Episode XI (Part Two): He Says He'll Never Die
Gnosticism in Blood Meridian
1. The Judge Smiled
In the final paragraph of Suttree, a voice speaks to (or inside) Cormac’s eponymous avatar: “Somewhere in the gray wood by the river is the Huntsman and in the brooming corn and in the castellated press of cities. His work lies all wheres and his hounds tire not. I have seen them in a dream, slaverous and wild and their eyes crazed with ravening for souls in this world. Fly them.” (471)
This Huntsman whose purpose is to track (and devour) human souls represents an early appearance of Gnostic Archons in McCarthy’s work, those “evil angels” who assist a malevolent (or, at best, indifferent) Demiurge.
In Petra Mundik’s article, “‘Striking the Fire Out of the Rock’: Gnostic Theology in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian,” Mundik reminds us that Manichean texts claim “it is the fate of all living creatures to be […] ‘devoured, consumed, eaten by the dogs, mingled and bound in all that is, imprisoned in the stench of darkness.’”
In Part One of this episode, I used Mundik’s article to establish a working definition of Gnosticism and summarized her evidence for reading Judge Holden as a Gnostic Archon. Here, in Part Two, I like to address a few questions and then consider how my answers alter Mundik’s reading of the Judge.
In her article, Mundik makes a bold assertion: “It is clear that the judge is no mortal.” Is this correct? Is the Judge truly immortal? Does he exhibit any mortal characteristics at all?
2. We Will Cook Impartially Upon This Great Siliceous Griddle
After the slaughter of John Joel Glanton and the dissolution of his gang in Chapter XIX, the Kid, Tobin, and Toadvine gather at a desert well and try to determine their next move.
Of course, the Judge soon appears, leading the Idiot on a leash:
“The Judge wore on his head a wig of dried river mud from which protruded bits of straw and grass […] and he was bedraped with meat like som medieval penitent. […] The Judge threw off the bandoliers of sunblacked meat and the skin beneath was strangely mottled pink and white in the shapes of them.” (294, emphasis mine)
In other words, the Judge is sunburned—and is trying to protect his naked scalp from being sunburned as well.
The Judge may claim to be immortal in the novel’s closing lines, but his body betrays him here. Certainly, no spirit or minor deity gets sunburnt or worries about hats.