Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, the Evening Redness in the West
wisdom and beauty
Reading books has always been a way of knowing the world for me. I have been to many countries real and imagined through my reading. I have heard souls speak their truths. Books are a portal into the minds of others, into other ways of thinking and other ways of knowing the world.
Before I ever went back to college, I read voraciously, usually 2–3 books a week. Books were the source of my education at that time. Of the many books I have read, one stands out.
Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian, The Evening Redness in the West is one of my favorite books. I would like to read it again, but every time I buy a copy, I end up pressing it into someone’s hands and telling the recipient, “You must read this book!”
As a writer, McCarthy is half savage, half saint, and half God. His works are packed with wisdom and mysterious, deep statements that make his readers look deep into their souls. Blood Meridian is one of the few novels that has been buried within me, that makes my heart beat, that stops my breath.
His prose reaches out and presses on the soul’s sore spots: fear, loneliness, the feeling that we are not much in this vast universe.
McCarthy is a master craftsman of words. Every writer has the same store of words as he does to use to tell a story, but some writers know better how to choose and arrange the words so that they become hooks into our souls. I wish my writing were so powerful.
Speaking of writing his books, McCarthy said, “I don’t write short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”
If we want to have the terrible skill he has, we must be willing to devote our lives to writing as he has done.
What must we write about?
McCarthy tells us that: “If it doesn’t concern life and death, it’s not interesting.”
McCarthy’s characters speak with great wisdom at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. His characters’ words will hang in the air between you and the book until you take them in and make them a part of you.
The tapestry upon which McCarthy writes is war, the universe, heaven and hell, the desert, the city, the sky, and the ocean.
Here are some quotes from Blood Meridian that speak to me in ways that many books do not.
“Men of God and men of war have strange affinities.”
Regardless of the religion, the “men of God” often are quick to pass judgment on those they deem sinners. Like the men of war, men of God often believe it is their duty to damn, even kill those who do not believe as they do.
“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.”
We are afraid to look at our own hearts, and we are satisfied to call out evil in others rather than in ourselves. Yet a kind of meanness is in our hearts.
Man is capable of both good and evil, but when man sets out to do evil, he is uniquely capable of inflicting evil on others whether they deserve it or not. It’s no use pointing our fingers at others unless we are willing to recognize the evil in our own hearts.
Humans carelessly inflict pain on other humans, on animals, and yea, even on the planet itself., but we are also capable of doing great good.
McCarthy’s dark view of man is evident in this statement from Blood Meridian.
“If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creatures could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet?”
He also warns the reader against what will happen when men go to war.
“The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have the power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.”
He also reminds us of who and what we are.
“People complain about the bad things that happen to em that they don’t deserve but they seldom mention the good. About what they done to deserve them things.”
We are quick to say we don’t deserve the bad things that happen to us, but do we deserve the good things that happen to us?
McCormac pulls us in and holds a mirror to our souls. Though we may want to run from the vision, the poetry and pain and craft of his writing holds us close to the flame.
Is there a book that has so touched you that you would recommend others read it? If so, please share that with others.