Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dog Ears #9: Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West

Sad but true: it often takes having a major writer's work adapted into a feature film in order to get me off my duff and into his canon. Sometimes even more than one film.

I imagine this is the look on Cormac McCarthy's face while he's writing

Such was the case with and the Coen Brothers' 2007 adaptation of his 2005 novel No Country For Old Men. For many years I've heard McCarthy's praises sung by people I liked and/or respected, but fair or unfair I decided to steer clear of him after Billy Bob Thornton's 2000 adaptation of his All The Pretty Horses, on the basis that I thought All The Pretty Horses was an atrocious title and the movie (which I've still never seen) looked lame.

Despite my misgivings about the title of his latest adaptation, I took the plunge, saw NO COUNTRY, and liked the first two-thirds enough to buy the paperback of what I understood to be McCarthy's masterpiece, Blood Meridian.

Well one thing's for certain, Ridley Scott's 2009 adaptation of Blood Meridian won't have roles for Matt Damon, Penelope Cruz or Elliot from E.T.: Blood Meridian is a filibuster of bloodlust and malignancy.

Naturally, things being what they are, atrocities beyond your wildest imaginings are transformed into epic poetry thanks to McCarthy's blistering, almost psychedelic prose. I certainly didn't enjoy reading Blood Meridian (first published in 1985), and for almost half the book I was barely aware what was happening in a narrative sense (thanks largely to his freakshow thesauraus, disdain for punctuation, and penchant for Spanish), but I won't soon forget the trail of blood blazed by the kid and the judge.

Blood Meridian = Hieronymus Bosch + 1850's Old West

The book contained far too many words I wanted to look up and noteworthy passages to dogear in the traditional sense, so I turned down page corners in haphazard fashion, hoping I wouldn't regret the ears undogged...

p.52 "Already you could see through the dust on the ponies' hides the painted chevrons and the hands and rising suns and birds and fish of every device like the shade of old work through sizing on a canvas and now too you could hear above the pounding of the unshod hooves the piping of the quena, flutes made from human bones, and some among the company had begun to saw back on their mounts and some to mill in confusion when up from the offside of those ponies there rose a fabled horde of mounted lancers and archers bearing shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass that cast a thousand unpieced suns against the eyes of their enemies."
(it was about this point that I realized I was in over my head, reading-wise)

p.141 "But no man can put all the world in a book. No more than everthing drawed in a book is so."

p.153 "Notions of chance and fate are the preoccupation of men engaged in rash undertakings."

p.189 withy: noun ( pl. withies or withes |wiθs; wiðz|)
a tough flexible branch of an osier or other willow, used for tying, binding, or basketry.
• another term for osier .
(I included this for all the Scrabble players out there!)

p.193 posada: noun
(in Spanish-speaking regions) a hotel or inn.
• (also Las Posadas) a ritual reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for a lodging in Bethlehem, performed just before Christmas.
ORIGIN Spanish, from posar ‘to lodge.’
(I thought Yankee haters and Yankee fans alike would be interested to know this)

p. 198 suzerain: noun
a sovereign or state having some control over another state that is internally autonomous.
• historical a feudal overlord.

This is the rarely seen "centroid of peace"

p.218 "Glanton's eyes in their dark sockets were burning centroids of murder and he and his haggard riders stared balefully at the kid as if he were no part of them for all they were so like in wretchedness of circumstance."
(I reread this sentence a few times the first time around- I just couldn't believe the audacity of a writer actually typing "burning centroids of murder"!!!)

centroid: noun
Mathematics- the center of mass of a geometric object of uniform density.

p.247 "In the neuter austerity of that terrain all phenomena were bequeathed a strange equality and no one thing nor spider nor stone nor blade of grass could put forth claim to precedence."
(that's one austere desert my friend)

p.249 "Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work."
(this line of thinking reaches its, and perhaps the entire book's, apotheosis at the end of the page with-)
"War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god."

p.252 "Your heart's desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there is no mystery."

p.330 "He poured the tumbler full. Drink up, he said. The world goes on. We have dancing nightly and this night is no exception."


Mr. CFA said...

viva Word Player! Welcome back.

knowhereman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
knowhereman said...

-in reference to this quote:
"Your heart's desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there is no mystery."

-i watched the movie "Altered States" a few weeks back and wrote the following quote down:

"The final truth to everything is that there is no final truth."

the only parallel to these quotes is that there is no parallel........... think about it.

sarmigezetusa said...

Un libro impressionante.

acdoyler said...

People used to read to learn. Now they look for the passive ease of television and its escape in their novels. Even an somewhat informed reviewer expresses distaste at having to expend effort with a piece. Sad.

acdoyler said...

'even a somewhat', damn laptop...

Mr. Word Player said...

Hey acdoyler. Thanks for taking the time to disparage me on my blog. Clearly I am seeking passive entertainment and hate expending effort learning new words, as is evidenced by this blog I created where I look up unusual words that have tickled my fancy and often retype passages from books and definitions for the benefit of my fellow man.

Yes, if only we could return to the old days where people "read to learn" and there were no comment sections to make sweeping generalizations and quickly pass nose-in-the-air judgment with no interest in context or discussion.

Anonymous said...

this is an old post i know, but it seems it's still getting attention so i thought i'd chime in.

if you haven't already checked it out there is a book by John Sepich called Notes on Blood Meridian which is almost as good a read as the novel itself. Samuel Chamberlain's My Confession happened to be at my library too, i was the first person to bring it home since 1989. crazy.