Blood Meridian: A Nightmarish Read

“If God meant to interfere with the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?”

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian


Vigilantes RidingIn 1975, ABC released a made-for-TV movie called Tales of Terror, based on three short stories by horror writer, Richard Matheson (probably most famous for writing I Am Legend). The last segment was based on the short story, Prey, about a small african Zuni doll with razor sharp teeth and a sword. As long as the statue had a gold chain draped around its neck, nothing happened. But if the chain comes off, the doll would come alive and viciously chase and attack the woman who owns it. She finally kills it by cooking it in the oven.

One television critic wrote about the movie saying, it “… is arguably the scariest piece ever crafted under the made-for-TV label.”

Having seen this movie as an eleven year old boy, up late and all alone, I can confirm that the critic was right.

To this day, I still remember it as the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.

I had nightmares that I was being attacked by a Zuni doll.

I slept on the floor next to my father’s bed for days.

Which is very similar to how I felt after reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

About half-way through the book, I woke up in a cold-sweat, having dreamed I was in the middle of an Apache massacre.

Honestly. This book gave me a nightmare.

Blood Meridian is a western, but it’s nothing like anything Louis L’Amour wrote. There are no homesteaders protecting their claims from railroad speculators. No marshals looking out for the poor widows in the town. No white-hatted heroes riding in to save the day.

Just a gang of wild men, tracking, chasing, and killing Apaches. And Mexicans. Then just about anybody else they could exploit and kill.

This book is incredibly violent. Gratuitous doesn’t begin to describe the massacres.

Here’s a very mild example of the kind of thing you’ll read—a conflict between two men named Jackson, one black, one white, about who could sit at a fire:

You aim to shoot me? said the black.
You don’t get your black ass away from this fire I’ll kill you graveyard dead.
He looked to where Glanton sat. Glanton watched him. He put the pipe in his mouth and rose and took up the apishamore and folded it over his arm.
Is that your final say?
Final as the judgment of God.
The black looked once more across the flames at Glanton and then moved away into the dark. The white man uncocked the revolver and placed it on the ground before him. Two of the others came back to the fire and stood uneasily. Jackson sat with his legs crossed. One hand lay in his lap and the other was outstretched on his knee holding a slender black cigarillo. The nearest man to him was Tobin and when the black stepped out of the darkness bearing the bowieknife in both hands like some instrument of ceremony Tobin started to rise. The white man looked up drunkenly and the black stepped forward and with a single stroke swapt off his head.
Two thick ropes of dark blood and two slender rose like snakes from the stump of his neck and arched hissing into the fire. The head rolled to the left and came to rest at the expriest’s feet where it lay with eyes aghast. Tobin jerked his foot away and rose and stepped back. The fire steamed and blackened and a gray cloud of smoke rose and the columnar arches of blood slowly subsided until just the neck bubbled gently like a stew and then that too was stilled. He was sat as before save headless, drenched in blood, the cigarillo still between his fingers, leaning toward the dark and smoking grotto in the flames where his life had gone.

Pretty grim stuff. And like I said, this is the tame part.

Literary critic (and Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale University) Harold Bloom described this book as: “the major esthetic achievement of any living American writer.”

I just don’t see it.

That’s not to say that McCarthy isn’t a fantastic writer. He is.

And its not that Blood Meridian isn’t gripping. It is.

But this isn’t even McCarthy’s best book. No Country for Old Men tells a more compelling (and complex) story. The same is true of All the Pretty Horses. And the descriptions of the cold, hopeless landscapes in The Road are so real, it’s hard to read that book without reaching for a blanket.

I think Blood Meridian gets so much critical love for the very reason that it breaks all the stereotypes of the western and is so over-the-top violent, it is hard to ignore.

If you want attention break conventions, make people uncomfortable, be offensive.

Mission accomplished.

Which reminds me of another movie.

Shortly after seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, I had a conversation with my mother about it. I said it was an excellent movie and that the pacing and dialog were great. And the writing was outstanding. But I also told her NOT to go see it. She would hate it. HATE IT. Under no circumstances should she see it. The foul language is over the top. And the movie is incredibly violent. She wouldn’t like the storyline. So of course, she immediately saw the movie and was appalled that I liked it.

That’s the way I feel about Blood Meridian. It’s a unique work of fiction. And well-writen. But it will offend.

It may even give you nightmares.


Media: Book (351 pages)
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)


Books Mentioned in this Post:

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Prey (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet) by Richard Matheson
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
The Collected Stories of Louis L’Amour by Louis L’Amour
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy


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