Blood Meridian: The Judge

I finished Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West last night. My only regret is that someone wasn’t there to hold me when it was all over.

The last 50 pages of Blood Meridian read like a bat out of hell. The rest of the book, with its startling sudden rushes of violence, and its long sections of journeying, of weather, of food and water, and horses hooves, and campfires, and mirages … works like a hypnotic drug. You are lulled into the rhythm of the journey, the jostling mules, the constant hunger and thirst … and when violence comes, it feels from out of nowhere, sudden and all-consuming, and you no longer have the reserves to deal with … but that doesn’t matter because here it comes anyway … and after the slaughter, everything slows down again, and the men move on. The individuality of the participants is not the main focus. For the most part (with notable exceptions), they all blend together.

The book starts by following in the footsteps of “the kid”, a 16-year-old sharpshooter who joins up with the mission. Soon “the kid” falls away from the narrative. The narration has more of a Biblical omniscient tone than a recounting of a personal journey. However, by the end of the book, we realize that all of that omniscience has just been a respite. A very long bloody genocidal respite. And we realize, by the end, that it is the Kid who has been leading us through all along. It is the kid who is the key to the entire story. He seems indistinct for most of it. Other characters (like Jackson, the black man, and the expriest, and Glanton, and, of course, the Judge) have more vibrancy and specificity. We remember them. We forget that it is through the kid’s eyes we are seeing these other characters.

The similarity to Moby Dick here is obvious. Ishmael begins that book, in an openly first-person sentence, even a request of the reader: “Call me Ishmael.” It’s a simple sentence, but it contains worlds of mystery. He does not say “My name is Ishmael.” He says “Call me Ishmael.” Call you Ishmael? Is that not your real name? It is Ishmael’s journey, his thoughts and feelings and responses that get us into that story. We don’t just meet Queequeg, we meet Ishmael’s version of Queequeg. We don’t see anything that Ishmael doesn’t see. We follow him around. But then, once on the ship, all of that changes. Ishmael fades into the background, and Captain Ahab emerges. Captain Ahab rarely comes on deck. He’s not a Jack Aubrey type of Captain, omnipresent, working alongside his men. No. Captain Ahab stays in his cabin, brooding over his plans of revenge. So there is no way that Ishmael would know about Ahab’s private moments, his nighttime walking on the deck, for example, and yet we hear about it anyway, as though we are privy to the inner workings of Ahab’s mind. Ishmael has disappeared. He does reappear from time to time, and he wrenches the narration back into his voice … but it’s intermittent now. It’s not “his” story anymore.

We meet “the Judge” in Blood Meridian very early on. The kid goes to a revival meeting, before joining up with the mission. Suddenly a man bursts into the tent and begins to harangue everyone who is there, informing the crowd that the preacher up on the stage is not a real preacher, he’s a con-man, a schister, wanted in 3 states. All hell breaks loose. This truth-teller is “the Judge”. We don’t realize how important he will be later, although we know that McCarthy is working on something with the character. He is described in detail. His big bald head, his lash-less eyes … It’s an attention-getting debut, to say the least.

The judge shows up later … he always shows up. He remains a mystery, to some degree (in the same way that Captain Ahab remains a mystery. Madness has gotten him. He has no personality, he is just a desire. He is a need, a want).

If you haven’t read the book and you plan on doing so, then stop reading now!

The slow illumination of the judge’s character, and who he is, his essential nature, is one of the thrulines of the book … and to know ahead of time what’s going on with him, and the role he will play would ruin the book for a newcomer. I can only speak for myself. All David said to me was, “The judge! Holy shit!!”

And so as I read the book, as I participated in the genocide, and followed the men westward, my experience of the judge, and how I put him together (because Cormac McCarthy doesn’t show his hand, not until the very end, although we do get clues along the way) was the conduit of dread and hope that, for me, makes up Blood Meridian. And, in the end, it is my OWN response that I want to talk about here because I think it’s interesting. It’s not just the book; it’s what the book did to me that I really want to discuss right now. So the following is only for those who have read the book.

The Judge. He seems to have a moral center. His first entrance into the book speaks to a sense of honesty and outrage that I latched onto. He recognizes hypocrisy in the preacher and he is unafraid to put a stop to it. In such a brutal amoral world, such honesty is refreshing. You can be lulled into a sense of complacency. You feel that perhaps the judge will protect the innocent. That is only my own failure of imagination and privileged 21st century life that would make me think such a thing. That’s what I mean when I say it is my own response that most interests me at this moment. I don’t think of myself as a shallow person or as a person who needs happy endings. I obviously was not “looking for” a happy ending in Blood Meridian. But I did find myself looking for hope. For meaning. For reassurance that human beings didn’t just deserve to be wiped off the face of the planet. There’s got to be SOMEONE who “gets it” in the story, someone who sees the insanity of what is going on and has the foresight to say, “We should stop this.” And so I looked to the judge. Slowly, as the book unfolded, I began to realize my grave error. I had put my trust in this man. And he is a monster. But not an anomaly. It’s not like he’s so much badder than anyone else, or more violent, or more bloodthirsty; why he is a monster is that he intellectually “gets it”. He knows what he is doing, he knows what the human race is doing, and he understands the reasons why. He seems, at first, like a reasonable man: educated, curious, interested in ritual and narrative, telling stories around the campfire. Isn’t that how monsters often operate? It is the perfect cover. The Judge is quite different from the illiterate uncivilized drunken bunch of rapists who make up the rest of the group. I gravitated towards the judge. From the first moment. Anyone who busts up a phony preacher’s con-game is okay by me. It was only later that I realized how I had lulled myself into a state of complacency, even in the midst of the horror. I was sure that someone, somewhere, knew that what was happening was terrible and wrong. I assumed it was the judge.

It was not until the last 50 pages of the book that I realized, startled: No. It was the kid.

And the judge saw that in the kid. Even though we, the reader, are not privy to it. They never interact. But the judge saw the kid’s soul. He didn’t even need to witness an overt action of rebellion on the part of the kid; he saw into the kid’s soul, and saw something there that must be killed.

And you gotta wonder: he has a brief encounter with “the kid” at the revival meeting. Was it “the kid” driving the judge along all along? McCarthy doesn’t say, at least not right away. Did the judge sense something in the kid that made him track him down, follow his footsteps, keep the kid always in his sights? The thought is chilling, when you think of the end of the book. But the judge is like Captain Ahab. In his mind exists worlds of connections and recognitions. He forgets nothing. He puts things together in his mind into a grand and terrible conspiracy. You realize, at the end of the book, that the judge sensed a “clemency” in the kid (and there is nothing in the book that overtly suggests this. This is McCarthy’s genius. The kid doesn’t refuse to shoot someone, he doesn’t turn down a mission, he doesn’t stand out as more moral than the rest. On the contrary, he has receded into the group). But the judge, as has been established, has better eyes than anybody else. He looks at you, and he sees. He sees your soul in its weakness and frailty. He knows his way “in” with everyone he meets. That is a great power. I have had acting teachers and mentors who have such a power of seeing, only they use it for good. The judge? He is on another plane. In a way, he is the greatest source of truth in the book, and that is why he is so terrifying. McCarthy doesn’t let us off the hook. Not for one second does he let us off the hook. You know why? Because that would be a lie. The judge knows it’s a lie. He knows that man is a monster. And that killing is what man does.

BUT. The character of the judge is revealed slowly, inevitably, over hundreds of pages. At first we just see what he does. We see him taking out a sketchbook and doing little drawings of the bugs and small animals and flowers and grass that he sees. He appears to be a curious man. I found it endearing, in contrast to the savages he was surrounded by. He is someone who looks at the remnants of the ancient Indian culture all around them and has some curiosity about it. Great cities were once on the plain, inhabited by sophisticated people … all gone now. The rest of the men in the company have no interest in any of that. They are mercenaries. They are in this for the money. They are beyond the pale of regular society, and they know that. What they are good for is killing. They don’t look around at the world and find beauty in it. But the judge seems to. He sits at the campfire at night, and expansively tells stories, parables. Discussions ensue. The judge is self-contained. He does not grapple for position. He doesn’t need to. Even in his singularity, he is the most alpha male of the group. Everyone defers. He’s not the most macho. Glanton, their commander, is that. Glanton has killed so much that he has gone mad. The judge has killed, too. But he has not gone mad. And why not?

How can someone experience what those men experienced and come out unscathed? It is not humanly possible, and most people, even mercenaries, are touched by what they see, and do. McCarthy shows us that again and again to the point that it almost becomes monotonous. The riders move into a town, their bodies draped with necklaces of human scalps and human ears, and they take over the town, like the bloody savages that they are. They shoot up the place, they rape young girls, they shoot dogs because they bark the wrong way. Look, these men have been living in the wilderness for months on end, massacring whatever is in their way. How are they then supposed to put on a tie and go to a governor’s dinner and dance a minuet with a pretty little lady who has curls down the side of her head? They have X-ed themselves from the world. They have been paid by the government, yes, so in a sense they are legitimate, but they do not fit anymore in civilization.

The kid knows this. His journey at the end of the book shows us that clearly. I was so moved by the section near the end where he sits, no longer a teenager, in his late 20s now, watching a herd of sheep being jostled by on the plain. Some young cowboy types come up to talk to him. The time of genocide is already passing. The Kid wears his necklace of human ears, and the young cowboys ask him questions about it and you already feel that the savagery of that world is receding, no longer necessary. The kid is beyond the pale. He knows it.

And he also knows that he is just biding his time. Until the judge appears again. Because now he knows that of course the judge will find him. There is unfinished business, and with someone like the judge that cannot stand. Captain Ahab can’t say to himself, “Ah, whatever, the white whale took my leg … it sucks … but let me move on with my life.” No. Revenge is his over-arching purpose. He has no other inner life. There are those people who cannot allow “unfinished business” to stand. Stalin comes to mind. Stalin had, like the judge has, two qualities that, when put together, are the most dangerous combination of all: patience and ruthlessness. It is a rare combo, and a killer one. Most dictators only have the ruthlessness. They are impatient, and their impatience brings about their downfall. Stalin was a slow-moving rather lazy man, who was able to tolerate long periods of inaction, of nothing much happening, of him being firmly on the sidelines. The point for him was not to take credit for things (which is what most dictators want, to pump up their egos, which leads to their impulsiveness – their grabbing for too much too soon). Stalin didn’t care about credit, he just wanted to be the last man standing. And so he was. He stands to this day. Look at Central Asia and the craziness that exists. That’s Stalin’s handiwork. He moved stealthily, slowly. He set up grandiose complex structures of plausible deniability. He was the invisible puppeteer. And he could tolerate silence, stillness, and waiting. Patience + ruthlessness? Look out.

The judge is finally revealed, in his horrifying true nature, as the most ruthless and the most patient. He has “seen” the kid. And the kid knows he has been seen. So the 10, 15 years that pass after the judge moves out of his life seem unreal to the kid. The kid knows that what is actually happening in that time is that he’s just waiting. Waiting for the judge to show up again. It is an inevitability. Stalin was able to wait sometimes 10 years to exact his revenge. This is unheard of in a dictator. But Stalin was able to do it. There is a deep eternal mystery at the heart of such a creature.

Because the judge seems to have more recognizable humanity than the other fellows in the group, I found myself hoping. Maybe he’s just interested in bugs and flowers! Maybe he sees himself as a chronicler of an extraordinary time, as awful as that time was. I lulled myself into thinking that perhaps he was one of those “what a work of art is man” types, and who knows why he would choose to be a killer, but money does strange things to us all. Maybe he needed the money. There he sits, sketching the cave drawings they come upon, sometimes prying a piece of rock off of the cliff wall, so that he can have the drawing. He presses flowers in the pages of his journal. He sits off to the side of the group, sitting on a rock, sketching. Who is he? Why is he here? Is he just amazed at all he sees? The thunder, the desert, the constellations? He has traveled farther than most men who lived at his time. He has seen a lot.

But then comes the moment of reveal.

It’s one of the most frightening moments of the book, even with the relentless scenes of slaughter, and blood, and horror. THIS scared me the most. It scares me not just because it’s a scary sentiment, and if you ever met someone in real life who harbors such feelings, your best bet would be to run in the other direction as quickly as possible. It also scares me because I realized how much I had been looking to the judge for answers. He seemed like he knew something. He seemed like he had held on to some essence in the midst of all of that. He was nobody’s fool. He saw the preacher’s hypocrisy and called it out. I liked that in him. I had hopes. I had hopes for the judge. And then comes this:

He pressed the leaves of trees and plants into his book and he stalked tiptoe the mountain butterflies with his shirt outheld in both hands, speaking to them in a low whisper, no curious study himself. Toadvine sat watching him as he made his notations in the ledger, holding the book toward the fire for the light, and he asked him what was his purpose in all this.

The judge’s quill ceased its scratching. He looked at Toadvine. Then he continued to write again.

Toadvine spat into the fire.

The judge wrote on and then he folded the ledger shut and laid it to one side and pressed his hands together and passed them down over his nose and mouth and placed them palm down on his knees.

Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.

He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.

What’s a suzerain?

A keeper. A keeper or overlord.

Why not say keeper then?

Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even where there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgements.

Toadvine spat.

The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can aquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

I don’t see what that has to do with catchin birds.

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.

That would be a hell of a zoo.

The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.

And so. He is revealed. For the first time. On page 198.

The veil was ripped from my eyes, and I realized I had been putting my hope in a moral monster. I had been hoping he was an amateur herbalist and scientist, a man whose curiosity about the natural earth contradicted and also informed his pursuit of the Indians. Yes, he was paid to kill as many as possible. But oh, what a grand people they once were … That is how I hoped he felt. I looked to him to be human. No. That’s not what is going on with him at all. Anything that exists without his knowledge exists without his consent.

The Judge looks at the kid. And he sees something there that exists without his consent.

He will “capture” that thing and smush it between the pages of his sketchbook, if it is the last thing he does.

In the final standoff between the judge and the kid, in the sanddunes, the judge says:

There’s a flawed place in the fabric of your heart. Do you think I could not know? You alone were mutinous. You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen.

The judge’s devotion to his actions are so much more intense than those of the mercenaries, who are in it for the money, or who are so war-crazed that war is all they can do. The judge is beyond everyone, we realize that now.

Only too late. I had gotten caught up in the judge, I had invested in him, and had been duped by him … and found myself trying, desperately, to extricate myself for the remaining 200 pages of the book. No, no, no, get away from me … you monster … you scare me! But he already had trapped me. I was like the kid. I had harbored some corner of clemency and the judge could see me too.

The judge says, near the very end of the book, when he finally meets up with the kid again:

One could well argue that there are not categories of no ceremony but only ceremonies of greater or lesser degree and deferring to this argument we will say that this is a ceremony of a certain magnitude perhaps more commonly called a ritual. A ritual includes the letting of blood. Rituals which fail in this requirement are but mock rituals. Here every man knows the false at once. Never doubt it. That feeling in the breast the evokes a child’s memory of loneliness such as when the others have gone and only the game is left with its solitary participant. A solitary game, without opponent. Where only the rules are at hazard. Don’t look away. We are not speaking in mysteries. You of all men are no stranger to that feeling, the emptiness and the despair. It is that which we take arms against, is it not? Is not blood the tempering agent in the mortar which bonds? The judge leaned closer. What do you think death is, man? Of whom do we speak when we speak of a man who was and is not? Are these blind riddles or are they not some part of every man’s jurisdiction? What is death if not an agency? And whom does he intend toward?

Reading the last chapter of the book made me feel an increasing sense of entrapment. My rationality kept wanting to intervene, to say, “Judge, look … just chill … ” and wanting to tell the kid, “Either run for your life, or shoot that motherfucker. Those are your only choices when you are confronted with a Creature such as the Judge.”

But McCarthy is getting at something deeper here, obviously. My response, my yearning for things to make sense in the midst of chaos, is part of it, a huge part of it. The Judge would understand that completely. He would see it.

The judge says:

That man there. See him. That man hatless. You know his opinion of the world. You can read it in his face, in his stance. Yet his complaint that a man’s life is no bargain masks the actual case with him. Which is that men will not do as he wishes them to. Have never done, never will do. That’s the way of things with him, and his life is so balked about by difficulty and become so altered of its intended architecture that he is little more than a walking hovel hardly fit to house the human spirit at all. Can he say, such a man, that there is no malign thing set against him? That there is no power and no force and no cause? What manner of heretic could doubt agency and claimant alike? Can he believe that the wreckage of his existence is unentailed? No liens, no creditors? That gods of vengeance and of compassion alike lie sleeping in their crypt and whether our cries are for an accounting or for the destruction of the ledgers altogether they must evoke only the same silence and that it is this silence which will prevail?

Mr. McCarthy, I bow before you.

I tell you this. As war becomes dishonored and its nobility called into question those honorable men who recognize the sanctity of blood will become excluded from the dance, which is the warrior’s right, and thereby will the dance become a false dance and the dancers false dancers. And yet there will be one there always who is a true dancer and can you guess who that might be?

You ain’t nothin.

You speak truer than you know. But I will tell you. Only that man who has offered up himself entire to the blood of war, who has been to the floor of the pit and seen horror in the round and learned at last that it speaks to his inmost heart, only that man can dance.

Even a dumb animal can dance.

The judge set the bottle on the bar. Hear me, man, he said. There is room on the stage for one beast and one alone. All others are destined for a night that is eternal and without name. One by one they will step down into the darkness before the footlamps. Bears that dance, bears that dont.

As I read it the final exchange between the judge and the kid, I felt I was encountering a great and awful truth. I wanted to hide from it, and talk it away, and maybe argue with it a bit. Instead, it just sat there with me. And it’s sitting here with me still.

It’s going to take me some time to shake off Blood Meridian.

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129 Responses to Blood Meridian: The Judge

  1. David says:

    Sheila I just wrote this ENORMOUS comment and went to post it and the server timed out or something and I lost the whole damn thing. It was enormous. I’m exhausted thinking about writing it again so I won’t.

    Something broke in me after I read this book. Like a horse, I felt I got broken. It was similar to The Road but different. Mainly for all the reasons you stated about the judge and our need for him to be a harbinger of clarity or truth or meaning. Except, when I read it and I first met the judge I was horrified by him. I had the opposite reaction of you. If you remember, McCarthy never confirms that the reverend is a fraud. In fact, after the judge accuses him of being run out of the previous town for all sorts of crimes, like violating an 11-year-old girl and screwing a goat, we catch up with him in the bar and he admits he had, “never laid eyes on the man before today. Never even heard of him.” He had a mob kill the reverend for reasons known only to himself. What an introduction. You just knew he was coming back and that he was dangerous. He understood how to get that mob to do something horrific. The reverend sobs from the pulpit, “This is him. This is him. The Devil. Here he stands.”

    I have a wild theory about this book. It doesn’t clarify anything but it’s interesting. Remember when I was boring you with the theory of evolution that states we were descended from the chimps? That somehow, 5 to 10 million years a go a band of chimps became separated and through a lack of genetic variation (inbreeding) two chromosomes were fused making 23 where there was 24. The chimps of then and today have 24, we have 23. These isolated chimps evolved into a taller, much less hairy, larger domed creature. The judge, hairless, extremely tall (close to 7 feet) large domed man (which is constantly referenced). He is a highly evolved member of our species. Because he clearly is an extraordinary human being and he’s literally and figuratively head and shoulders above all the other men, and like you say, “he intellectually “gets it” … He knows what he is doing, he knows what the human race is doing, and he understands the reasons why.”, I too needed him to deliver a message of hope, or meaning. But the message he delivers, is brutal. We are destined to dominate, to control, to subjugate nature to our whims. It’s why we’re here. I think the book broke something in me because that may just be true. It’s our need for blood and war that will never leave us. Our need to dominate all frontiers. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is. When he takes that apache child into the woods and comes back out with his scalp, even the most savage of the men is repelled. The judge gets everyone attached to this child and then kills it.

    “Only that man who has offered up himself entire to the blood of war, who has been to the floor of the pit and seen horror in the round and learned at last that it speaks to his inmost heart, only that man can dance.”

    McCarthy makes us look directly into our ruthless, brutal, savage humanity. Like you brilliantly said, the most human among them, the judge, is the most brutal. He gets it, and man, I didn’t want to see it.

    I so needed you to read this!

    I hope this posts, I’m not rewriting another thing!

    • Shawn Finkler says:

      The judge is a true sociopath, where he fails is his understanding of what is real and what is construction. Sure, morality is a social construction, but his primitive violence is also a construction of our collective evolution to survive. He may be philosophically “superior” for his time but he lacks the scientific education with which to truly know the universe (he is still a child in this regard). Religion is the only tool of the educated man of this time and it is a poor substitute for true knowledge.

      Does the judge know of evolution? Does the judge know that our emotions and our violence are derived from our reptilian evolutionary heritage? Does he know that our cognition, which has given us the tools to dominate (technology) is the same part of our brain that creates the moral and ethical constructs that he despises?

      He deconstructs survival down to violence, but only because it suits his own purposes at times. Violence may be necessary to survive, but so is cooperation. Often compassion and empathy pay dividends for survival. He knows that he lives in a world where violence is risky but has more power. So he is in fact lazy and selfish (no surprise there, he is a sociopath).

      Humans can act like wolves in desperate situations of course, when societies crumble we “revert” to tribal structures. That’s all the gang is, a kind of tribe that only knows how to survive by taking and killing. The judge doesn’t need the tribe to survive because he can adapt and join a different group as needed (since he is educated and insightful). The larger “tribe” of the united states, that ultimately destroys the gang is just a coalition of tribes that have common interest in collective survival, which means eliminating the most violent when they no longer serve a functional purpose (the judge knows this and leaves the gang to avoid capture).

      On the judge saving the mentally deficient man while being a child killer. The man amuses him, but on some level the man is in a place that perplexes the judge. He is like a perpetual child and an innocent. Not that the judge cares about the innocent creatures around him. But he is like a unique butterfly. The judge is a child killer because he doesn’t value anything except his own will. But there must be something more to it, why does he like killing children versus killing men? Is it getting away with it? There are certainly some psychopathic tendencies, maybe some obsession with innocence (hence keeping “the fool” alive as well). Children may be innocent but they can learn and grow up, unlike the mentally disabled man.

  2. Brendan says:


    i remember vividly reading this book in providence. i read it close on the heels of ‘wise blood’ by flannery o’connor and those two bookended made me truly despair for our collective humanity.

    mccarthy makes all political dialogue seem insipid. he boils things to an horrific essence.

    did you read the rolling stone article on him? and how he hangs out at this think tank in new mexico and theorizes about the nature of existence with the most cutting edge of scientific theorists?

    and they all say he’s the SMARTEST ONE THERE.

  3. Bren – it’s funny you mentioned Wise Blood because I flashed on it a couple of times as I read Blood Meridian – there are many similaries I think – the stark pared-down existence, the imagery …

    You told me about him and the think tank – I love that!

  4. red says:

    David – That just goes to show you how desperately I wanted to believe in the judge – that I rationalized his “Never met the man” moment after the preacher – I rationalized it as “He obviously sees things others do not.” If he says the man is a con-man, then it must be so.

    It’s so interesting that you immediately knew what you were up against with the guy. (Am I way out of line to think that maybe it’s because you’re a male? And you recognize a dangerous alpha-dog when you see one? Who knows – sheer conjecture – I’m no dummy, but I certainly rationalized away those clues, so deep was my need to see a moral man in the judge)

    And yes – that moment of the scalping of the kid – incredible. I gasped as I read it- and yes, the other men looking at him like, “Wow. He’s kind of beyond the pale …”

    War is war. He plays the game like he means it, and like he knows what he is doing.

    GREAT character. He’s the only one in the book who has a modicum of inner peace.

  5. red says:

    Oh, and the fact that he has inner peace and the other men are tormented drunken pillagers says a lot. He knows who he is and what he is doing.

    The bit I quoted where he points out the man to the kid who is always pissed off – and he thinks it’s because life has cheated him – but it’s really because other men are not behaving the way HE wants them to …

    Evolved, indeed.

  6. red says:

    Bren – I want to read that Rolling Stone piece – I honestly know nothing about Cormac McCarthy – his author bios are sparse, nothing about anything really but his book titles – I’d love to know his story. And it was just so cool to see him sitting at the Oscars – knowing that these books were all in THAT HEAD!!!

  7. Hank says:

    Thanks for the spoiler warning.
    Book arrived yesterday and I’ll be starting it tonite.

  8. Brendan says:

    i actually was filled with dread the moment the Judge appeared. So there wasn’t a sense of disappointment or disillusionment but merely the faintest of hope being trampled. from their first meeting i could only hope that the boy became infused with some kind of strength that the Judge lacked.

    • Shawn Finkler says:

      I agree, after the judge denounced the preacher I was like, ohh man this won’t end well. All hope of this being any kind of a redeeming novel fled when the judge played dumb about the preacher when at the saloon. So it’s that kind of novel lol.

  9. David says:


    I woke up this morning and was like, “Holy Shit, Sheila GOT IT!” You’re a genius! You really are.

    The Judge realizes that we all, as a human species, create our own illusions of reality. That truth is relative. He stands outside of this. He is not dictated by this. He aims to dictate, not to be dictated by illusions. His first act is to create a “truth” for this group of people that were, for two weeks, believing something completely opposite. That this was a holy man, The Judge, with his power and presence, and his “great head”, created the opposite and they went from supplicants to murderers. Such are the relative truths of man.

    You, in your genius of this post revealed how captivating the Judge is. I too, desperately needed the Judge to tell me how it is. I kept waiting for redemption of some kind, from him. McCarthy did this on purpose. He exposed us all. We are all people of the lie to some extent. It’s inherent. We all create our own truths and live by them. The Judge will not!

    Oh thank you for reading this and for your blog. This book really has had quite an effect on me.

    • Solveig says:

      Actually, David, I don’t see the genius here. I think you’re the one who saw it the most clearly. How it is possible to “hoping he was an amateur herbalist and scientist, a man whose curiosity about the natural earth contradicted and also informed his pursuit of the Indians…” after the incident in the tent in the beginning of the book is beyond me. That is the kind of naivité that is unimpressive, to say the least. Like you get the whole thing wrong from the start, and you see everything that happens after that in a twisted light, so all your conclutions are twisted an uninteresting too. I had high hopes when I started reading this comment on Blood Meridian, but my interest just vanished. I also sense (though I may be wrong) a certain admiration for the judge. His knowledge, intelligence, ruthlessness and perhaps “manliness”. I disagree strongly. There’s nothing to admire.

    • David lee says:

      2the banality. the glamour of evil i think. Conrad got there before him. So did shakespeare. the ancient Greeks. This updates it somewhat to the modern era as a symbol of Cowboys and indians and our own time of world wars and Vietnam.

  10. red says:

    People of the lie, yes. That is my main take-away from the book – and it’s about me. What is it in me that looks for meaning? In some ways, it is the best part of me. The part that refuses to be killed. Think of how the kid (secretly – he hides it even from us, the reader) maintains some sense of humanity deep within him, even with all the murders he has committed. And in the world McCarthy describes, that cannot stand. Especially not with someone like the Judge around.

    “He aims to dictate” – yes!! He resents the birds because of their freedom. I think, here, we get a glimpse of what life must have been like for Stalin. The sheer insult of freedom – not just the freedom of nations and large groups of people, although that is an insult too – but the insult of all of the natural world, the sun setting, cats lapping up milk, birds flying overhead … how dare they. How dare they.

    Reminds me of a great line from a Tracey Bonham song: “And the world has the nerve to keep on turning.”

    How often have I felt like that in my heartsick moments. When the sunlight doesn’t just hurt my face, but insults my own personal experience of misery.

    Extrapolate out of that … and you can see dictators, dictators who must control all. And the “great” ones, like Stalin, succeed. Hitler was too personal – he got too wrapped up in it personally – and therefore he failed. Not before killing 6 million people of course – but in terms of staying power, he didn’t have it. Stalin did. Stalin died in his bed of old age. Unheard of in a dictator. Unheard of!

    I mean, it’s sick to see that as a success – when millions of people were killed – but in Stalin’s mind (and in the Judge’s mind) that is the success.


  11. What is Chai Reading?

    I’m in the throes of reading Blood Meridian on the impeccable advice of Sheila. I haven’t even read all of Sheila’s post on because I don’t want spoilers. But she said enough in her first paragraph to get me hooked…

  12. Chai-rista says:

    I had such a different take on this book. The writing is incredible. All of your descriptions of his writing resonate with me. But – it never seemed to me like a story.

    For me – nothing happened in this book that was unexpected. There was plenty to inspire horror – but after many pages of unrelenting horror I didn’t expect anything else . . .

    The only moment of suspense for me was when the Kid had a chance to kill the Judge. I hoped he would do it but he didn’t. This the moment of clemency we see from the Kid. This happened directly after the Kid defied the Judge when he wouldn’t hand over his weapon.

    So – the kid violated the Judge in several ways in that one scene. He’d made a deal with the devil and you don’t go back on the devil. If you’ve signed on you render everything – and the kid withheld. Not only that but he broke the Rule of War by not killing the Judge when he had a chance.

    And maybe it wasn’t even clemancy. Could it have been due to respect? Seems unlikely. Nor was it from fear. But in that one moment the Judge saw the weakness in his recruit. The Judge’s world is kill or be killed, and the Kid – by not killing the Judge – signed his own death warrant.

    The Judge is destruction, war and chaos personified. Isn’t it in the Screwtape Letters that the demon is a self-declared judge? He condemns all before him and denies the existence of those things that are outside his ken? (I hope I’m thinking of the right book.)

    The petroglyphs are beautiful and their meaning is outside of the Judge and so he destroys them. Anything not under his control he destroys. So – I knew he would kill the Kid and . . . I REALLY missed the presence of a likable character and a dramatic arc.

    As I said above – the writing was incredible – but, to me this wasn’t a story. Are any of his other books more in the traditional dramatic model . . . with unexpected events and some sense of suspense?

    Hope it doesn’t seem I’m poo-pooing him. I’m not. I just wanted more out of this book.

    • Shawn Finkler says:

      I thought he was headed towards the redemptive side when the ex-priest and the kid were buddied up. I was like, aha two of the band take a stand for something decent! Except they both kind of gave up, assuming the ex-priest lived, he was a survivor and it wasn’t worth fighting the judge at risk of dying, he also lacked the skill to kill the judge himself (and maybe the courage). Of course maybe the judge was just tracking down the ex-priest before the kid since they were both against him.

  13. Chai-rista says:

    I had such a different take on this book. The writing is incredible. All of your descriptions of his writing resonate with me. But – it never seemed to me like a story.

    For me – nothing happened in this book that was unexpected. There was plenty to inspire horror – but after many pages of unrelenting horror I didn’t expect anything else . . .

    The only moment of suspense for me was when the Kid had a chance to kill the Judge. I hoped he would do it but he didn’t. This the moment of clemency we see from the Kid. This happened directly after the Kid defied the Judge when he wouldn’t hand over his weapon.

    So – the kid violated the Judge in several ways in that one scene. He’d made a deal with the devil and you don’t go back on the devil. If you’ve signed on you render everything – and the kid withheld. Not only that but he broke the Rule of War by not killing the Judge when he had a chance.

    And maybe it wasn’t even clemancy. Could it have been due to respect? Seems unlikely. Nor was it from fear. But in that one moment the Judge saw the weakness in his recruit. The Judge’s world is kill or be killed, and the Kid – by not killing the Judge – signed his own death warrant.

    The Judge is destruction, war and chaos personified. Isn’t it in the Screwtape Letters that the demon is a self-declared judge? He condemns all before him and denies the existence of those things that are outside his ken? (I hope I’m thinking of the right book.)

    The petroglyphs are beautiful and their meaning is outside of the Judge and so he destroys them. Anything not under his control he destroys. So – I knew he would kill the Kid and . . . I REALLY missed the presence of a likable character and a dramatic arc.

    As I said above – the writing was incredible – but, to me this wasn’t a story. Are any of his other books more in the traditional dramatic model . . . with unexpected events and some sense of suspense?

    Hope it doesn’t seem I’m poo-pooing him. I’m not. I just wanted more out of this book.

  14. Robby says:

    Like the man in the old ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, the judge has all the time in the world. Patience is merely his bastard secretary.

  15. Carsten says:

    I had the opposite reaction to the Judge at first, mostly because he outright admits to never having heard of or having seen the preacher whose death he authors.

    I felt it was markedly clear from the outset that the Judge was a sort of beacon of nihilism. And that is what shook me to the core about this book.

    Great write up.

  16. Dave says:

    I think the best parts of the book were when the kid was paired with someone. Him and Tate, Him and Sloat, Him and Tobin.

    The saddest part of the book is when David Brown kills the guard who lets him out of jail.

  17. Gavin says:

    With the last few passages of the book I got a strange, unconfirmed notion that The Judge was The Kid and that he’d been battleing this part of himself throught the whole book. Kind of a “Fight Club” thing. I could be way off but I’d like to reread it and see if it works.

  18. Jeff Shelton says:


    I just finished reading Blood Meridian. I was interested in READING a book by Cormac McCarthy after WATCHING the movies: The Road, No Country For Old Men, and All The Pretty Horses. The Judge character reminded me a little of Anton Chigurh (although the former was a hairless, seven-foot-tall albino superevil compared with the latter driven bowlcut superkiller). Anyway, I started searching online for analysis or meaning of the final scene in Blood Meridian. The general consensus of READERS far wiser than me appears to be that “The Judge” murdered (and buggered) “The Kid” [in the end]. However, my own simplistic interpretation was apparently exactly like yours. In fact, I did a search for “Blood Meredian” and “Fight Club” to find your posting. After I closed the book, I felt like I had completed a murder mystery rather than a western.

    Chapter XXIII (final scene): The Kid becomes The Man or he. He has to kill a boy named Elrod after being told that Griffin is “the biggest town for sin” and “a place for murders” in Texas. He sees The Judge in the bar after starting to drink whiskey. They talk about being there “for the dance.” He goes to the outhouse and the judge is there naked and smiling gathering him against his flesh. A peculiar paragraph that the “experts” translate as the death and sexual violation of The Kid. Two guys then go to the outhouse. “A third man” [not The Judge] is standing outside pissing. As he walks away, they discover something horrible. The story ends with The Judge towering over them all naked dancing. But wait, a familiar suspicious occurrence beforehand, the little girl whose bear was killed is lost and they are searching for her. I think her body is what the two men find in the outhouse.

    Up until this point, I thought that the pedophile child-murderer in the tale was The Judge, and it is, but he is also The Kid/The Man. Kid declares, “You aint nothin.” Judge replies, “You speak truer than you know.” The judge further admonishes that only the man who has offered himself up entire to the blood of war can dance. In this way, The Kid is a traitor to his own bloodlust. Given the right circumstance (i.e. anonymity, alcohol, opportunity, etc.), the witness of the story is a killer. The Judge kills the Apache boy and scalps him in Chapter XII, but what about the mysterious deaths or disappearances of the 12-year-old halfbreed boy in chapter IX, the missing little girl after the feast of Las Animas in Chapter XIV, the abducted Mexican girl in Chapter XVI? There are other unaccounted murders as well, but it is difficult to notice or track with a backdrop of so much genicide and violence during the adventure.

    I distinctly got the whole conscience or moral battle aka Angel vs. Devil theme between the expriest Tobin (who never lies) and The Judge. They are basically fighting over The Kid. Keep in mind that Tobin is the only member of the gang who disappears at the end. He and The Judge do not die. I started getting the Fight Club idea distinctly in Chapter XXII when The Kid and The Judge are both saying to each other that it wasn’t me. In fact, the judge accuses The Kid of being a witness against himself and sitting in judgment of his own deeds.

    Anyhow, it is a theory and there is so much to digest in this nihilistic novel. When the lambs are lost and cry, sometimes the mother comes, sometime the wolf. [Ch.5] What does an upside down Four of Cups card mean? [Ch.7] In Tarot, I think it pictures a divine cup being offered to a seated man who is looking at three cups on the ground. What is the “exorcism” decribed in Chapter XX? An interesting scene in Chapter XXII where he watches and later finds the mutilated pilgrims and then the body of a long-dead elderly woman (mother?). Meteorites? All of the characters unleash their basest and most violent tendencies with the encouragement of The Judge. Is it free will that dooms men or the interference of Mephistopheles or Satan?


  19. Jeff Shelton says:

    Had a couple of days more to ruminate over Blood Meridian. There is mucho psychology here. The story is “deceptive” in its telling. I believe that some of the characters are not people, but figments or rationalizations by the storyteller. Indeed, the underlying story is from Samuel Chamberlain’s My CONFESSION: The Recollections of a Rogue. Chamberlain is “the veteran” in Chapter VI. John Joel Glanton, the Glanton Gang, and some of the events in Blood Meridian are factual. Like many autobiographical pieces of the period, Chamberlain’s Confession contains untrue and self-aggrandizing accounts interspersed among nuggets of fascinating historical events.

    Similarly, Blood Meridian is a fictional story set in history with yet another psychological layer. It is human nature to cast yourself in a positive light when describing your own biography. Perhaps, Chamberlain did that as well. Although a “confession,” maybe in the retelling, other people appear to commit the atrocities during the war while the writer fades into the background and takes a sort of moral accounting for the tale. Chamberlain describes a “Judge Holden,” but no historical evidence has been found for this man. Although he knows right from wrong, The Kid does seem to disappear at times in Blood Meridian.

    Cormac’s most complete character (replete with explanations and ruminations) is The Judge. I think we can agree that he is not a man. The Judge in Blood Meridian is beyond man like a demon or The Devil. Yet, he takes action and is vividly described like a person. But what if someone else is actually the actor and the stories about the Judge are attempts to explain the vile acts of men? Not all good can be because of God and not all evil can be due to Satan. During war, murders and violence are commonplace and sometimes considered heroic. However, when unjustified, how does one rationalize to himself his own misdeeds? There is a complex psychology involved in that and at play in Blood Meridian, I think.

    In my previous posting, I thougt that the story had a “Fight Club” element to it. Unlike The Judge who is evil, Tyler Durden was the split personality of that storyteller who made mischief and was everything he was not. The mind has a defense mechanism to protect itself. How does it work when looking back, retelling the adventure, and assessing the vile deeds yourself? Easy, Glanton and The Judge committed the majority of the attrocities and were responsible, not The Kid.

    In Chapter XX, there is a showdown or “exorcism” in the desert between The Kid, the expriest Tobin, and The Judge. This is a mental or moral conflict in the storyteller. The Kid is advised by the expriest that The Judge cannot be killed and to shoot the horses. Tobin is wounded in the neck and The Judge lives, of course. Keep in mind that Tobin is the only member of the gang who disappears at the end. He and The Judge do not die.

    In Chapter XXII, The Judge states to The Kid, “Hear me, man. I spoke in the desert for you and you only and you turned a deaf ear to me.” Specifically, they acuse each other of being “the one” on page 307. Apparently referring to Glanton, The Kid declares to The Judge, “He never took part in your craziness.” What immoral action did The Judge partake in that Glanton did not? Both participated in genocide, but The Judge is also a pedophile child-murderer.

    In Chapter XXII, The Kid begins looking for the expriest, but never sees him again. At the age of 28, he finds an old woman. The storyteller describes, “He told her that he was an American and that he was a long way from the country of his birth and that he had no family and that he had traveled much and seen many things and had been at war and endured hardships. He told her that he would convey her to a safe place… [but] she had been dead in that place for years.” P. 315. The Kid (now a man) sees The Judge again in the final chapter.

    As The Man is watching the little girl whose bear was shot, The Judge says, “Do you believe it’s all over, son?” The Judge calls him “the last of the true” and states that the man is here “for the dance.” On page 330 in a single sentence, The Kid/Man pleads, “I dont like craziness.” The Judge describes the setting as an orchestration for a dance or a stage. Then, the little girl is lost and they are searching for her.

    I think her body is what the two men find in the outhouse as the “third man” [not The Judge] is walking away. The Judge kills the Apache boy and scalps him in Chapter XII, but what about the mysterious deaths or disappearances of the 12-year-old halfbreed boy in chapter IX, the missing little girl after the feast of Las Animas in Chapter XIV, the abducted Mexican girl in Chapter XVI? The most violent actors are “remembered” as being other characters during the war with grotesque violence and death everywhere. It is a convenient smokescreen for self-reflection with the more sordid details and murders being given little detail by the storyteller.

    Later in life, the witness is presented with the necessary stage (anonymity, alcohol, opportunity, etc.) and chooses to dance (i.e. kill a child again). In this way, The Judge does win because The Man cannot resist the evil voice in his head. The Judge is Judgment, but the Man’s mind cannot put a spin on the choice he made. The only true evil exists in the hearts of men, not some external character or force. “They must sleep, but I must dance.”

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  21. Cyrus says:

    Judge Holden is Death.

  22. Hannes says:

    Now, when I first read this book I immediately drew the connection between The Judge and C.M.:s character in No country…; Anton Chigurh. The main difference being The Judge is explained in a much more complex way than Anton is. But then I realised The Judge is quite different because he doesn’t really act according to a codex of principles but rather out of lust and passion; traits of man.

    I’m drowning in a flood of thoughts here, but i’ll try to explain how my thinking goes when it comes to The Kid, The Judge and the ex-priest. The Kid was an innocent figure that is neither good or evil. He steps onto the path of “evil” (I don’t want to call it evil because who determines what is and what isn’t?) by accident when he meets the people he meets, first when he gets a glimpse of The Judge at the revival meeting and later when he meets Toadvine, but he might aswell have become a “good” person. So he evolves this side of his that nurtures the true nature of man; for man is as The Judge says always at war. Early in the book they say all of the men in the company at some point in the past had met The Judge, the concept of evil, and they’re all walking that path now with him, or it, by their side.

    The ex-priest depicts the concept of good within The Kid. They become rather close but the ex-priest really is no authority and therefore he has no real ruling over The Kid. He’s a bystander that has no real power and he gets outmaneuvered quite some times in arguments by The Judge during the book. In the stand-off by the well by the end the ex-priest tries to convince The Kid to kill the naked Judge but it’s pointless and The Kid just ignores him because his other side is far stronger than the one the ex-priest, being the concept of good, tries to speak for. A bit later when The Kid says to the ex-priest that they should kill The Judge, the ex-priest says it isn’t possible, he too has by then realised the evil side within The Kid overrides the good. When the ex-priest suddenly vanishes it symbolizes the last source of good going out of The Kid, his contract with the Devil is complete. Although he knows the nature of his own self as he snugs The Judge off every time he tries to speak to him, he’s fully overtaken by then.

    I have to say the translation (I read the book in Swedish) at times was rather “suspicious” so I might’ve misunderstood things. Besides, like many of theories mine isn’t less frail (when you’re convinced there is something, I suppose it’s easy to search for things that confirm your theory, and to ignore things that oppose it). Also, after reading some of you other guys’ texts, I do realise my english is rather plain seeing as it isn’t my native language, but I hope my message went out anyhow.

  23. Devon says:

    You’re awfully close Sheila…the Judge is Moby Dick…the Kid is Ahab…

    The Judge is death personified…immortal, unavoidable, unstoppable. “He says he never sleeps. He says that he will never die.” All the Kid (Mankind) can do is forestall the eventual death coming to him.

    This also explains the epilogue, in which we get a sense that someone is on the way to defeat the Judge. The last thing to be destroyed will be death itself no?

    …And how profound does such a view make their last exchange seem?

    “You ain’t nothin”
    “You speak truer than you know.”

    …the Kid…like Ahab…defiant to the end…defiant despite certain destruction.

    …a new powerful revision of an American masterwork…and a masterpiece in and of itself.

  24. sheila says:

    Devon – I wasn’t looking for a right answer, actually. (And – let’s not forget – this post was written in 2008. This is an old post.)

    The book eludes neatness, the book resists that kind of “this means this, and that means that” pie-chart of symbolism. It’s better than that. It’s more elusive, deeper.

    I agree it is a masterpiece. And, like Moby Dick, as EM Forster so famously pointed out in his lecture about THAT book, unknowable. Forster said (among many other things):

    Moby-Dick is full of meanings: its meaning is a different problem. It is wrong to turn the Delight or the coffin into symbols, because even if the symbolism is correct, it silences the book. Nothing can be stated about Moby Dick except that it is a contest. The rest is song.

    I realize people don’t like that a lot fhte time. They want to know what it all MEANS. If a work is good enough, then I don’t care. I don’t care what Ulysses MEANS. I like to talk about it. I don’t think meaning is irrelevant – but with certain genius writers – it’s about the “song” of their language. The impact they have is in THAT realm, NOT in plot. The plot is certainly important in Blood Meridian, but it is the LEAST of it.

    Those looking for neatness can, oh, go see Inception.

    It’s like the last episode of The Sopranos. There were those who had to defend vigorously what they thought happened, after the sudden blackout – even though it was left unresolved. People swore that Tony was killed, or that he lived – whatever. It was all quite interesting to read, people made very good cases on both sides. But all of that seemed beside the point. I thought the POINT was the not-knowing. I thought the pOINT was the engagement of the audience on such a level that we would spend the rest of our lives talking about it. That there is no right answer. I like that much better, personally. That’s what art can do. It can open up that in-between space, where human beings, as audience members/readers, can actually THINK about this stuff.

    I love how people keep finding this thread and sharing their thoughts!

    I’ve mainly stayed out of it, although I do read every comment – but this one time I’m dipping back in just to make clear that I am not “confused” about the book in any way. I’m not trying to “guess” what it means. I wouldn’t have even commented except that you started out with the words “You’re awfully close” which makes me think you may have misunderstood where I was coming from.

    Carry on everyone!

    Great book!

  25. Tim says:

    Great essay, by the way. However, I figured the Kid to be around 42 when he met the bone picking youngsters who enquired about the scapular of ears. He was 16 in 1850 and that event took place aroung 1878. You mentioned him as being in his late 20’s.

  26. Elliott says:

    Great review!! I just finished this book a few nights back. My immediate interpretation of the ending was that the man with is head down in the jakes who didnt “look like he was getting up” was the kid having been killed by the judge, and the other stall was some gruesome scene involving the missing girl. Reading through a lot of reviews and ending analyses I don’t see that interpretation mentioned much (once or twice in above comments). Curious to me that so few read it that way…

    Thanks again for the review!

  27. Richard says:

    Loved it all, book & reviews. Must say the tent preacher may not have been a fake. Think about it. He recognized satan and called it out: qualifications of a prophetic truth sayer (e.g., Nathan’s “…you’re the man” to King David). The devil is, in contrast, a recognized liar, murderer, immortal, anti-man and anti-Christ, totally self serving with perverted agenda, just as the Judge is. Many are ready to believe the devil’s lies. Kindest regards to all.

  28. Rachel says:

    There was one thing more that haunted me about this book and the Judge, which is his God-like elements. Although it’s easy to demonize the Judge, and he appears to be a demon, there are many times when his omnipotence bleeds over onto my imaginings of God. At the very beginning, in the revival tent, the Judge seems to be indicting the Reverend because he can. He can stir up the strife and he can bend the men to his will. Which comes off without a hitch. The men laugh and even buy the Judge a drink when they realize the Judge never knew the Reverend at all, which is the Judge, rewarded. During the speech to Toadvine, the Judge states “this is my claim.”, and, “In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.” These, to me, are the thoughts of God. Which makes the novel so grim. The thought that the Judge could be right, that the only uniting of man is under the banner of war, and all other thought of love or peace are ultimately, as the Judge states near the beginning of the scalping campaign, “the weak taking power over the strong.” That reverberated in me and continues to. In this context, I was reminded of the film 2001, and the thought that violence is all men are truly capable of. To me, the horror of the novel is the horror that that may be correct.

    • Lizzybeth says:

      This book, this book. My first clue: “He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence.” However, the man at the jakes that was relieving himself, “and did not look,” suggested to me he was the kid. I have a difficult time accepting the kid made it through all that….horror….only to get caught unawares and die. I never liked the Judge from the get-go. To me he was a slimey bastard. One last thing, if a movie IS made out of this thing, and they nail down the Comanche War Party…..I’m in.

  29. Lizzybeth says:

    er, “did not look UP” sorry.

  30. cory says:

    The judge’s character is revealed much earlier when he admits that he had never seen the preacher in his life. He made up that he was a con man for the fun of it.

  31. Fergus says:

    @ Jeff S

    I was going down the same route as you with the kid being the judge and vice versa. I think there are a number of potential clues to this throughout, some of which you mention:

    Who killed all the missing girls and why was another missing at the end when only our 2 main characters were present? Girls only go missing when the 2 are together – nothing like that is reported for the many years in between. The judge is found with the idiot and a young girl when Glanton is killed. The judge ‘never sleeps’ – why? In all of those vast countries, how do they keep bumping into each other? ‘you can’t kill the judge’. why is the judge so remarkable in his appearance – not a single eyelash?

    For me they are the same person. Tobin is ‘the good side’ that the kid desperately tries to keep alive (in the desert) and the judge is ‘the bad side’ that the kid cannot kill but tries to escape from – although it proves futile in the end.

    I think the kid goes to the whore house with good intentions (to get laid). BUT what does he see just before the judge pops up again? A little girl playing the organ. This brings the bad thoughts back to his head and ‘the judge’ emerges in his character. He can’t fuck the whore as his mind is on the little girl. This is why he goes to rape and kill her – “for she was lost”.

    The kid is then ‘gone’ and we know only of the judge dancing away. The kid’s character temporarily or permanently has become that of the judge. This insanity is how he is able to rationalize and live with his vile deeds and Tobin is long gone as a force for good. Given his difficult short life, is it so hard to imagine the kid would be this ficked up..?

    I wrote this on my iPhone at 1am so sorry it’s not v well written.

    I am more disturbed now than I was when I read it 20 mins ago!

    I kinda made that up as I wrote but it literally gave me the shivers down my neck to write it.

  32. Fergus says:

    Can’t sleep and just found a bit more.. which I find conclusive..

    Each chapter has a summary of the content on the first page of that chapter. The last summary line of the last chapter is this:

    “Sie mussen schlafen aber ich muss tanzen”

    I believe it is written in German to hide the meaning slightly but this translates as:

    “You must sleep but I must dance”.

    This is not something that is explicitly said in the chapter itself so it must be an important line. I see this (with the naked hug) as evidence that the kid has given in to his dark side and given up on ‘finding Tobin’ again. From then on he will unashamedly live his life in the truth as spoken of by the judge. It also kinda explains the last few lines of repetition. He is the kid’s favorite state of mind and is in his waking and dreaming hours.

    Also, if this theory is wrong and they really are 2 separate men, then why would the kid go to the Judge to allow himself to be buffered and killed?? That would make no sense…

  33. Fergus says:

    Final piece of evidence, and then I will TRY to get some sleep..

    Tim (above) is right to point out about the dates not quite adding up. BUT what is crucial is not how the kid ages in these 28 years from 1950 to 1978, but how the judge ages; or more precisely doesn’t age.

    The judge comes across as being a man of at least 40 years to me in the main body of the book – hd is travelled, intelligent and Glanton’s chief advisor. That would make him 68+ in the final scene. Yet he is described in exactly the same way. He doesn’t age and hence is not a real person. He is not even a real person representing evil as if he were then the kid would remark on the strange fact that he hadn’t aged. Thus he IS the kid.. or at least one of the kid’s split personalities.

    Case closed.

    (unless anyone disagrees…)

    • seedy mayer says:

      I don’t see why everyone wants to put an overdone cliche trick like, “the judge and the kid are the same person, like Fight Club” on Cormac McCarthy. The man is way better than that.
      Bottom line is, the kid is 16 for most of the journey, the expriest tells about his first stumbling on the judge in the desert and he makes gunpowder on the volcano and that whole story. Hence the judge has a history pre-existing the kid. Also, why would the expriest tell the kid to shoot the judge and not listen to him if they are supposedly one and the same?

      The kid’s “absences” in the story are his mutiny from those events, the “odd innocence” his character is imbued with in the first pages. No one is truly innocent, but the mutiny is I believe is a guilt, a repentance he contains within himself. Many members of gang are identified to their brutal actions, the kid is tied to no specific atrocity and neither is the judge in all the massacring. Scalping a child, throwing puppies into a river, etc, yes the judge does those things. The kid is never ONCE identified as taking a scalp in a specific description. I’m not arguing he never did, I’m simply saying his disappearance is his mutiny to the judge, pathetic mutiny though it may be.

      His stronger acts of mutiny were not killing Shelby, I believe the judge didn’t even want him to draw the red-flagged arrow for that duty if you reread that passage carefully.

      Also I don’t believe the kid ever once was the rapist/child murderer. I believe as all have said the judge is an eloquent orator on many things but most verbose about war. Children are symbolic of innocence, something the judge simply does not believe in. He believes we are fixed to destiny no matter how we stray and the reserving of any innocence is an assault to his beliefs. He is NO nihilist, he has firm beliefs and operates towards them at every point in the novel.

      The reverend Green he slanders and ruins is in the mist of talking about Jesus being with there whether the character want him to be or not, whether he heads for hell or whatever. Now, when you read Cormac McCarthy you must be aware of his religious allusions and imagery, and even to the point where his stories may be re-telling of a biblical design. Jesus is a literary symbol of redemption and the fact that he died so we can be saved. I’m hardly of sturdy faith in anything, but, Christian or not you must see these designs of McCarthy’s. The judge cannot have any man he runs with be wary of redemption, or of a mind to seek forgiveness, that is essentially the complete opposite of war and war is the judge’s baby. So innocence, redemption, guilt and any hope for forgiveness are things the judge must destroy and so does. The kid is a moral blank. The kid is more the nihilist.

      And lastly I believe the young girl and the kid (man) are both murdered in the jakes.

      Really good discussion all, but I cannot abide the idea that judge and kid are one in the same. In a book with this sort of narrative structure, and the plot and conflict being as allusive as they are it doesn’t make any aesthetic sense. And in my opinion, as stated in the film Adaptation, schizophrenia and multiple personalities are dead maneuvers in literature. It’s cliche, over done, cheap, tacky and emotionally useless as a technique. Hack writers use it. McCarthy’s language is unforgivably specific and ruggedly adamant in detail, I simply don’t see the invocation to doubt the kid and judge as separate entities.
      I see the judge as a general symbol of the evil in all men. The fact that he is eloquent and alluring shouldn’t deter that. Evil is not economized by the apathetic, vulgar and illiterate as many of the Glanton gang may seem, but can too be the work of a renaissance man such as the judge.
      Wow. Haven’t done that typ of writing since college. Feels weird and off but was fun. Great thread here about a great book.

      • JJ Glanton says:

        Um. You do realize that at the time of Blood Meridian’s publication, Fight Club did not exist, right? Nor was that “trick” cliche.

        I think you’re taking both the story and that particular interpretation too literally.

      • Aimee says:

        I agree with Seedy Mayor, the narrative is way too complicated to come from the kid. He was an illiterate, uneducated boy of 14. How can anyone interpret the German quote in the last chapter as anything other than the kid dying (sleeping) and the judge gleefully dancing away into the night?

  34. Mark Coxon says:

    I agree with the analysis by Fergus. I wrote the same thing in another blog, although not as eloquently, before I read this. The horror in the jake is the dead girl, the kid is outside and says don’t go in there. The judge wins, the kid sleeps, the judge dances.

    Truly a great book, and a page turner at the end. I liked this better than The Crossing but haven’t read Cities on the Plain yet. Maybe as much as The Road. McCarthy is great at invoking the devil. There is a scene in sunset limited where Mr. White berates Mr. Black towards the end, and I heard the devil in that exchange as well, and Mr. Black cowers while he is unleashed, which was very outside his character up until that point.

  35. Steve Stanga says:

    That was a GREAT review of “Blood Meridian”, Sheila! Thank you. Although I am surprised that a female would find something in this book enticing enough to even finish reading it; I guess I underestimate your gender after all. I just finished reading the book last night myself. As I closed the book I asked, “Cormac, what have you done to me here?” I was holding out for some sort of just-desserts ending, unrealistically wanting the least-objectionable psychopath Kid to finally give the Judge his come-uppance. (I’m still not sure what happened to the Kid; do I want to know?) But I was denied even this after enduring all the mind-numbing blood & violence & horrific images throughout the book. Alright, I’m a big boy; I know that real life rarely has a happy ending. And that even today, to a lesser extent, old Mother Earth is still soaking up the blood of innocents in every dark corner of this murdering star we live on. And now I learn that a movie version of this book is in pre-production, with a release date of 2015. Whew — it will have to be rated “Type A” for all the blood flow.

  36. Steve Stanga says:

    Although . . . I do feel better about the book after having read ALL of the comments presented above. The ending would make psychological sense if the Kid and the Judge were two warring sides of the same person, and the Kid finally gave in to evil. But as the book was based on the true mis-deeds of the Glanton Gang in 1849-1850, I was sort of hoping for an ending that was believable and more realistic. I don’t know; maybe just the fact that a day later I am still mulling over the events of this book in my mind is the real huzzah for Cormac. As for the film adaptation of the book, several directors have stepped down already, and the production of a Blood Meridian movie has stalled for the time being for some unknown reason.

  37. Bruce says:

    Another clue that the Judge is the Kid – or a supernatural entity avatar of God as War/Death….

    The Judge KNOWS things only the Kid could know – in the final exchange, he is listing off who the Kid left behind and how… and some of those people and the circumstances should be unknown to the Judge unless he is omniscient…

    Of course, what I do agree with above is that the point of the book is to defy clear meaning – that is the whole point in some ways… it is through the exercise of shedding blood to unite humanity against facing the horrible void of the Uknown…. well, according to the Judge.

    BTW, get the Audiobook recording – listening to it read is a totally cool experience – and believe it or not – there is a ton of humourous scenes once you listen to it….

    “I aim to!”


    Great review

  38. Robert says:

    I loved the Sheila and Fergus reviews of this unbelievable book. I agree that the judge/Tobin are the kid’s warring personalities or opposite sides of his soul and that the judge part wins. I also love the idea of the third person at the jakes being the kid and that it is the girl who is in there, most likely raped and killed in a grotesque fashion.

    On a second reading I found it interesting that the kid is a killer from the time he was born-the first page indicates that his mother died in his own childbirth. It also mentions him having a sister that he will never see again. Perhaps his first actual victim?

    Thanks for all of the insight!

  39. GRB says:

    Ok, so I realize the original review here (which is brilliant) is over three years old, but I am really glad I found this. I just finished the book this evening and was sort of “dazed and confused.” I went looking for some insight into what I thought McCarthy was trying to convey and found this.

    I just begged my son to read it as well, as he is the really prolific reader of the family and minored in philosophy in college, so after reading all the reviews and comments on this blog, I can’t wait to discuss it with him. Thanks for the great blog and info folks. Amazing book and very well written comments.

  40. MC says:

    One thing I’m surprised nobody has mentioned: every man in the scalping party claimed to have seen the judge at some point in their lives – which suggests that the judge chose each man, or knew at some point they would all ride together. I hadn’t entertained the idea of a dual or triple personality, symbolically. But I did have a gut feeling that the Judge was not human; he was a walking metaphor for the impulse for violence (and that as such he can’t be killed). He is timeless and could be described as “waiting for mankind” as much as the “rocks and stones” were. I do like the duality idea though; I’m about halfway through my 2nd read and I’ll watch for that.

  41. the road to toadville says:

    Also, I cant tell you how many book reviews Ive read -across numerous different books- by amateurs on blogs that think theyre brilliant because THEY have boiled a plot into the main character in Fight Club. What a stupid, uneducated country of bumpkins. That you can only come up with this simplistic answer to characters. It has got to be a byproduct of how narcissistic this next generation is. And poorly educated. That you can only see these limited aspects after reading into a character and how they interact.

  42. sheila says:

    Have you read the rest of my site?

    Who raised you? Your manners are appalling.

  43. sheila says:

    Also, I am not of the “next generation”. I will choose to be flattered that you think I’m a young whippersnapper.

    People: this thread has been going on for years. I no longer participate in it because I wrote it years ago. I am now onto other things. I have been writing for years, and maintaining this site of my own writing since 2002. I also do offline writing and have a film column.

    When you arrive here, you are not arriving into a vacuum. This is an established site. Mind your manners. I love hearing from everyone who comes across this post, because it shows the clear power of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant book and all of the philosophical implications of his characters. It’s awesome!

    In the meantime: comport yourself properly, make your arguments, debate, without devolving into name-calling and vague spluttering about “the next generation” and what idiots we are (even though I am not from the next generation, as I said. Assumptions are just part of innate rudeness.)

    I run a tight ship. I love debate and conversation. But name-calling and juvenile flame-throwing is totally not my scene. I do not allow it.

    Civility is paramount.

    Thanks. Carry on!

  44. tracey says:

    My God. “Road to toadville” indeed. Also, just my opinion, but if someone wants to devolve into name-calling and juvenile flame-throwing, at least be 1) articulate and 2) able to punctuate.

    If that comment is an example of good education, I think I’ll stick with Sheila as a hapless member of the “poorly educated next generation,” if that’s all right with you, Sheila.

    A voice straight from the pit, hon, as we’ve discussed MANY times.

  45. sheila says:

    Tracey – you can feel this RAGE in that comment. This person is unable to express him/herself like a normal person.

    I’m actually really proud of this thread – people have been finding it for years and leaving AWESOME thought-provoking comments. Clearly The Judge is a character that makes people think, and makes people want to talk about him. I love that.

    For the most part, everyone has been awesome. Usually these commenters do not stick around to read more of my site, and that’s fine.

    I just love that people want to show up and talk. Too bad Toad has no idea how to add a proper voice to a conversation.

    Buh-bye, Toad.

  46. Alex D says:

    This comments thread seems like a rite of passage to all of those searching for meaning in Blood Meridian. First things first, great work to everyone’s insight to McCarthy’s text; it’s been a really interesting read. Secondly, I don’t pretend to have any definitive answers here — I think that the book was written to avoid such things. That said, my interpretation hasn’t been brought up here.

    Throughout most of the novel, we are restricted from the main character’s point of view. We rarely receive insight from the Kid, who serves as our protagonist — by definition he’s the protagonist, but he’s not the main character in his own life’s story. He follows Glanton’s gang, he participates in war and murder, but when left to his own devices (after the Judge chases him in the desert), he simply wanders around aimlessly. The Kid doesn’t love violence as much as he just seems to go along with it.

    If Judge Holden is anything, he is a man of principle. Because the Kid is not a man driven by a moral compass or any other standard, the Judge despises him. In the bar, in their final exchange, the Judge speaks of destiny and of “false dancers.” This dance is paralleled with the act of war, and the Kid has been a false dancer — he does not recognize the “sanctity of blood.” The Kid does not comprehend the scope of the Judge’s message about the existence and need for war; he’s just ambivalent to it.

    A few commentators have brought up the fact that the Kid would not have been foolish enough to walk in on his fate (the Judge in the jakes). On the contrary, when the Kid is told about what a hellhole Fort Griffin is, he finds himself there. For the past thirty years, he has been wandering around the country aimlessly. No longer being chased, he finds himself drawn to the Judge as if he has been seeking him out this entire time. His whole life has lead to joining that “terrible flesh”.

  47. sheila says:

    Alex – thank you for re-establishing the civilized tone of this long-lasting thread. It really makes me happy that people show up here to talk about this book.

  48. Dave says:

    Have just finished Blood Meridian about an hour ago and had a lot of thoughts running through my mind, so much so I went straight to my laptop to look it up and came across this thread.
    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all your comments and it’s great to see how people have different interpretations of the ending and the book as a whole.
    I will definitely be reading through it a second time but will share my thoughts on it now.
    Whilst reading the final chapter my initial thoughts were that The Judge was death or some sort of “higher” being (demonic or otherwise) due to his god like characteristics and the fact that he seems to be portrayed as superior to everyone else.
    I also thought about the good v evil theory in the desert due to some of the things Tobin says, I remember parts (not word for word) where Tobin is telling the kid to not listen to what the judge is saying, not to be sucked in by his voice, almost like the kid was having some conflict between good and evil in his head.
    I will leave it at that for now as it’s getting late, I thoroughly enjoyed Blood Meridian and can see why Cormac McCarthy is thought of so highly in the literary world, it is a masterpiece that will live long in my memory years after reading that final page.

  49. Adam L says:

    Excellent post! I did not read the comments, so I don’t know if this has been said. I agree with you about this novel being tied to Moby Dick. In a strange way it is Moby Dick’s inversion, in the desert instead of ocean, and I think the novels are properly studied together.

    That said, you referred to the Judge as Ahab. Do you not think, instead, that he is the Whale? Enormous, hairless, violent, the driver of destiny, etc? Of course, the Whale was a white void that could represent everything in existence or nothing at all, and the Judge is not a void. But perhaps they are both mirrors with warped surfaces where the looker sees himself reflected for what he really is? The Kid is not evil in the way the rest of Glanton’s gang is evil, but I don’t think he knows who and what he is until meeting the Judge. Remember that conversation early in the novel where the Kid meets a hermit? The hermit offers his own views on morality and good and evil. He asks the Kid what he thinks, and the kid says he doesn’t know. Of course, he’s just a kid, but still, if the hermit posed his philosophical argument to him at the end of the novel, the Kid would definitely have an answer, one way or another. And why? Because he looked into the abyss of the Judge, as Ahab and an informed Ishmael (who is the novel’s speaker, and procured a view on the world and an approach to it from his meeting the white whale) looked into Moby Dick, he has formed who he is. And the Kid is more like Ahab in that it cost him his life to see that reflection one last time.

    My feeling is that The Whale = The Judge, and that Ahab = The Kid.


    Great post. thanks for the read!

  50. dustin says:

    This is a great review sheila. I am glad I found this site. Several people have compared this book to Moby-Dick, but you can also compare it to Paradise Lost. There are many similarities between the Judge and Satan in Paradise Lost. Satan even instructs his minions on how to make gunpowder. I also believe that McCarthy intended for the judge to be a model of heroic evil, also much like Satan.

  51. JD says:

    Great wrap-up “review.” I enjoyed the different thoughts, exposures and synthesis of most everyone involved. The “Fight Club” theory was something illuminated for me as well.

    I was just so distraught with the ending that I had to search for more and I found just about all I need to find here. McCarthy can do more with one run-on paragraph than some essays and articles of over 20 pages.



  52. Tim says:

    I have been searching people’s comments to back my theory about the Judge being The Kid. As well as what others have addressed above, the story of the Judge told by the ex priest, describes him and the gang sharp shooting an intire Apache attack. The sharp shooting is The Kids speciality.

    Then in the final chapter The Kid takes the dwarf prostitute to the room – or in his mind, she takes him (as he is not in control of his darkest side) . I think this is infact the missing child from the bear act, and by admitting to taking her to bed is the beginning of him being consumed by his alter ego(s).

  53. Eric says:

    I have to say I saw this book in quite a different light than most of the other posters who’ve shared their opinions here. A friend of mine recommended this book to me shortly after we had finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and my perception of it was colored heavily by my then-recent experiences with the driving themes of this book: war, killing, death, remorse, and the meaning (or lack thereof) in all of the seemingly nonsensical violence.

    In particular, I was somewhat shocked and not a little saddened to see that very few people see the kid as a sympathetic character and rather just see him as the least evil of the people around him or in some way unaccountable for his actions due to destiny, mental illness, or some other third party. The first and most important thing we learn about what drives him is his “love for mindless violence” and I have to confess I identified with him immediately. What little boy doesn’t love violence? Some play sports, others get into schoolyard fights, still others hurt animals or insects for the sheer thrill of it. I get the feeling that most people disassociated themselves with him as a character because he is unabashedly violent, much akin to how sheila in her original review recounts feeling connected to the judge because he seems to be a reasonable person. Yet violence is at the core of our being as much as reason is, though it is something that we alternately glorify and deplore with the change of circumstances and is a thing we wish to believe we have the capacity for only when we feel it is necessary and just. The entire book is undeniably a meditation on violence, and I think not trying to identify with or at least understand the kid leaves a lot of the experience out of reading the book. To write off any of the characters, even Glanton or Brown, as the kind of cut and dry psychopaths that only exist in stories is to take a lot from the foundation this book builds towards showing you not just how bad men can be, but that no one is simply born an amoral killer and that even the worst of us are still as human as the rest of us.

    I think it’s best summed up in Judge Holden’s words: “Bears that dance, bears that don’t”, and the kid was unlucky enough to be born a dancing bear. After all, he’s not the same breed of men as most of his companions. Holden wants him dead personally because “[he] alone showed clemency for the heathen,” but despite the fact we’re never given the specifics and thus have no idea what Holden is referring to, we do see mercy in the kid when he is unable to shoot the judge, or restraint quite unlike Brown or Toadvine in his long career of bar fights. I saw the kid as a scared teenager desperately trying to be tough and callous in the face of the conflict he was irresistibly drawn to (there is a difference between enjoying the fighting and enjoying the killing you know) and later an old man broken by his way of life who I couldn’t help but feel pity for.

  54. Josh C. says:

    Excellent write-up. I just finished it for the second time and must say I got more out of it than I did the first time. Who the judge is will remain a mystery, but what he is and represents is on his rifle: “Et in Arcadia Ego.” Even in Arcadia (Eutopia) I (death) am there. The idea that the judge is the personification of a shadow side to the kid is interesting, but I don’t know that I hold to that. I think he is the personification of what lies in all of their hearts, made into one terrible, hairless, pale being and grew with the depravity of each new man until he reached immense stature. Remember when Toadvine held a pistol to the judge’s head? Some new devilry had come to camp with them, something far more terrible than he could stand, something that the kid brought with him (that being pedophilia and child-murdering). But Toadvine couldn’t kill the judge, either, because it was beyond his power or authority to do so. And the ending, I think it is likely that the kid did, indeed, murder and rape the little girl and left her in the jake. And Holden laughs and dances and says he will never die because evil will always endure. Powerful book, one of few that will have a personal effect.

  55. Alex says:

    It is actually quite degrading to conceptually dissect such a great work with so blunt an instrument as your simplistic minds. The great end of this work is to leave us pondering and guessing and looking into the very dark corners of our soul. So, your theories fed on marriage romance mentality are just void and pointless. Cormac McCarthy wrote this in spite of you, faint hearts, soft spoken and polite shadows of men, paying your parking tickets in time, “sorry” and “excuse me” owners of latest gadgetry. He wrote to those who feels in their hearts the ancient urge to dominate, subdue and bathe in blood of his enemies. And for people as such what matters is the ever bloody skyline of the West, ready to be consumed by darkness and a lone rider disappearing into the night. And that’s it, no theories , no interpretations….

    Of one agrees to your absurd albeit convenient “Fight Club” theory, then all we have is a madman’s mind filled with colors and dancing shadows. Judge saving the band from death by manufacturing powder is just another fantasy? As well as the last escape and confrontation of kid, judge and ex-priest? Kid was just sitting in a drunken stupor somewhere and his mind was hard at work conjuring parallel reality? By denying the referents their true and independent reality you deny the book itself and expressed therein.

  56. sheila says:

    Alex – I love my Thesaurus too! Thanks for the comment!

  57. Alex says:

    No problem. Take my word for it, thesaurus was not used to write my little philippic. Nor is English my mother tongue, nor is it my best language. It’s just happened that your little mind games felt a bit out of touch with the general atmosphere of the work. No hard feelings.

  58. Terry says:

    I wept when the dancing bear was mercilessly killed. I thought it a grande statement of the raw, ugly truthful nature of mankind. The dancing bear was beauty & innocence wiped out by mindless violence.
    Every time I turn on the world news someone is killing the “dancing bear.”

  59. Traze says:

    I have loved reading this site. I saw parallels to Milton’s Paradise Lost in that the character of the devil is as charming and influential as that of the Judge. He does seem to Be beyond mortal…the bloodlust that we know lies so basic in we humans, perhaps.
    I also saw parallels from the book of Job, where the devil challenges God, taunts him even, saying that Job will break faith if the devil alone is given power over him. God acquiesces. At one point the Judge laughs at the others, saying that surely if God wanted to interfere in man’s degeneracy, he would have done so by now. The Judge celebrates his certainty that humans cannot hold out, cannot keep morally upright indefinitely. Perhaps the Kid did behave as a murderer and pedophile to the lost little girl and in those acts has completely embraced the Judge’s position. This they embrace…they are
    one in evil at last.
    As to what is in the outhouse, if it is a murdered and perhaps mutilated body, why do these citizens not exclaim and rouse others up? The person who is outside is calm…I guess it could be the Kid, as he does disappear as the narrator frequently, and if so he is , such a sight would not upset him. But if it is a local, why does he talk as if what is in the outhouse is mere,y disgusting? Is it perhaps because two men are using the outhouse as a bordello? And this is not an act that macho men can acknowledge? It can only be seen as something shameful by them?
    If the Kid has embraced the Judge, they are both spiritually and physically one at the end and the Judge dances. He alone lives in peace because his conscience does not whisper its torments to him.
    Thanks for all the sharing. It’s wonderful. My next book is Moby Dick…love the American inversion of white as the ultimate personification of evil.

  60. Traze says:

    Just re-read the epilogue wherein it seems to me that the narrator is scoffing at anyone who might believe in cause and effect. The ending of the book might very well be intended as a further proof that searching for validification of such order is pointless because the whole point of the book is that there is only chaos.

  61. Amanda says:

    I just finished reading “Blood Meridian” and of course minutes later googled “What happened to the kid in Blood Merdian?” Your essay along with these lively comments was among the first of the links I clicked.

    I’ll be thinking about this book for a long, long time, and no doubt the judge and the kid will show up in my dreams when I’m full of angst and having a bout of self-loathing.

    The third man at the jake who was standing and relieving himself, who advised the other two men not to go in there had to be the kid. I can’t imagine the judge letting anyone else remain alive having witnessed the contents inside. However, there are several hints in the last conversation between the judge and the kid that imply the judge’s intention was to kill the kid and leave the judge as the “only beast standing on the stage.” I think McCarthy left the ending open to interpretation, who knows, maybe because it leaves one with a disturbed, haunting feeling. What a genius of a writer! Oh, also, the fact that the judge had not aged through the years does add some merit to the metaphorical nature of his character. Again, much to interpret and ruminate about with others. Excellent, excellent read.

  62. Kai says:

    So, the kid went to the Judge at the end for what? Did they do whatever and then the Man rape the girl and killed her?

    I came here looking to why the Kid went to the Judge at the end if it meant his death.

  63. bilhickok says:

    The judge has been seen in many forms in the 20th century, nothing very unique. The Nazi Einzatgruppen slaughtering their way across Russia, Pol Pot in cambodia, Rawanda, Stalin, Mao, etc.

  64. Gosh, where does a reader even start with Blood Meridian, let alone come to any sort of conclusion. I’m on my fourth or fifth reading now and still struggling with its meaning. Everyone wants to talk about the Judge and/or the Kid, whether or not they stand for good or evil, or this that or the other thing. I want to talk about the Epilogue, what the heck it means, etc. It seems so far removed from the story, and yet so central — why else would it be there? Every time I re-read the book, I come to a new understanding, and right now I’m leaning toward this: that the Epilogue is a metaphor representing the Oil Industry, that the Man in the Epilogue is drilling wells, that the fire is the product of the struck/discovered oil, that the Oil Industry is what “replaced” Glanton’s Marauders in our westward expansion, that it too rapes and otherwise plunders and destroys (in this case the earth), and that the people following the Man are representative of those of us left to pick up the pieces, or not.

    How’s that for McCarthy’s grabbing hold of a reader’s imagination and not letting go? I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to students of the English language. I think it stands head and shoulders above any novel written in the past 80 years. And if you think of yourself as a writer, as I do, then most of us are working on a 500 foot hill while McCarthy pens from Mt. Everest. No wonder he’s so inaccessible.

  65. Stephen Judd says:

    I really think I have figured this ending out, it seems fairly obvious to me.

    The “judge” and the “kid” are one in the same throughout the book. The characters are merely different representations of the two somewhat conflicting mindsets of the main character, the Judge is simply just the evil and violence inside of the kid. Next time you read the book, imagine the judge as such and everything makes perfect sense.
    The judge NEVER existed in a physical state of being.

    Throughout the book it is very strongly implied at numerous points that the judge is a child molester. The obvious reason why he takes the idiot along and is found standing naked above an also naked idiot (and indian child).

    At the very end of the book, the kid gets a midget prostitute, but the book seems to imply he could not get aroused, so left for the outhouse. When he goes to the outhouse, he finds the bears lost little girl inside. He certainly doesn’t find the judge, at least in physical form.

    The judge is nothing more than the towering ideal of violence and evil inside every individual.

    PS. Anyone who thinks the kid was sodomized in the outhouse at the end, you are realllllly reaching for the easiest answer ha ha ha.

  66. Sorry, but I can’t agree that the judge and the kid are the same character. The scenes involving the juggler and card reader make it pretty clear the judge and kid are two separate characters.

    • JJ Glanton says:

      They are separate characters. Not necessarily separate people. There is a difference (and no I’m not talking split personality either — think outside of the box).

      • The box is the novel, the text. Readers aren’t allowed to think outside the box. Characters are not people; they’re players in an invented word. We have to support our conclusions from the text. Readers can’t just make stuff up. Writers present readers with an imaginary world; readers aren’t allowed to expand that world to support their own interpretations; they have to support their interpretations from the text, not their own imaginations. The judge is not the kid; that interpretation cannot be supported from the text.

        • JJ Glanton says:

          You just defined the box as being the book yourself, so that kind of contradicts your stance on making stuff up. However, I very much believe the text *does* support the theory that the judge is more of an entity or force than a singular human being, who is not only bound to the Kid, but to all of mankind. Why will he be dancing forever? Because he has finally fully corrupted the Kid/Man by the end of the novel. Now they’re as good as one. The judge lives on through the man. I subscribe to the interpretation that the little girl’s body was found at the jakes, not the man’s, which is another point you may shrug off since the book didn’t overtly tell us who it was, but rather left deliberate clues for the very sake of speculation and — yes — imagination. How else does a novel become more than words on paper?

          Discussing such a delightfully cryptic narrative, I truly wonder what some people are thinking when they act like we’re not supposed to connect the dots here. You’re dismissing an entire layer of this book that, while open to subjectivity, is so clearly intended to be dwelt upon. Why else would McCarthy go to great lengths to omit certain details, if not to either A) Assume his reader is intelligent enough to process what he’s given them, or B) To create an environment in which to share interpretations and solve his riddles? Either way, there is supplementation going on. But I don’t think by any stretch of your imagination the text does anything but support the theory that the judge isn’t simply a human being within the perspective of the narrator.

          • This is getting confusing. My post beginning with “Sorry” was a response to Stephen Judd. When you jumped in as JJ Stanton, I thought I was still reacting to Judd. I agree with most of what you say here, and perhaps if we were on some deck smoking cigars and sipping scotch, we’d find ourselves on the same page.

  67. Pingback: Immense and Terrible Flesh: The Ending of Blood Meridian | i might be wrong.

  68. Adrian John says:

    I know it’s a late response, but here are my 2 pennies. The judge is the consciousness of evil. A crystal clear lucidity of evil and what mankind is at its core. Not hatred, not vain bloodlust, but a testament to our very rotten hearts. It is also clear to me that the judge doesn’t kill the kid in the end, and that they rape the little girl together. The man relieving himself is the kid, who has finally embraced his own wretchedness in the arms of the judge. He ran away all those years, knowing he will meet the judge again, and then finally becoming the monster. That’s why the judge tried to sway him, as an act of ultimate horror: because of all the ragtag mercenaries, scalphunters and killers he was the only one who still had mercy inside of him. In the end, even the palest semblance of hope is made to vanish: the kid does the unthinkable, and gives in completely to his inner darkness. He can’t kill the judge because he can’t kill the evil inside of him. This somewhat resembles the film The Hitcher, where the antagonist’s plan is not to kill the main character but to transform him into a monster and therefore continue his legacy of evil. “I will never die” the Judge proclaims triumphantly and he will not because now he has a disciple roaming the land, a creature of his very own creation. Come to think of it, the judge may be held as an Antichrist, the opposite of Jesus, seeding destruction across the land, creating disciples of doom and appearing in more than one place, like an ubiquitous demon. Maybe he is war, the war that laid in wait for man millions of years before its conception.

    • JJ Glanton says:

      I’m late too, don’t worry. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the ending, and combining it with a few points others have made, I’d like to add that McCarthy accomplishes for the reader what the judge does for the kid. Since the kid is our conduit into this tale, when the judge fixates on the kid, it is because McCarthy is fixating on our own reactions to the violence he is not simply painting, but exposing. While the judge creates violence, he is really only perpetuating what is more natural to man than fire. McCarthy may be orchestrating these scenes of violence, but he is merely bringing to light realities of our world and imitating life with art. This makes the ambiguous nature of the scene at the jakes even more important. Not only does it make us question the identity of the body, or what the men see at all, but in doing so it makes us yearn to know. Yearn to hear it described. To read it and to see it. We are for the first time, after all of Blood Meridian’s intense and detailed instances of violence, wanting another episode to unfold before our eyes. We have developed a taste for it, and our frustration in being excluded from this scene brings that to light.

  69. JJ Glanton says:

    Great discussion here. I agree particularly with Jeff’s ace analysis. Just wanted to add one thing I did not see mentioned, which further backs the theory of the judge being an entity within or acting through the kid: there is a sentence if I recall (it’s been a while, but I’m currently on my second read-through) during their final discourse that references the kid viewing the judge via the mirror above the bar. Many other great hints have been covered, but this one struck me the most clearly when I read it.

  70. Christopher Hunt says:

    I believe the kid/man is killed or mortally wounded by Elrod. Elrod is Hebrew for God the King. For example, Elrod is particularly angered by the string of ears worn by the kid/man.

    The trip into the town later that day is actually the kid/man dying and going through some sort of purgatory. That is why the judge is the same age as when the kid/man last saw him. It is no longer the physical judge, it is the embodiment of the essence of the judge as remembered and perceived by the kid/man as he is dying.

    The dance is the dance of life and the choices and consequences involved. The judge is always there waiting for everyone in the end.

  71. Fergus says:

    Great to see this thread still going so strong! I thought it had been deleted a while back but just found it again after a final final search to send on to a friend. Reckon I’m due for a second read now with all the above in mind…

    @Sheila thanks for keeping the page live

    • sheila says:

      Fergus – it has been my pleasure to keep this thread open! It has been phenomenal to see this conversation continue to flourish. What a tribute to the power of the book.

  72. Seventh Son says:

    I really, REALLY love this thread. All of the theories are interesting in their own way, but I especially like David’s. I’d never really considered the Judge as being some sort of highly evolved ‘übermensch’ until reading that. But, yeah, it kinda works. And it’s creepy as hell, too!
    Like I said…GREAT thread.

    • Jason says:

      No, the judge must be the embodiment of pure evil and degradation. The old homesteader at the beginning of the book allows us a definition of who and what he is.

  73. Jason says:

    I’ve read this book several times and each time I read it it means something different. Its a kaleidoscope of every emotion I can process. For letters on paper to invoke this kind of dialogue is truly impressive. Well done Mr McCarthy.

  74. Jason says:

    Thank you Sheila for keeping this thread alive and well. I just wish I had found it the first time I read this book. All of the posts have been insightful. It makes me wonder if perhaps Cormac McCarthy new someone with a likeness to the kid at some point in his life because the protagonist from Child Of God is reminiscent of the same character.

  75. Mark says:

    (If someone else has said this and I missed it, my apologies) I believe the Judge is Manifest Destiny.

  76. Joel Parker says:

    Those critics who hailed Blood Meridian as an American literary classic absolutely nailed it b/c it’s a masterpiece!

    I kept thinking of the Judge Holden character as some sort of supernatural force of nature, a superhuman who had no hair & never slept, then it was the fiddling & dancing toward the end coupled with his self-proclamed immortality that made me think Of course! He’s Lucifer incarnate! Like Sheila posted above I was always trained by my professors in story analysis in grad school to 1st ask Who’s story is it? And although the nameless Kid is the narrator, as the story progresses to it’s fatalistic conclusion in Act 5 I saw that it’s the immortal Judge who is at its center & destined to be the ultimate sole survivor of the scalphunters, consequence-free & void of any kind of retribution for all manner of heinous crimes including molesting/murdering children & perhaps even raping/murdering/silencing the Kid in the “jakes” outhouse (5th & 6th paragraphs from THE END, which I read 5 times over & I say perhaps here because I am still unsure about their final encounter kept deliberately nebulous by the author).

    I’d kept thinking about Satan in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown & in Melville’s Confidence Man & how he was presented in those works when I envisioned Judge Holden, who was evidently based on a historical “larger than life” Texas frontier character. The obsessional nature of this character who justifies his moral & ethical correctness in his dominance of all things around him through sheer force of will evokes Captain Ahab of Moby Dick, & this has not been lost on any of McCarthy’s well read audience. Anyone who’s poured through the treatise on good vs. evil that is Moby Dick (strangely begun by existentialist before his time Melville as a whaling travelogue that would somewhere incorporate the popular story of the doomed Essex destroyed by a sperm whale & the survivors had resorted to cannibalism) McCarthy planned the storyline milestones of what appears to be on the surface a “Hero’s Journey” (straight from Joesph Campbell’s textbook definition) bildungsroman coming of age tale with great deliberation, expressed his gnosticism in those Joycean/Faulknerian stream of consciousness passages, then shows his hole cards at the end for full shock value — the Judge is the gnostic Devil! A fullblown archon, certainly a demonic force personified, unstoppable & running amok on the earth, I could’ve been knocked over with a feather when I finished it. I believe McCarthy certainly had Melville in mind & wanted to do him one better with Blood Meridian.

  77. Erik says:

    The Judge did not expose the preacher at the beginning of the book as a hypcrite. He LIED about the preacher, inciting violence. This incorrect reading early on seems to have affected your reading of the book. Further, there were other educated men in Glanton’s gang.

  78. Rishav says:

    Great thread. Very interesting views and interpretations.
    I took this book up as a challenge against myself. Never ever an avid reader, I still read a bit but could never have myself interested much in the non-dialog parts. This book, as you all know, makes sure that I can’t ever take my best functioning mind off the words.
    Frankly, I feel most of you have a better informed and wiser interpretation of the book. I think I need another read, especially as I wasn’t really up to task during the first half of the book (picked up a book after ages – I’m much more into films – good ones though).

    However, I still have one. It is heavily influenced by my current life stage – which has the early 20’s conflicts bugging me. I thought it was about losing your innocence and how the world will make sure that you do. If you resist, it will find your weaknesses and exploit it. It will embark you on a banal journey of dog-eat-dog life, testing your ‘innocence’ at each banality as you see those around you fall like you eventually will.

    You can hide but you can’t escape. And you will end up like sheep in a herd.

    The kid was a kid. Innocent till he became the man. He was a kid till his thirties. Lasted a long time with a glimmer of innocence and hope of its sustenance. He’d had his share of ‘practicality’ but he still remained a kid. The world, the true world, the Judge, cannot allow that. Perhaps one reason the Judge killed kids was that they reminded him (or scared him) of true innocence. Or the possibility of it.

    The Judge’s keeping of the imbecile was maybe a statement that he was perhaps okay with innocence as long as he was sure that there no morals behind it. It was the innocence backed by morals that he had issues with the most. I know it kind of contradicts the point of him killing kids.

    So, I don’t think he was the devil or the god because both these are on either sides of the moral compass. The Judge was beyond it. Off the map. He was a nihilist who used philosophy and history to deconstruct philosophy and history and ultimately civilization. Not destroy. Deconstruct.

    I don’t think the kid literally died at the end, something that many here agree with. He just gave in.

    Also, Erik – I too thought the same as confidently as you do – but now I won’t be as sure. In Notes on Blood Meridian, the author points out the historical references from the works that had inspired Blood Meridian. One reference suggests that the reverend might have actually done something as terrible as the Judge claimed. It was maybe too back in his past, but it probably was there. And the Judge, as it seems, is omniscient if not ubiquitous and knows things he hasn’t seen literally. So, just some food for thought.

  79. Metareader says:

    What a great comment thread! While I don’t ultimately agree that Holden and the Kid are the same person, I think that interpretation sheds a fascinating light on the novel. While most commentators focus on psychological interpretations of the Judge, I’d like to focus more on a socio-cultural interpretation: he represents Progress, as viewed from the perspective of 18th century Americans. In other words, he is the concept of Manifest Destiny made into a man. Remember, to them progress (and technology) seemed to hold the promise of answering every question, and its advances seemed inexorable, whether technological advances that were fast changing the industrial and sociological landscapes, or territorial advances over the lands of less “advanced” people.

    At his first appearance in the book, the Judge attacks the preacher, thus showing Progress’ fight against religious fanaticism and mysticism. He then saves Glanton’s Gang by making gunpowder for them, thus allowing the men to use their technological advantage to shoot down the less-advanced Natives. When Holden finally explains his view of the world and why he studies the culture of the people he kills, it is reminiscent in the grand picture of what we eventually did to the Natives: we studied them, labeled them, ordered them around, then proceeded to destroy them and their cultures, eventually parking them into giant “zoos” (reservations) where we have absolute control over them. Sounds pretty close to Holden’s vision, doesn’t it?

    This interpretation also explains Holden’s dual nature, both the most sophisticated man in the group, but also the most sadistic. If you look at the history of the Western world, as soon as we began to have sizable technological advantages over other cultures, we reached heights of sophistication (the art of the Renaissance, the development of classical music, Impressionism, etc…) but also lows of depravity and barbarism (the genocide of North and South Americans, colonialism, the Holocaust…).

    I believe the Judge is such an unsettling figure because he is the one who makes the link between what Glanton’s men left behind (the “civilized” Eastern states) and the surreal, lawless land of the frontier. Progress is what links up Glanton’s Gang with the respectable families out East: while the Eastern citizens don’t want to see the bloody scalps and the ears necklaces, they need Glanton, and others like him, in order to take control of the land and the Natives. Without the Judge, we could simply classify Glanton and his men as psychopaths, and that would be the end of the story.

    But the Judge is there to remind us that as long as we don’t oppose ourselves to the “dance,” we are participants in it, just like the Kid was during the entire novel. And in today’s world, where the “frontier” is no longer in the Southwest, but somewhere in a far away country, it is very easy to forget that we are part of this dance of war.

    The modern days Glantons are drones and mercenaries, spread from Yemen to Irak, Afghanistan and beyond, killing “others” (mostly Muslims, the “other” by definition in this early 21st Century), while we get to enjoy a life of sophistication and refinement in the relative safety of the Western World.

    In the final analysis, the Judge is such a disturbing figure in the book because he reminds us of our collective guilt.

  80. Jeff Shelton says:

    Sheila starting this back in 2008. Thank you so much for maintaining it! I read Blood Meridian in December 2009. I could not sleep after reading the novel so I made some written comments or musings. Blood Meridian is the only book that ever had such an effect on and motivated me to do so. I compared this deep thought and discussion provoking novel to my favorite movie, Fight Club. What is amazing about the latter is that images of Brad Pitt are literally being flashed subliminally in front of your face during the film. In other words, the truth that Tyler Durden and Edward Norton’s character are one in the same is there, but the twist (the best one in a movie in my opinion) comes as a surprise nonetheless. My take on Blood Meridian is/was that The Judge and The Kid/Man are one person. Indeed, everyone has judgment and will be judged. I thought that Cormac McCarthy also did a brilliant job of describing a good and evil persona from a historically based story: Samuel Chamberlain’s My Confession. I still feel like this is a psychological murder or crime mystery disguised as a western. There is a saying that the only way evil triumphs is when men of conscience stand by and do nothing. In Cormac’s books and in a nihilistic world, however, evil just plain wins in the end. I do not want or see how Blood Meridian could be made into a film though. Anyway, art is open to interpretation. It is unfortunate that some folks cannot resist calling other viewpoints “overly simplistic” just because they disagree. It is the kind of thing that can keep a person awake at night to post again five years later. ; )

  81. Anthony says:

    I know this is years old at this point, but had to reply to this comment. This, in my humble opinion, is exactly what the Judge was meant to represent. The intelligence and allure of a heroic evil. I think the thought that the Judge and Kid are “Tyler Durden” (for lack of a better term) is pretty clearly debunked in the narrative of events, but again, that’s just my opinion.

  82. Lovett Reed says:

    I finished the book two nights ago and enjoyed many of the above comments. First, I do not think the Reverend Greene was a fraud, he was expounding on the “Good Book” and the Judge (Satan) objected. The Judge’s lies about the reverend would be expected. Everyone later had a good laugh, albeit nervous. Blood Meridian is what could be termed the last American western. The politically incorrect western that tells the truth. Tells the truth about the violence that permeated Manifest Destiny. Blood and guts. Savages operating on all sides. It seems to me that McCarthy’s view might be that any benevolent God that may have created us may have taken leave of mankind. If God was gonna intervene he would have done so by now (1849). The Judge (Satan) is left in charge. Fast forward to 2015. What has changed? Look at the Mideast and the murdering dogs in Iraq and Syria It will only spread. The violence, the killings, the inhumanity is on the move like never before. Look at the violence in our own country and note that it only gets worse. Kids killing kids on the streets of Chicago, cities simmering with young people looking for an excuse to burn and loot. The peace and love groove of the 1960s will not work today. That dream is over. We need to wake up. It is now about survival and good people taking a stand against evil. McCarthy is an American prophet and I’m afraid it may be all over for America and not a leader in sight A hard rain is gonna fall.

  83. Lovett Reed says:

    I get that this string of comments has been ongoing for about 7 yrs and that Sheila is on to other things. I much appreciate her take on Blood Meridian although I disagree with her conclusions about the kid and the judge. Almost everyone on this string of comments has been respectful and have offered intelligent insights. I think the humanities professor at Yale, Harold Bloom, said something to the effect that the dirty little secret of all books is that they are the product of other books. Blood Merdian springs from so many great works: Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, the Old Testament, the works of Shakespeare and many more. Back to the book: The kid was born in Tennessee in 1833 and McCarthy was born in 1933 and grew up in Tennessee. Perhaps McCarthy saw himself as the kid in this book? Perhaps Holden (Satan in my view) saw someone (the kid) who was skeptical and not overwhelmed by the judge and for that reason needed to be killed, even after 20 plus years. I would appreciate any comments about what might have become of the “expriest” Tobin. He had a severe neck wound near the end of the story but nothing more is told about him. Anyway, I’m done. Happy reading to all. PS: Before reading BM I read McCarthy’s book, Child of God, and enjoyed it very much. James Franco directed and completed a movie based on the book. Not too bad.

  84. Convict 227 says:

    There is a sentence towards the end, when the Judge is sitting at his fire, where it is mentioned that there is no “fuel” for the fire – there is nothing to provide it life. Wouldn’t that suggest a demonic being? A devil surely has no issues maintaining a fire.

    There are also several mentions of demonic footprints in the book – always when the Judge is present.

    In any event, this is an incredible book with so much meaning. I love how many people have come to this post throughout the past decade to share their thoughts. Cool stuff.

  85. laurennreed says:

    Thank you for keeping this thread up, it’s very helpful.

  86. Craig says:

    What of the encounter with Elrod? It directly precedes the reappearance of the Judge. To me, it was telling because of two quotations.

    1) The Kid says “You wouldn’t of lived anyway” and shoots Elrod. At that point, Elrod had already fired his rifle and missed. The Kid could have ended the encounter a number of ways. If he had killed Elrod in defense or without that remark, perhaps it would carry a different meaning. Instead, the fact that he makes that remark, to me implies that he no longer held a divided heart and had lost his “clemency”. He justifies the child’s death when he didn’t need to kill him. The other children explaining his backstory later drive home that this was a pitiable child.

    2) The Judge says to the Kid / Man “the straight or the winding road [have the same destination]”. Finally the kid had lost his mercy, his conscious, he was at last worn down and actively made a decision to unnecessarily kill Elrod. The Judge won, it just took 28 years or so to complete the corruption.

    After all, earlier in the story a character remarks “The Good Book says that he who lives by the sword shall die by it” and the Judge replies “What honest man would have it any other way?”

  87. randy says:

    the judge represents alludes to..the truth of biological animal impulse present in all mankind that we attempt to clothe in forms more acceptable to us..the time and place the events may be ugly disturbing,but the idea of accepting of being aware of our primal motivations can be a positive..but the process can be “violent” and “bloody” as we shed our ignorance and move forward with self awareness no longer wandering a desert blind to and lost in the animal pull of the subconcious

  88. cormac says:

    randy nailed it!

  89. Culla Holme says:

    The Judge is, seen by The Kid, as man’s basic nature completely aware of itself and quite fine with the whole thing. He, as man, is murdering, savage, humanity looking back at itself, knowing what it is- (what it is in the context of good and evil, because the Judge knows that man is evil at a base level, but also that at that level concepts like good and evil are rather irrelevant)- and accepting the state of being with an almost Buddhist focus and jocularity. He is both The Kids endorser and punisher. The Judge, as such, does exist only in the Kid’s mind, while the man Holden does himself exist as a man in the story. How close The Judge actually is in ‘reality’ to the way The Kid sees him is questionable.

  90. melissa says:

    Holden means “shallow valley”. Valleys in the Bible are associated with the worship.of that which is profane and unholy.

    I am also a Catholic who went to church every Sunday of my childhood life. That kind of teaching gets ingrained in your soul. The guilt and the mass cannot be extricated from the brain no matter how many times they play that shit John Lennon atheist “Christmas” carol on the radio.

    He meant to remind the reader that God created man in his own image when he created the Judge. That may be hard to digest but he needn’t be the Devil.
    He is massive and naked all the time (think Adam, garden of Eden) and his words all that exists without my knowledge exists without my consent), and his whitish (symbolic) hue. He supernaturally appears out of nowhere. Mccarthy also repeatedly examines the paradox of a loving God creating all the horriffic evils of the world which he depicts so violently well. It is one of the main reasons you might doubt the existence of a loving God, yet a reminder of why we desperately need His salvation. He created man in his own image.All these evils exist I’m man, they just happen to be extremely concentrated in the Judge to make a point.

  91. Andrew says:

    Just finished my first read through. Have not been as affected from a book since I read the road years ago. Unfortunately I believe the 3 men were 1 in the same , but I hate the thought of it for that means this monstrosity of a man did not exist.
    Side note. This means in the beginning when judge walks into the congregation denouncing the preacher it was a 16 year old kid doing so. That seems a bit perplexing since now everyone in the place believes some kid making accusations. Food for thought

  92. mutecypher says:

    Just finished this. I’m thinking it belongs in the canon with The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby . And Moby Dick . That E.M. Forster quote is apt. The novel is fraught with meaning, though perhaps bereft of explanation. For me at least, not to denigrate others who have found ones.

    I don’t think it was in any way an inspiration for the book, but I also think of the word “fatality” (for fate, not so much death) in Hunchback of Note Dame and how it was a pall over all the action. Frollo started as a compassionate person, helping his brother and Quasimodo, but fell into despair when his efforts to help them came to naught. And then every terrible thing he did was ‘fate.”

    The Judge talks about fate at the end, but I don’t think he was ever compassionate, I don’t think he ever changed. I think he always had an infant’s greedy solipsism, coupled to a vast intellect. Like the Martians in War of The Worlds,” intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarding the Earth with envious eyes.”

    Like Mick’s “man of wealth and taste,” and Bulgakov’s Master- able to see into men’s hearts. But I don’t think he’s Lucifer. Just an amazing creation.

    Forgetting the anachronism, I think Ethan Edwards could have ridden with those men if he had failed to rescue Debbie. A terrible thought you can feel free to reject.

    I wonder if McCarthy challenged himself to create a novel without a single sympathetic character. Like you, I was hoping the Judge was that person, but his arbitrary and fatal slander of the preacher killed that hope almost immediately. Did that challenge cause him to write with such powerful language and imagery? I know I could not have read a narrative of those events without those things.

  93. dunce two says:

    I may re-read this book every year. It’s dark, and it takes something out of me every time, but I feel more alive every time too. Great, thorough analysis. We did a chapter by chapter analysis over on my blog: In some ways does not hold a candle to yours, but it you ever want to consider some other perspectives and check out other Blood Meridian/McCarthy enthusiasts, might be worth a gander. Cheers!

  94. Marcus says:

    Loved the book. I can’t pretend I understood it or was able to deduce such great points and theories people have posted here but thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts.

  95. John says:

    In my opinion, the innocence or even goodness of the kid shouldn’t be called into question – Holden positions the kid in direct opposition to himself at the end, and what is Holden if not the personification of evil? We have to believe Holden when he attacks the kid for his “clemency for the heathen” – Holden is demonstrated as being omnipotent or close to it many times.

    Just some thoughts.

  96. ramblin doug says:

    This is a fascinating thread and its been going on for so long I dont know who checks in on it but…Ive just finished rereading BM for the second time and there are a couple observations that I dont think have been made… McCarthy is such a stickler for language and probably the only insight we have at all to many of the characters is in their clipped Flannery O Connor cowboy prairie lingo. The Judge does not speak at all this way, he is the only one who sounds like a philosophy teacher and speaks like an orator. I think the only literal clue I’ve found to indicate the man looking down at the end MUST be the KID is in what he says: “I wouldnt go in there if I was you.” Obviously the Judge would never have said that.
    The other has to do with the descriptions of Nature. It is said that religious folk, specifically Catholics, are “in this world but not OF it.” Nature in this book is evil, alien, hellish. It is no friend to man. It is not beautiful. It is threatening when it is not outright deadly. The riders are described as looking like they are from an alien land, but also IN an alien land. This to me is a reread of the INFERNO.
    The sun doesn’t shine, it boils. The moon isnt romantic, it leers at them like a dead cat’s eye. Man is not only not at home in this world, he is at every turn about to be destroyed by it.
    The Judge has set himself above Nature in his almost Darwinian obsessive cataloguing of the birds and plants and bugs. And yet he is almost like a giant baby, or even an egg. He has the child’s amorality. Yet he is educated, but still amoral. And some posts have noticed there are things about him that remind us of ‘modern man’– this is only to point out the irony, which the Judge himself is aware of, that Man’s knowledge, though necessary, has no intrinsic morality and is also woefully incomplete. And most importantly, the Judge knows that Man’s knowledge will never be enough to save him from himself. Forget about life on other planets. There is more than enough things on this Earth we will never understand, and anything is possible, he says.

    The Judge’s only moral yardstick is War. Because man’s fate on Earth is to fight. If we are not fighting each other we are fighting Nature. Therefore War is God. In his bar lecture to the Kid he explains that most men are unconscious or unwitting participants in a ceremony of life, of which they are only dimly aware if at all. And, he says, it is not important. These people are not important except insofar as they are part of life’s pageant. Man’s only made for games, and the only value of the game is set upon what is at hazard. Since man’s life is the ultimate hazard, War is man’s highest calling. At the bar he says to the Kid, “The last of the true. Id say they’d all gone under save thee and me.”
    Only warriors know the true cost of life and death. They are the real dancers. The rest are only imitators in life. In war there is only victory, at all costs and without mercy. Therefore, any showing of mercy or pacifism (such as he saw in The Kid) is weakness and a disappointment to him.
    Whether the Judge is meant to be a literal or symbolic figure I still cant say. Could he be both? Actually present in the main part of the novel, but appearing more like an apparition “unchanged by time” years later.

  97. Frank says:

    I just finished Blood Meridian and this thread. I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed this thread as much as the book. I didn’t necessarily enjoy Blood Meridian (I honestly thought The Road was much better), but I like that it leaves so much to interpretation for readers to dissect. This won’t be a long post, because others have already shared my thoughts. I basically feel that the Judge represents the devil, death, or the darkness possible by man. I see the Kid as innocence, and I feel like it’s no accident that McCarthy refers to him later as simply the Man, because I think he’s gone from innocence to experience, and now represents Mankind. The one thing I’d like to address is the Judge’s chronicling of everything he sees. I feel it’s his way to consume all. If it’s outside of his observation, it’s outside of darkness or death. So when we see him set his sights on the Kid ( or the Man at that point), it’s no different from him destroying the cave drawings after he viewed them. The Kid, with his clemency for others, was another rare thing that the Judge could observe and then wipe from existence, either through his death or ruin.

  98. Tony V says:

    After reading the book 3 times, as well as reviewing several chapters, and this classic thread, I figured it was time to add my 2 cents.

    And I feel it’s more simple than some theories.

    I agree with the biblical symbolism, I feel the Judge was not the Devil, but simply an evil man. If he was the Devil, he could have killed anyone at anytime, including the kid.
    He was educated and intellectually superior than those he chose to associate with, but inside pure evil. Two other fictional characters come to mind: Hannibal Lector and Colonel Kutz.

    When the Man (kid) describes him as “hasn’t aged”- it could simply be that’s they way he envisioned him. Perhaps not having hair to turn grey or fall out with age helps. haven’t we all run into past friends, some who have aged and others who look “the” same”?

    I don’t see the Judge and the Kid being the same (fight club theory). The others describe events that pre date the arrival of the kid. It doesn’t add up to me.

    I DO believe the Man (kid) was the man outside the outhouse. He knew the Judge would be there with the girl, simply by entering he was surrendering to the evil act. Afterwards, I see them both leaving: The judge was thrilled to finally have “won”–he couldn’t wait to celebrate finally exposing what he felt was inside the Kid (or all men)-his dancing was his emotional outlet.

    While the Man…left the outhouse, didn’t make it very far before he stopped to ponder what he had just done. To reflect on where his life has brought him, to finally see himself as he was and alway had inside. In possible shock?

    Again, just another opinion on this great book.

    Thanks to you Sheila for keeping this alive!

  99. Jon says:

    I’m not sure if it was here (excellent thread) where I read a discussion about the possibilities of the kid being the murderer (and violator) of the minors who disappear throughout the story, but I’ll mention my idea on the matter here anyway if that’s okay. While I agree to an extent that the judge somehow abstractly represents or embodies the kid’s personal struggle with evil, I think the judge does physically exist and I think he physically commits the gratuitous murders of the children that go missing or are found dead during some of the company’s stopovers, and I think the kid has nothing to do with these murders, though he may somehow be aware that the judge is the perpetrator. When there is a shootout in a Mexican cantina and the company kills and scalps 28 Mexicans, there is, I believe, a small clue. This is what the judge does to a man at the end of the shootout:

    “[The judge] sidestepped the man and seized his arm and broke it and picked the man up by his head. He put him against the wall and smiled at him but the man had begun to bleed from his ears and the blood was running down between the judge’s fingers and over his hands and when the judge turned him loose there was something wrong with his head”

    This ‘something wrong’ (anatomically) is echoed – or echoes, as I can’t remember which comes first – the death of the ‘halfbreed’ boy during one of the company’s stopovers:

    “He was lying face down naked in one of the cubicles. Scattered about on the clay were
    great numbers of old bones. As if he like others before him had stumbled upon a place
    where something inimical lived…
    “His neck had been broken and his head hung straight down and it flopped over strangely when they let him onto the ground.”

    I think the judge has been breaking necks again, with that preternatural strength of his. And I wonder if this ‘something inimical’ is the judge – or the devil – himself. There is also something ceremonial about these scattered bones, which chimes with the judge’s botanical collections and anthropological studies. All I know is that that judge is one of the most powerful and terrifying characters I’ve ever read and, whether he is supposed to be the devil or not, carries the weight of Satan himself.

    • Fergus says:

      Hi Jon. Yes it was possibly me, 8 years ago and here, who suggested the kid might have had something to do with the missing and/or murdered/violated children. The way these events were (barely) covered throughout the book left me wondering why they had been included at all – what we were supposed to take from them.

      Judging by this thread, half the readers will take it as McCarthy just scene-setting. The nonchalance with which the event is reported representative of just how common and unremarkable such an event was in that place and time.

      That has merit, of course, but the other half of the readers – of which I am one – believe these are dots to be connected. That they are mentioned for a reason and it’s the author’s intention that we should draw some conclusion.

      Who knows which is correct. Only one man. But I can say that the unparalleled gut-wrenching horror and wide-eyed disbelief that I felt at 1am, 8 years ago, came once I concluded that the kid – who I had been drawn into empathising with and excusing – had, in fact, been the greatest monster amongst them, all along. I had been tricked and what a powerful trick it was.

      Like I say, I have no idea if this was me reading too much into it. It’s entirely possible. But like any good piece of art, it’s perhaps more about what it makes you feel than what the artist’s exact intentions were.

      It’s 1am again and here I am in bed writing about Blood Meridian on this site, again. I’m almost ready for a 2nd read. What a book.

  100. dank hank says:

    It was hard for me to be scared of the judge after he showed up naked with a terrible sunburn, and had to beg Toadvine for his hat, eventually paying a hundred dollars for it. Then he offered the kid $500 for his gun and got turned down. That’s about the only time in the book he seemed fallible.

    I don’t exactly feel sorry for him, but I do detect a sadness in the judge. That thing Sheila said about the mercs being “X-ed out of society”, especially the kid at the end, applies to him too. He wanted to control the world and now, by the time of the epilog, the world is largely under control, “civilized”. And now there’s no more wars for the judge to fight, no more games for him to play. That is his punishment. What he says at the end: “A child’s memory of loneliness such as when the others have gone and only the game is left with its solitary participant. A solitary game, without opponent.” I think he’s talking about himself, partly.

    I also think the kid wins at the end, in a sense. Yeah, he gets killed by the judge, but I think he dies with his soul intact. He might be the only member of the gang who the judge never manages to corrupt. I don’t recall the kid ever killing someone who wasn’t actively trying to kill him. Aside from refusing to sell the judge a gun, it’s notable that he refuses to kill Shelby. At the end the judge says something like “I could have been a father to you,” indicating that he wanted to take the kid on as a kind of evil apprentice. But the kid… no, the man… wasn’t having that.

  101. Rizzo says:

    I read Blood Meridian without knowing anything about it at all. I have read no other Cormac McCarthy books and had no preparation whatsoever. I am grateful for this post to add comeraderie in the despair and beauty of it.

    My thoughts from my naive reading: I think the book is, at its core, a story of the inherent violent nature of humans. Our us against them mentality whereby we assert dominance and terror, otherwise we will be dominated and terrorized. The Judge knows this fully and embraces it. He enjoys it, revels in it as who he was made to be (as others have said- Godlike). To those who say the The Kid is trying to hold on to a piece of goodness, I disagree. There is no good and evil, there is only reality. In this context, he is weak. He goes through the motions, participating as a person swept up in the momentum, while holding back in acknowledgement of his essence. He seems disconnected from the events he has participated in and even sometimes disconnected from the story itself. He knows his weakness and the Judge knows it and they are both disappointed in his inability to understand (or hesitancy to commit?). I think that’s why he is lost without the Judge and repeatedly seeks him out. He longs for that certainty that he is not brave enough or pure enough to find in himself. He wants to be close to the wholeness that he admires and abhors in the Judge.

    • Rizzo says:

      Sorry, I guess I’m not quite finished. I don’t think it matters what happened to the Kid at the end because the Kid is collective humanity- us. Whichever group dominates in whichever part of the world we live in. We can look away from the deeds that we participate in (individually or as a society) that benefit our status quo. But the strong are out there doing the dirty work and we admire and abhor them.

  102. David says:

    Wonderful thread, as many others have said. I can’t remember how I heard about this book, perhaps in recommendation threads in various forums or something of the like, but as a Brit who has always been fascinated by US history, particularly of that in the South, it was an instant attraction kind of deal.

    Well, that ending! I tend to lean on the side of instict when it comes to the understanding of things which can be somewhat nebulous or open to interpretation. My head went straight to it being the Kid that warns the guys not to “go in there”. Then it suddenly dawned that it was not because something had happened, but because something was happening. In a book filled with eye gouging, baby carcasses, slit this, broken that… I can’t imagine two rogues recoiling at the sight of just a dead body. I had in my head the image of the Judge in there with the missing girl, doing something I’d rather not write down either.

    Him also being seen to be dancing elsewhere could be a nod to the beginning of the book where he was already at the bar as the Preacher’s tent collapsed. The dance being one of glee or celebration at such an act of depravity going on at that very moment, and possibly perpetually, not unlike the LMFAP dancing in the red room from Twin Peaks, for not far off the exact same reason as it goes.

    Just my own personal take of course, not imposing any theory or authority whatsoever on others. It’s just what came into my head as I read it for the first time with no outside influence, exactly like the images I get when it describes the surroundings, or the appearance of certain characters.

    Incredible book. I’ll continue to receommend it to everybody. It’s certainly deserving of its modern classic status. I’ll also point people to this thread! Some fascinating takes in here. Thank you for keeping it alive all these years.

  103. Wah says:

    I finished BM in the beginning of 2020 and am afraid to re-read it. In my memory though the ending scene remains vivid. To me, after the murder of Elrod, it felt as though the kid/man had entered into a scenario that several films and tv shows delve into (whose names I cant recall at the moment…actually the “Persona” series of videogames comes to mind) that of a descent into madness or guilt after crossing the “final line” reaching a mental emotional or even spiritual state so demented as to warp reality or perceptions of reality– a state of being at crossroads occurring after a character has committed some act that marks the destruction of who they were before, often containing degrees of surreal, dreamlike or even supernatural elements.

    Im currently entertaining the idea that the Judge wasn’t physically there in the end (as man, demon, or diety) but that his words and his damnable philosophy had stayed in the mind and weighed on the heard of Kid/Man for all that time, gnawing at him. The wandering years of the kid struck me as him struggling with something stuck in his craw like he was struggling those years to slowly digest the undigestable dogma of the Judge.

    Then again Holden could be literally there, hissing and striking in physical form. Or (as i initially thought) he could be Satan himself celebrating mans never ending dance, delighting in their ignorance relative to his “enlightenment” (the fact that he appears to men in plain sight with his unnatural visage and yet none connect the dots in addition to him being absurdly more intelligent and cunning than everyone in every room hes in). Then again again, this could just be what a brilliant artist does, creates art up to many interpretations, all awesome regardless.

    To backtrack I did have one observation or I guess…feeling on the Judge’s slaying/rape of children throughout the story and it in my mind supports the idea of him possibly being the straight up devil (or an allegory for American progress as was mentioned above). I think he does it/did it as a challenge to the men in his midst like a game he plays for their souls. He preaches to them in his own way and they shirk from his dark ideas and he as i recall i never really is put off or offended by someone rejecting his motto outright. But in exchange for his knowledge and his skills that saves the crews life multiple times, though they don’t explicitly convert to his way of thinking they tacitly condone his murdering of children which i saw as the crew’ acceptance of the Judge’s ruthless worldview or at least the fruit thereof which if nothing else makes them guilty to a degree of the same evil as the Judge by sharing in it’s fruits.

    This relationship seemed to be like that of American society’s (specifying American because I’ve lived in no other) benefit from and then condoning of horrors committed in the interest of progress or comfort (chattel slavery comes to mind, electronic devices assembled by child slave labor does too) The way I saw it the party sold their souls by allowing their “benefactor” to have his way, essentially sacrificing the children to the Judge through their inaction and sealing their fates as well as if not drawing a line in the sand over the child slayings meant the team would draw no line against the Judge at all and dance to his tune from then on out, cursing themselves.

    As devilish as that sounds i don’t think it necessitates the Judge being literally a demon. People can just be that evil. (The fiddle thing SCREAMS Satan though tbh.)

  104. Martin says:

    I’ve just finished Blood Meridian.

    It’s a little hard to follow sometimes, particularly the absence of punctuation such as quotation marks, the Spanish, the flora and fauna I am unfamiliar with (I am Irish) and the terminology associated with guns and horses.

    But, what a read!

    I believe Judge Holden is, and was, a real man. The recollections upon which Cormac McCarthy derived inspiration from for this fictionalized story explicitly describe him as a 6’6″, hairless, heavy set man that was intelligent, well spoken and violent. He also was implicated in the rape of a ten year old girl and some other unspeakable crime elsewhere (but perhaps went by different aliases and remains illusive, unlike John J. Glanton for whom there is more documentary evidence). There are so many scenes and interactions between the Judge and Davy Brown, Glanton, Tobin, Toadvine etc. and with The Kid and aforementioned, which are different in nature, that of course they are different people.

    I therefore believe McCarthy intended for him to be a real person and not some figment of The Kid’s imagination.

    But what about the final chapter? It’s quite a coincidence that Judge Holden be there in that town, and without having aged? I am wondering whether The Man imagined The Judge in the bar?

    The Judge spied him from across the room, where “.. he sat by them [the motley assemblage] and yet alone as if he were some other sort of man entire”. So was the Judge with these men, or alone?

    Next, The Man looks away, raises his finger to the barman and orders another drink. “He paid, lifted the glass and drank. There was a mirror along the backbar but it only held smoke and phantoms”.

    True, he sees the Judge speak to some men. Or does he? But after the shooting of the bear, the Judge appears beside him. They engage in their conversation and the Judge repeatedly fills his glass tumbler with whiskey. But who else sees him?

    I think that it’s most likely that after his disappointing encounter with the whore that he happened across the missing girl and raped her. The third man is The Man, and I don’t necessarily believe the final scene, with the Judge nakedly dancing and playing the fiddle actually happened.

    I think, as others pointed out, the Kid seems to have been just another frightened orphan that fell in with the wrong crowd. Joining Glanton’s gang was his only way out of jail. I don’t recall any specific murders involving him and I think we can take it that he probably participated in the various attacks and scalpings but perhaps reluctantly or half-heartedly, or so the Judge implies. He shows hesitation in shooting the Judge when he had the opportunity to do so and compassion for Tobin and others.

    But when he reached the West coast, he spent the next 29 years as an aimless drifter going from odd job to the next. In their conversation, the Judge asks him why had he come there? To have a good time. Then, he points out a man in the bar alone, friendless and muttering to himself, one whose choices had resulted in a pitiful life. I think he [his subconscious manifesting itself as the Judge, as an external voice. Or Satan] was deriding his lack of complete amorality, that Judge Holden exemplified and that subconsciously, the Man wanted to, or regretted in not, indulging those base instincts. When he happened across the girl in the jakes, he took out his frustrations and inadequacies on her.

    I don’t believe The Kid was the child molester. That was clearly the Judge (as was the case with the individual upon which he was based). Why did he save the imbecile? Weren’t they naked together with a 12 year old girl? I think he kept him, an individual with the mind of a child, as a sex slave, like a gimp. Furthermore, there’s another evocative scene (Chapter XIX) whereupon Glanton’s return, the judge emerges from a bunker at the fortified hill overlooking the ferry clothed in nothing but a robe and the “Black” Jackson emerges similarly clad.

    The most important remarks that give insight to the Judge’s mentality occur in Chapter XVIII, where the judge derides moral law .. ” is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak. Historial law subverts it at every turn”. Might makes right. The Judge despises the weak and the merciful, those that don’t exert their will on others (war, conquest) will themselves be subjugated. The Judge was cruel and cunning enough to escape to California with the gold and the Kid blew his chance to shoot Holden in the head.

  105. Pablo Tamargo says:

    Greetings from Spain. Some good lines BUT two things. Almost anyone can see the real judge from the begining. Maybe someone that believes in God or some fairy tale can,t. It,s raw human nature unleashed. Homo Homini lupus. The kudo of your theory is about the intellect beign the decisive thing that distinguish true evil. The other thing is again about naiveness. Like you see the judge through the eyes of the kid you see Stalin trough the eyes of weatern civilization, in a moral pedestal. And ao american.

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