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McCarthy, Cormac

Entry updated 14 June 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1933-2023) US playwright and author whose most highly esteemed and best-known novels until the twenty-first century were technically Westerns, including Blood Meridian; Or the Evening Redness in the West (1985), a scarifying recounting of events subsequent to the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 seen through the eyes of a runaway fourteen-year-old lad. The slow intensification of horrors, many of them historically documented, comes close to supernatural intensity; and Judge Holden – whose description as a completely hairless, omnicompetent, ultimately unkillable giant may deliberately play on and undermine popular images of Doc Savage – is a figure of such supernatural vacancy that his desacralizing of the world can be seen as a paradigm representation of the inner narrative of modern horror wrought to its proper uttermost (see Horror in SF). The villain – or opposing principle – who rips tradition and any surviving traces of the storyable out of the world of No Country for Old Men (2005), filmed as No Country for Old Men (2008) directed by the Coen Brothers, is a similarly appalling figure, a kind of malefic solarization of the figure of the artist in William Butler Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium" (1927), who arouses in the protagonist an awareness that the story of America, the story "of what is past, or passing, or to come", is a dream – a Western – from which, in the last instants of book and film, he awakens.

In a sense, McCarthy's only sf novel proper, The Road (2006), filmed as The Road (2009), portrays the state of the world after these figures have done their work. A man – who could in a sense be the awakened protagonist of the previous novel – treks southwards with his son through a desolated Post-Holocaust America in search of food or surcease. Eventually, a few further survivors are discovered. The film version attempts to use their arrival to lighten the prophetic, godless darkness that terminates the book; but McCarthy's portrayal of a world from which life has been stripped is in the end too convincing (see End of the World): it is not easy to conceive that this particular vision adumbrates the relative populousness of some eventual, Pastoral Ruined Earth.

The late but long meditated Passenger sequence comprising The Passenger (2022) and Stella Maris (2022), though deeply concerned with Mathematics and Physics, are nonfantastic. They are listed here for interest. [JC]

Cormac McCarthy

born Providence, Rhode Island: 20 July 1933

died Santa Fe, New Mexico: 13 June 2023




  • The Passenger (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2022) [Passenger: hb/]
  • Stella Maris (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2022) [Passenger: hb/]

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