinister Minister.
      • Holden may not be a Christian, but his science lectures are more like sermons than academic discourses. Tobin even says that when Holden first joined the group, he gave a sermon on the nature of the world unlike any that any of the group had ever heard.
  • Bald of Evil: Judge Holden.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Glanton Gang operates on the border of Texas, and they speak Spanish with the natives.
    • The prophecies of the traveling circus band are entirely in untranslated Spanish.
    • The last scene of the book is inexplicably described in untranslated German in the chapter summary.
  • Black and Gray Morality: And the gray is very, very dark.
  • BFG: The judge during the Yuma massacre. "When they entered the judge's quarters they found the idiot and a girl of perhaps twelve years cowering naked in the floor. Behind them also naked stood the judge. He was holding leveled at them the bronze barrel of the howitzer."
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Judge. Maybe.
  • Con Man: The reader's introduction to Judge Holden. He convinces a crowd that their preacher is a child rapist and a wanted criminal in another town. The crowd is soon worked up into a rage until they riot and lynch the preacher. Judge Holden later admits he made it up, and got the preacher attacked simply For the Evulz. The men in the crowd are at first horrified, then laugh and buy Holden a drink.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Judge Holden is prone to discoursing on various esoteric or philosophical topics around the campfire, speaking with an odd eloquence his illiterate rapist companions obviously lack.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Whatever the Judge truly is, he is something that is beyond the capicity of the human mind to comprehend. He never sleeps, he says he will never die...
  • Crapsack World: The desolate frontiers of the Old West.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Comanches absolutely decimate the filibusters early on. The Indian tribe suffers no casualties and only a handful of survivors escape. The kid is the only one alive by the next day.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to every other story set in the Old West, even the violent and profanity-laced Deadwood, this one is by far the darkest of them all.
  • Deconstruction: Of The Western genre and most cowboy tropes.
  • Depraved Bisexual: The judge, who rapes children of both gender.
  • Devil in Disguise: Strongly hinted at in Judge Holden's case.
  • Downer Ending: Oh, God.
  • Evil Albino: Judge Holden.
    • Although, of course, not really albino, he fits the trope given that he's paler than anyone living in the Mexican desert has any right to be, and when he loses his hat he's variously described as burning and peeling skin.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Judge Holden is often an eloquent gentleman, who takes off his hat for ladies and whores alike.
  • Gainax Ending
  • Genius Bruiser: The judge, who is strong enough to kill a man with his bare hands, but is also eloquent and well-educated.
  • Gorn: Most of the book consists of the kid's travels through the deserts and prairies, intercut with sickening scenes of violence.
    • Look through enough scholarly articles on this book. At some point the word "ultraviolence" will be used, and expect at least one or two journals to proclaim it the most violent book ever written. There's more bloodshed in the first 100 pages than in the rest of Cormac McCarthy's body of work, easily. And the goriest scenes haven't even arrived yet.
  • Historical Fiction: John Joel Glanton was indeed a scalp-hunter who led the infamous Glanton Gang, and a lot of Blood Meridian is drawn from the account of one of his gang members. His employer, Charles Riddell ("Mr. Riddle" in the book) was also a real person.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Every single character; even the hero is a multiple murderer who later on carries a necklace of ears around his neck. The only possible exception is The Judge, as though he's the worst of the bunch, there's a suggestion he's not human.
  • Humanoid Abomination: It's difficult to walk away from the novel without suspecting the Judge to be this.
  • Infant Immortality: Horrifically averted, most memorably with the tree of dead babies. In one scene Judge Holden takes a small Indian boy captive after a raid on a village. He keeps the boy with him for the night, then murders and scalps him the next morning, just after he is seen "dandling him on his knee."
    • There's also the chapter where one of the scalphunters grabs two babies by the ankles and swings them against a rock, spilling their brains on the ground.
  • Karma Houdini: Somewhat debatable. In a book which describes the slaughter of so many people in such detail, the Kid's "death" is notably absent. Also, since the book is a ton of symbolism wrapped in three hundred pages, the Judge dancing at the end naked is somewhat suspect. Still, a majority of readers come off thinking the Judge killed the kid in the outhouse, so the trope holds.
  • Kick the Dog: Holden has plenty, including buying dogs off of a young boy just to throw them in a river and then shoot them as the boy watches.
  • Kill 'em All: Welcome to the Old West.
  • Left Hanging: Most readers come out saying the Judge raped and murdered the kid in the outhouse. See Karma Houdini above.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The never-seen Mr. Riddle is initially this to the Glanton Gang, which he has unleashed upon the natives of the Texas-Mexico borderlands. However, Judge Holden also fits this trope.
  • Murderers Are Rapists: Child rapists.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Judge Holden.
  • No Name Given: The kid.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The lack of description of the book's final death, the implied death of the kid, is a stark contrast from the rest of the book where scenes of brutal violence are described in detail. This seems to imply that the death is so shocking and gruesome that no possible description can give it justice.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Yep, Judge Holden again.
  • One Steve Limit: White Jackson and Black Jackson from Blood Meridian. Neither Jackson is amused by the nickname. Black Jackson eventually decapitates White Jackson, but the nickname sticks.
  • Pet the Dog: At one stage, a small mexican child is found by the gang. Holden spends the evening innocently entertaining and conversing with it. The child is found scalped the next morning.
    • Happens again when the gang finds a young boy selling dogs. Holden buys the dogs cheerfully with the trick of making a gold coin disappear and then making it appear from behind the boy's ear. He then throws the dogs into the river and shoots them, all with the boy watching.
  • Private Military Contractors: Glanton is one.
  • Psycho for Hire: The Glanton Gang is on the payroll of the Texan state, until they go rabid in the wilderness and begin to rape and slaughter Mexican civilians and Indians alike.
    • The Delaware Indians are this to the rest of the Glanton Gang.
  • Reference Overdosed: The Bible, Melville, and Milton are just the three you're most likely to catch. Watch this for some more insight.
  • Scenery Porn
  • Scenery Gorn: The descriptions of the village massacres' aftermath, with mounds of burned limbs and carbonized skulls.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Hey, it's a novel by Cormac McCarthy. What did you expect, Tastes Like Diabetes?
    • To be fair this is probably his darkest work.
  • Signature Style: McCarthy doesn't believe in punctuation and has actively declared war on it.
  • Sociopathic Hero: The kid, who is our protagonist. And by 'heroic', all that's meant is he doesn't positively derive pleasure from being evil.
  • The Runaway: The kid, of the vagrant kind.
  • ‹bermensch
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: If you get the many references, it's Rule of Symbolism instead of What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Children seem to disappear and die whenever Holden is present. There's also at least two incidents where it's all but stated that he's raped them.
  • Zerg Rush: The Comanches travel in a colossal herd of animals and swarms their targets, disorientating them and then rushing in to kill them in the chaos. Captain White's filibusters don't realize how screwed they are until it's too late.
Ben SnowWestern LiteratureCool Hand Luke
Bless the Beasts and ChildrenLit FicThe Bluest Eye
Bimbos of the Death SunLiterature of the 1980sBlood Music

alternative title(s): Blood Meridian
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