Blood Meridian, Chapter Eleven- “[N]o man can put all the world in a book.”

The air is thinner now, the climate changed.  Cooler.  And one of the Delawares gets jacked right off the back of his horse by a huge, pig-eyed bear.  What a way to go.

There are beasts in this alien land.  Alien hearts.  Creatures more horrible than anywhere else.  But there are places more horrible, beasts more horrible still.  The indians are part of the land, their blood runs into the earth, bloodlands, part of the earth itself, for generations.

Everything is ancient.  Everywhere there is smoke and ash, coal burning from deep within the earth for a thousand years.  The indians have “learnt war by warring.”

They ride to another place where everything is burning rock, heat coming off of everything.  There are ominous shadows.

There are more bones.

Again, mysterious thunder rumbles in the distance.

They settle at some ruins for the night, and the judge seems fascinated by its age, by ruins, by history, by small evidences of things past.  He has made collections all day, and now he draws each of these things in his book with great skill, in great detail.

His lips are described as “oddly childish.”  He is very odd looking, smooth skinned, fair skinned, hairless, ageless.

After he is done drawing, he takes everything he has drawn and throws it in the fire, as if his rendering of things is more important than their actuality.

We meet a man named Webster, part of the group.  He asks the judge what he intends to do with his notes and drawings.  “[E]xpunge them from the memory of man,” comes the answer.  Interesting.  Webster concedes that the pictures “is like enough the things themselves…[b]ut no man can put all the world in a book.”  If any man could, though, I suspect it would be the judge.  He seems capable of anything.

This is where it gets really interesting.  “But dont draw me,” says Webster.  “For I dont want in your book.”  Why not?  What does being drawn into the book mean?  What happens?  The judge draws the thing into his book, then destroys the original.  Does he then own its essence?  Its soul?  What does it all mean?

Webster is adamant.  They go back and forth.  Then comes yet another of those great judge statements:

Whether in my book or not, every man is tabernacled in every other and he in exchange and so on in an endless complexity of being and witness to the uttermost edge of the world.

The judge and the others go on to mock Webster mercilessly, asserting that it is vanity or fear that he will be chained to the likeness that make him not want his picture drawn.  Webster is not happy.

Then the judge tells a story.  I won’t retell it here.  But it was a very strange sort of story.  If it has some deeper significance, I don’t know what it would be.  Men are greedy and jealous and, if it suits them, murderous, I got that.  Strange.  More bones, though.  And a fatherless son will never find his way.  I think there is probably blasphemy in here, and savior analogies, and atheism allusions, but I can’t follow well enough to parse them out.

There is much talk of the indians that once inhabited the ruins they are staying in.  The judge suggests they are not as far or completely gone as it would maybe seem, that they are “rumors and ghosts” still much revered, “savages wander[ing] these canyons to ancient laughter.”  Nothing ends, there is no death, nothing ever goes fully away.  These seem like pagan, non-Judeo Christian precepts.

Then comes that passage that I know Dunce One likes so well:

If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now?  Wolves cull themselves, man.  What other creature could?  And is the race of man not more predacious (i.e. living by seizing or taking prey ; predatory; given to victimizing, plundering, or destroying for one’s own gain) yet?  The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night.  His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement.  His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day.  He loves games?  Let him play for stakes.

There is nothing really to add.  This is endlessly bleak, endlessly profound.  You could spend a year trying to comprehend and a lifetime trying to emulate this one passage.

Another reference to something awakened that should have been left sleeping.

They haven’t seen any action for a while.  They start to get paranoid that they are about to be ambushed.  They see no one, no smoke.  They eat raw meat, stay in smokeless camps, sleep among bones.

Finally, they find some seemingly abandoned Apache villages.  Glanton is so convinced it is a trap, he won’t let them enter.  They set false fires and hide on the outskirts.  Finally they go to check it out, and all they find is a very angry dog.  Glanton seems very intrigued for some reason.  Brown, another, warns him to leave it alone, but Glanton tells him to get a piece of jerky.  “I can man anything that eats,” he says.

That night they end up stuck on a narrow pass, in darkness, sheer cliff and wall on either side.  They spend the night standing, waiting to be attacked.  Nothing comes.  The scouts go out, and return with news of fires in the distance.

This was a deep chapter.  I am sure there is a lot just in that discussion about the culling and the sons and the drawing and the analogizing of stories and sons.  I would be interested and willing to engage in further discussion, but need someone who knows the story better to draw it all out.  Anyone?


25 thoughts on “Blood Meridian, Chapter Eleven- “[N]o man can put all the world in a book.”

  1. It’s too bad this discussion never took off. Is it the fact so few people seem to read today, the amount of traffic to this site, the rigor of the novel, or a combination?

    I’m enjoying it, anyway.

    • I think so too. My gut impulse is that it is some combination of all of the above. Though I have been called an alarmist (and worse), in my admittedly limited experience, it sure feels like fewer people are reading. Or reading intelligently. Or discussing what they are reading. If large groups of people are thoughtfully reading books on par with Blood Meridian, and openly analyzing and discussing them, I certainly don’t know where that is taking place, and have never been invited to participate.

      The amount of traffic to this site is admittedly low. It is a labor of love. It often feels like no one is reading/listening. Calling to mind certain philosophical/existential quandaries into whether unread blog entries, like so many hypothetical trees in proverbial forests, if never read, make a “sound,” as it were. I think/hope they do. I enjoy the writing and the reading/thinking that goes into the writing. If even one person reads and enjoys and is inspired to think, then it’s worth it. Even if that one person ends up being me.

      The rigor of the novel is daunting, though I think the novel could sustain various categories of readers reading on various levels. I think the book could be read both more and less academically than I read it. I think it could be viewed more as a work of art, a story, without all the heavy undertones and symbolism, and still be enjoyable. Probably.

      I think the darkness of the novel could also be off-putting. This novel in particular would seem to appeal to a very narrow body of readers, intelligent enough to understand at least some of the writing and symbolism and language, patient and curious enough to do the research necessary to fill in any blanks, but also having a high enough tolerance for violence and despair that it doesn’t become overwhelming. I flatter myself that I fall somewhere in that category, though I have enough experience to know for certain that there are many, many people infinitely more intelligent than I am. I very much subscribe to the Socratic ideology that the real foundation of true intelligence is the recognition that you know nothing, and proceeding from there. I am a dunce in the truest sense.

      Glad you are enjoying. Especially where intellectual analysis is concerned, quality far exceeds quantity. I would rather have an intelligent exchange with one like-minded person about something I care about than countless meaningless exchanges with droves of pop-culture addicts feverishly keeping up with the Kardashians, or what have you.

  2. Don’t be disheartened. I’m currently reading Blood Meridian and check here after every chapter to reflect. I’m sure many others do and have done the same. It is one of the first results when googling Blood Meridian Chapter ‘x’. Thank you.

    • I am “heartened” by this comment. Even if there are only a few, that is fine with me. We actually stop the analysis around Chapter 14, but have recently been encouraged to pick it back up. I am reading and loving “The Crossing” right now, which to me has a similar tone and similarly good writing, if maybe not quite so dark/deep. After this, I will continue the analysis of Blood Meridian. If people are still appreciating the reviews, then I would like to have a complete analysis available to them.

  3. “If large groups of people are thoughtfully reading books on par with Blood Meridian, and openly analyzing and discussing them, I certainly don’t know where that is taking place”

    Nor do I. It seems the Internet is missing an ‘IMDB’ of books.

    • I have often had this exact same thought. An IMDB of books would probably have a smaller audience, and it would take a lot of work (I know nothing about the technical aspects of even attempting to create such a site), but I would love that resource. If someone will set it up, I will happily provide all the McCarthy reviews.

  4. We’re not a particularly large group, but the Literary Darkness group on is currently reading Blood Meridian as our December group read. In fact, one of the moderators of the group led me to your site when I expressed some concern that I was missing a lot of what other people found interesting about the book. Here’s your invitation: Come join us! (And please do complete your analysis; I’m finding it very helpful.)

  5. I, too, read your analysis after finishing a chapter. I am so happy to have found this “labor of love” you have committed. It makes the great work even more enjoyable. I hope you continue your endeavors here. They are much appreciated!

      • Just also got your email. I checked it, and if you type “Blood Meridian” in the search box on the top right of the site, it should return all chapters in just about reverse chronological order. We may at some point clean this up by posting all of them consecutively, but for now I hope this helps.

    • Happy to hear it. It was a huge effort, but the exchanges that have occurred as a result and discussions sparked have made it well worth it. Hope you continue to enjoy.

  6. Hello fellow readers
    Unfortunately I just now discovered this site and I’m on chapter 11. Tempted to go back and read commentary on chapters already read. It has been rough going. There were times when it would take 30 minutes just to get through a page or two because of all the archaic words to look up and Spanish to translate. Worth it? Absolutely. Though would have loved a Norton critical edition or something comparable. Especially enjoyed researching the context and history of “Et in Arcadia ego”. I read Brideshead Revisited years ago before the internet and the significance of the phrase was lost to me. Sorry, I digress.
    To wrap up, thank you to those who did the hard work providing commentary and vocabulary.

    • Thanks for your insights and glad it has been helpful. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it. Some chapters and, yes, even pages, are more impenetrable than others. But with the vocabulary and Spanish translations readily available, it goes more quickly. I don’t even pretend to catch or understand everything. But I love the book, have read it multiple times, and catch something new every time I parse through it. Happy reading! Feel free to check back in with any additional thoughts or questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *