It took me over a year to finish reading Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 masterpiece, Blood Meridian. Those familiar with his other works, which include post-apocalyptic tome The Road and the chilling No Country for Old Men, both of which have been recently made into movies, shouldn’t have any trouble imagining why. McCarthy’s depiction of a fictionalized Glanton Gang raping, pillaging and murdering their way across the untamed American West is as merciless and unflinching as anything he’s ever written. Subjecting one’s mind to it is no easy task, and yet, with the pending Todd Field-directed film adaptation on the way, interested parties would do well to pick up a copy of the book and experience the judge for themselves first.
Earlier this month, I finally finished the novel at the urging of a friend. As I neared the final chapters, it wasn’t the ceaseless carnage that soused my brain as I tried to sleep, but the slow-blooming malevolence in one of the book’s central characters, the judge. In an effort to understand (and thereby abate) my judge-induced insomnia, I had to figure out just what about him was keeping me up at night.
1. He is one ugly cowboy.
“Immense and terrible,” the judge is somewhere between six and seven feet tall with tiny, child-like hands and feet. He’s completely hairless, like an enormous baby, and has a penchant for turning up nude. He’s possessed of a supernatural strength; the judge can hulk a howitzer, a cannon the U.S. Army used to cart around battlefields using horses.
2. He can be two places at once.
From his introduction in the book’s first chapter onward, the judge has a habit of being omnipresent. After inciting a crowd to riot at a tent revival in Nacogdoches, Texas, in the pouring rain, he defies time and space by appearing, completely dry, at a nearby hotel bar.
3. There’s nothing he won’t do.
Really, nothing. One scene finds the Glanton Gang in a village in Mexico, where the judge buys two puppies, only to throw them over a bridge just a few paces later. In another, he plays paternally with a small Apache orphan before raping and scalping him. In the book’s latter third, he walks an imbecile around the desert on a leather leash, somehow managing to keep them both alive in the void for days without food or water.
4. He unabashedly desires to be “suzerian of the earth.”
As the Glanton Gang roams the country looking for victims, the judge meticulously sketches and collects specimens of unfamiliar species. Toadvine, a fellow Glanton Gang member, asks why. The judge replies, in one of the most badass sentiments ever put to paper, “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”
5. He’s persuasive.
Whether it’s talking a teenage boy into following him into an unforgiving desert or imbuing a scene with just enough malice as to induce violent chaos without saying a word, Blood Meridian’s arc sees the judge cajoling all manner of folks into unwise decisions.