Cormac McCarthy’s Heart of Darkness


As part of my 100-novels reading project, I’ve selected Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy as my 31st read.

As the back cover material notes, this novel unfolds the story of a 14-year-old boy known only as The Kid, and his journey into the dark and bizarre world of westward frontier expansion in the 1850s; the novel specifically chronicles incidents on the Texas-Mexico border. The Kid encounters a variety of violence on the frontier, including a massacre of a Texan militia by the Comanche, and joining a motley crew of mostly white scalphunters.

The more I read of McCarthy, the more I think of him as a latter-day Conrad. Blood Meridian is an early novel of McCarthy’s, but like No Country for Old Men, it explores the human heart of darkness, fully apocalyptic and scarily prophetic. In Blood Meridian there seems to be a Kurtz figure in the scalphunter’s leader Judge Holden, and my guess is, as I read, that the Kid is Marlow.

Published in 1985, the novel treads on the heels of the film Apocalypse Now, another exploration of the heart of darkness. There are images in the novel that remind me of that film as well. One of the scalphunters wears a necklace of shriveled human ears, and this reminds me of stories I’ve heard about soldiers collecting such morbid trophies in war, and I think there may be a scene either in Apocalypse Now, or perhaps Platoon, in which an American soldier collects the ears from his kills.

I’m only 100 pages into the novel, and true to McCarthy, there has been plenty of bloodshed.

I was also chilled by this prophetic line uttered early in the novel by the captain of the Texan militia that goes on a mission to take back Mexico (the novel of course is set vaguely around the end of the Mexican-American War): "’We are to be the instruments of liberation in a dark and troubled land.’"

The captain later leads his expedition into a trap and all but a few, including The Kid, are mercilessly slaughtered by the Comanche. Such a brutal evocation of the dangers of American imperialism. Sadly evocative and prophetic of our present darkness, as well.

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