By Michael Morgan
After all of the hoopla about the movie “No Country for Old Men”, I picked up a copy of the book, and began my journey through the vision of Mr. Cormac McCarthy. “Old Country” was soon followed by “The Road”, and I was completely hooked on his dark brooding style.
Then my friend Noah told me about McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy”, and “Blood Meridian”. I’m a huge fan of Westerns, be it film or print, and these books belong on the shelf of every fan of Horse Opera, right next to Charles Portis’ “True Grit”, Glendon Swarthout’s “The Shootist”, and Forrest Carter’s “Gone to Texas”.
All three of these classics have made it to the big screen, and, while I’m not sure about The Border Trilogy, “Blood Meridian” definitely belongs among them.
“Blood Meridian” follows a young man who joins a party of adventurers setting off into Mexico to hunt the Apache hoping to get rich selling the scalps to the Mexican government. Starting off with noble speeches about saving the Mexican citizens from the depredations, of the savage Apache, the saviors degenerate into a larger threat than the Indians. A true Heart of Darkness meets Lord of the Flies full of action and bloody violence. Perfect fodder for the current crop of dark Westerns coming out of Hollywood.
As an enthusiast of antique arms, I was particularly impressed by McCarthy’s accurate descriptions of the weaponry. When I finished the book, Noah asked me about the part where the gang is being pursued by the vengeful Apaches, and are almost out of ammunition, the Judge sends the party on a long looping ride to distract their foes long enough for him to mix up enough gunpowder to make a fight of their last stand.
He wanted to know if it was possible to make gunpowder in the manner it was described in the story. The answer is yes, the description of the process is generally correct, and I would really hate to be forced to bet my life on the final product.
Actor/director James Franco made a test reel of this part of the book in an attempt to bring this story to film. http://www.vice.com/read/james-francos-blood-meridian-test-656 unfortunately, the film project has not advanced and further.
The steady flow of McCarthy’s work from page to screen has made signed first editions of his books solid investments. This copy of Blood Meridian is coming up for auction on September 15, 2016.
Prior sales of autographed first editions have realized as much as $7,500 for a plain autographed edition sold in 2015 all of the way up to $15,000 for a volume containing a personalized inscription sold in 2014.
A couple of years after I read Blood Meridian, I picked up a book called The Scalp Hunters originally published in 1860 by Thomas Mayne Reid, an Irish immigrant to America, Reid’s work is normally published under the name Mayne Reid, and he is best known for adventure novels intended for young boys.
The Scalp Hunters tells the tale of a punitive expedition against the Navajo with the goal to recover White captives. This is one of Reid’s early works told in a gritty style quite similar to Blood Meridian.
If you enjoy one, then get the other as well.
Another fine novel by Reid is The Headless Horseman. Not to be confused with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, The Headless Horseman is a romance and murder mystery set in 19th century Texas.
Oddly enough, I learned about Mayne Reid from my Russian wife. Apparently his work was a standard example of American literature in the Soviet Union. Somehow, U.S. schools fail to mention him even though he is not as “offensive” as Mark Twain.