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Literature / Outer Dark

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Outer Dark is the second novel by famed author Cormac McCarthy.

A Southern Gothic tale set around the turn of the 19th century, the story follows siblings Rinthy and Culla Holme. Rinthy has just given birth to Culla's child, only for Culla to lie to her about the newborn's fate. When Rinthy finds out the truth, she goes on a search for her child, while Culla follows her, all while trailed by a band of sinister, murderous strangers.


Tropes in this work include:

  • All for Nothing: At the end, the tinker is revealed to have been murdered, and Rinthy's baby eaten by the strangers, making her journey pointless.
  • Ambiguously Human: The strangers are given certain supernatural attributes such as always knowing where Culla is and showing a distinct awareness about his incestuous relationship with Rinthy, are comparable to the three fates in Classical Mythology and referred to as "revenants", but it's left vague if they're just evil humans or they're something else entirely. Even Culla is uncertain whether they're actually human or not.
  • The Atoner: Rinthy seeks an atonement for letting Culla take her baby and leaving it to die, going on a journey for it.
  • Beard of Evil: One of the strangers is denoted by his beard.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: On one hand, there's Culla, who's not exactly a shining example of human goodness, and then there's the strangers, who are a malevolent band of spree/serial killers leaving death in their wake.
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  • Brother–Sister Incest: A major part that drives the plot is Culla leaving Rinthy's baby to die, presumably because it's the fruit of their incestuous union.
  • Butt-Monkey: Culla has quite a slew of bad luck. Nearly everyone he meets ends up hating him for one reason or another, he's framed by the strangers for theft and murder, arrested for breaking into a house he didn't realize was inhabited, is nearly hanged, and the ferry he takes to cross the river is destroyed, leaving him to get across himself.
  • Crapsack World: As to be expected, given its author. The tinker makes this explicitly clear. However, it's a downplayed example compared to McCarthy's later works, as Rinthy is (for the most part, anyway) treated with hospitality throughout her journey.
  • Dark Is Evil: It's in the title! Plus the strangers are clad in dark clothing, further adding to their malevolence.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Strongly implied Rinthy has a final breakdown when she discovers the death of her child.
  • Domestic Abuser: Rinthy meets a woman and her husband, and the husband certainly appears to be this, given his temper. She's forced to flee shortly after.
  • Downer Ending: Would you expect any less? Culla makes a last-minute attempt to save his and Rinthy's baby, but the strangers kill it first, rendering Rinthy's year-long journey to find it completely pointless, and it's strongly implied that the rest of Culla's days will be a total living hell.
  • Eats Babies: Rinthy's baby is murdered and eaten by the strangers.
  • Eye Scream: By the time Culla finds the baby, the strangers have gouged out one of its eyes.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Whenever they meet Culla, the strangers are welcoming to him, letting him sit down with them at the fire... while they eat human flesh in front of him.
  • For the Evulz: The strangers wander around, murdering those they encounter, seemingly for their own amusement.
  • Frame-Up: The strangers kill anyone that Culla runs across, leaving the impression that he's responsible for their murders.
  • Gainax Ending: The focus just sort of shifts away from Culla at the end to show the blind man's journey into the swamp.
  • Gorn: Not much, compared to, say, Blood Meridian, but it is certainly gory in parts.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: The farmer that Culla met earlier is stabbed and gutted alive by the bearded stranger.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: At the end, after being an unrepentant jackass throughout the entire novel, Culla tries to convince the strangers to give Rinthy her baby back. It doesn't work, and the baby is killed and presumably eaten.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Rinthy gets one in the form of a doctor visit. The doctor tells her that since she's still lactating, her baby is still alive. By the time she finds the baby, it's dead and cannibalized by the strangers.
    • It almost seems like the strangers are willing to return the baby to Rinthy, but then one of them slashes its throat.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Entirely up for debate, but the strangers might be this. At times, they come off as almost entirely inhuman, and it almost seems like they exist solely to punish Culla for giving away his and Rinthy's baby.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: It's all but stated that the strangers are cannibals, when one of them offers a piece of bloody meat to Culla.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Culla goes through hell, with everyone he meets abusing him and treating him like shit as some sort of karmic retribution for his actions. The ending implies that the rest of his days will probably be thoroughly miserable.
  • Mind Screw: The entire book is, in true McCarthyan fashion, bizarre and trippy.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Culla is accused of murdering Vernon. He nearly gets lynched for it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title of the book comes from The Bible, specifically Matthew 22:13:
    Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
    • There's also references to Classical Mythology, such as the strangers, who are — as mentioned above — thought to be expies of the three fates, and Culla crossing the river at night is a direct reference to the crossing of the River Styx.
  • Slasher Smile:
    His assassin smiled upon him with bright teeth, the faces of the other two peering from either shoulder in consubstantial monstrosity, a grim triune that watched wordless, affable. He looked down at the man's fist cupped against his stomach. The fist rose in an eruption of severed viscera until the blade seized in the junction of his breastbone and he stood disemboweled.
  • Swamps Are Evil: The way the swamp the blind man wanders into at the end is described gives this impression. It sounds more like something out of Hell than it does a swamp.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: While looking for a place to work and to stay, Rinthy comes across a woman, who goes inside and never comes out.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The tinker slaps Rinthy for trying to tell him that the baby is hers and Culla's.

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