Blood Meridian

novel by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West is a 1985 epic novel by American author Cormac McCarthy, classified under the Western, or sometimes the anti-Western, genre. In a loosely historical context the narrative follows a fictional teenager referred to as "the kid," with the bulk of the text devoted to his experiences with the Glanton gang, a historical group of scalp hunters who massacred aboriginal Americans and others in the borderlands from 1849 to 1850 for bounty, pleasure, and eventually out of nihilistic habit. The role of antagonist is gradually filled by Judge Holden, a physically massive, highly educated, preternaturally skilled member of the gang who is extremely pale and completely bald from head to toe. Although the novel initially received lukewarm critical and commercial reception, it has since become highly acclaimed and is widely recognized as McCarthy's magnum opus and one of the greatest American novels of all time.

He can neither read nor write and in him already there broods a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.
It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.
[…]like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.
War is god.
The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard.
The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I'd have them all in zoos.
All progressions from a higher to a lower order are marked by ruins and mystery and a residue of nameless rage.
He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.
You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.

QuotationsEdit

  • He can neither read nor write and in him already there broods a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.
    • Chapter I
  • A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It aint the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.
    • Chapter II
  • There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto.
    • Chapter III
  • Do you know what happens with people who cannot govern themselves? That's right. Others come in to govern for them
    • Chapter III
  • The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell ain't half full.
    • Chapter IV
  • The survivors lay quietly in that cratered void and watched the whitehot stars go rifling down the dark. Or slept with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted upon the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night.
    • Chapter IV
  • A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or saber done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.
    • Chapter IV
  • When the lambs is lost in the mountain, he said. They is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.
    • Chapter V
  • All lightly shimmering in the heat, these lifeforms, like wonders much reduced. Rough likenesses thrown up at hearsay after the things themselves had faded in men’s minds.
    • Chapter VI
  • The judge smiled. It is not necessary, he said, that the principals here be in possession of the facts concerning their case, for their acts will ultimately accommodate history with or without their understanding. But it is consistent with notions of right principle that these facts—to the extent that they can be readily made to do so—should find a repository in the witness of some third party. Sergeant Aguilar is just such a party and any slight to his office is but a secondary consideration when compared to divergences in that larger protocol enacted by the formal agenda of an absolute destiny. Words are things. The words he is in possession of he cannot be deprived of. Their authority transcends his ignorance of their meaning.
    • Chapter VII
  • God don't lie.... And these are his words.... He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.
    • Chapter IX, Judge Holden
  • For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by sleight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies.
    • Chapter IX
  • And so these parties divided upon that midnight plain, each passing back the way the other had come, pursuing as all travelers must inversions without end upon other men’s journeys.
    • Chapter IX
  • For the Earth is a globe in a void the truth there's no up nor down to it.
    • Chapter X
  • Whether in my book or not, every man is tabernacled in every other and he in exchange and so on in an endless complexity of being and witness to the uttermost edge of the world.
    • Chapter XI
  • All progressions from a higher to a lower order are marked by ruins and mystery and a residue of nameless rage.
    • Chapter XI, Judge Holden
  • They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote. For although each man among them was discrete unto himself, conjoined they made a thing that had not been before and in that communal soul were wastes hardly reckonable more than those whited regions on old maps where monsters do live and where there is nothing other of the known world save conjectural winds.
    • Chapter XII
  • Only now is the child finally divested of all that he has been. His origins are become remote as is his destiny and not again in all the world's turning will there be terrains so wild and barbarous to try whether the stuff of creation may be shaped to man's will or whether his own heart is not another kind of clay.
  • A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with.
  • ...words were said that could not be put right again...
  • ...death seemed the most prevalent feature of the landscape.
  • ...and he is as eitherhanded as a spider,...
  • People see what they want to see.
  • ...ingratitude is more common than you might think.
  • How many is there, John?.
    Did you learn to whisper in a sawmill?
  • I know your kind, he said. What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.
  • ...he shook his head at the wonderful invention of folly in its guises and forms.
  • The hour that followed was a long hour.
  • ...hacking at the dying and decapitating those who knelt for mercy.
  • You can’t be all Mexican. It’s like being all mongrel.
  • This is a terrible place to die in.
    Where’s a good one?
  • I could have been somebody in this world wasn’t for him.
  • What have you got that a man could drink with just a minimum risk of blindness and death.
  • … and they watched the fire which does contain within it something of men themselves inasmuch as they are less without it and are divided from their origins and are exiles. For each fire is all fires, the first fire and the last ever to be.
  • Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in 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 its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.
  • La gente dice que el coyote es un brujo. Muchas veces el brujo es un coyote.
  • My book or some other book said the judge. What is to be deviates no jot from the book wherein it's writ. How could it? It would be a false book and a false book is no book at all.
  • I can man anything that eats. Get me a piece of jerky. —John Joel Glanton.
  • Jackson, pistols drawn, lurched into the street vowing to shoot the ass off Jesus Christ, the longlegged white son of a bitch.
  • Men are made of the dust of the earth.
  • What joins men together, he said, is not the sharing of bread but the sharing of enemies.
  • What man would not be a dancer if he could, said the judge. It’s a great thing, the dance.
  • Where is yesterday? … And where is the fiddler and where is the dance?
  • And the answer, said the judge. If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes. This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.
  • The judge looked about him. He was sat before the fire naked save for his breeches and his hands rested palm down upon his knees. His eyes were empty slots. None among the company harbored any notion as to what this attitude implied, yet so like an icon was he in his sitting that they grew cautious and spoke with circumspection among themselves as if they would not waken something that had better been left sleeping.
  • The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. 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.
  • Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can acquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.
  • Whatever exists, he [the judge] said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.
  • Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. — The judge
  • Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even where there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgments. — The judge.
  • The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of this world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.
  • The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I'd have them all in zoos. — The judge.
  • His among the clouded faces seemed unperturbed. He looked over the Americans, their gear. In truth, they did not look like men who might have whiskey they hadn't drunk.
  • The arc of circling bodies is determined by the length of their tether, said the judge. Moons, coins, men. His hands moved as if he were pulling something from one fist in a series of elongations. Watch the coin, Davey, he said.
  • It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.
  • The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But the trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.
  • War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god. — The judge
  • Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupations of men engaged in rash undertakings.
  • Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak. Historical law subverts it at every turn. A moral view can never be proven right or wrong by any ultimate test. A man falling dead in a duel is not thought thereby to be proven in error as to his views. His very involvement in such a trial gives evidence of a new and broader view. — The judge
  • In that sleep and in sleep to follow the judge did visit. Who would come other? A great shambling mutant, silent and serene. Whatever his antecedents, he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia will discover no trace of any ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing.
  • Drink up, he said. Drink up. This night thy soul may be required of thee. — The judge
  • At dusk they halted and built a fire and roasted the deer. The night was much enclosed about them and there were no stars. To the north they could see other fires that burned red and sullen along the invisible ridges. They ate and moved on, leaving the fire on the ground behind them, and as they rode up into the mountains this fire seemed to become altered of its location, now here, now there, drawing away, or shifting unaccountably along the flank of their movement. Like some ignis fatuus belated upon the road behind them which all could see and of which none spoke. For this will to deceive that is in things luminous may manifest itself likewise in retrospect and so by sleight of some fixed part of a journey already accomplished may also post men to fraudulent destinies.
  • And they are dancing, the board floor slamming under the jackboots and the fiddlers grinning hideously over their canted pieces. Towering over them all is the judge and he is naked dancing, his small feet lively and quick and now in doubletime and bowing to the ladies, huge and pale and hairless, like an enormous infant. He never sleeps, he says. He says he’ll never die. He bows to the fiddlers and sashays backwards and throws back his head and laughs deep in his throat and he is a great favorite, the judge. He wafts his hat and the lunar dome of his skull passes palely under the lamps and he swings about and takes possession of one of the fiddles and he pirouettes and makes a pass, two passes, dancing and fiddling at once. His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.

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