If someone told me about a movie that was one of the best they’d ever seen, had incredible life lessons to be learned, and was one that referenced many great movies of the past, but that it was rated XXX and would leave me with images I didn’t want in my head, would I watch the movie? No.
Blood Meridian is an amazing piece of literature. It references books of the past, contains striking prose, and presents a, shall we say, unique worldview. But the very first thing I wrote in the book upon finishing it was – “this is a sick and twisted book and I wish I hadn’t read it.” I was so disturbed, I just wanted it to end. Maybe that’s what the author was going for. I know that since finishing the book, it keeps coming back in my mind. The characters, the scenes, the horror.
To me, the lessons of the book and understanding the references to past literature were not worth wading through the gratuitous and grotesque violence. Blood Meridian is the story of a kid who joins a gang with the purpose of killing and scalping as many Indians as possible in the mid-1800s along the America/Mexico border. The author, Cormac McCarthy, leaves very little to the imagination, describing in horrific detail the violence of these times. The only scene he doesn’t describe is the final murder which is apparently so graphic that it can’t be described. But this doesn’t keep him from describing every other killing in the book in ways I wish were not in my memory.
Upon completing Blood Meridian, I sought out some additional material to help me make sense of the book and its message. I came across two Yale lectures by Professor Hungerford that I am linking to below. They are also available to listen to in iTunes U. These two lectures provided context for the book and explained how McCarthy drew upon literary tradition as well as American history. Professor Hungerford explained the origins of the story and how it borrowed quite heavily from The Bible, Moby-Dick, Paradise Lost, and William Wordsworth. In McCarthy’s own words:
“The ugly fact is books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.”
Whereas The Things They Carried showed the absurdity of war, Blood Meridian shows the horror of war. Horror multiplied upon horror.
This is book 29 of 52 of the 2017 Books of Titans reading list.