To put it plainly, BLOOD MERIDIAN is like nothing that I have ever read before; any serious attempt at gaining a contextual understanding of this text will require multiple readings, with English and Spanish dictionaries in hand.
Multilayered with symbolism and meaning, and masterfully crafted with bilingual verbosity and unorthodox syntax, Cormic McCarthy presents a nightmarish reality where moral law is a cipher in toto.
So far, I have read this sublime offering by McCarthy only once; I definitely intend to read it again. However, truth be told, BLOOD MERIDIAN is not an easily digestible piece of pap writing; it is a hauntingly graphic work of historical fiction that requires ample time for rumination and ancillary study.
Without question, BLOOD MERIDIAN is one of the most brutal pieces of literature that I have ever read. Set in the U.S./Mexican borderlands, in the immediate aftermath of the Mexican-American war, McCarthy vivid portrays an inhospitable, lawless region where extreme violence is the modus operandi, and benevolence is nearly non-existent.
I reiterate, the unflinching levels of violence portrayed by McCarthy are tantamount to "total war": American soldiers scalped, disemboweled, and sodomized by Comanche warriors; Apache infants' heads dashed against rocks until their brains spill out; genitals severed and stuffed into victims' mouths; men skewered over fires and burned alive; children abducted, raped, and murdered...
At the epicenter of this panoply of blood lust is the Mephistophelian antagonist known as Judge Holden, or "The Judge" - a seven foot tall, completely hairless, Caucasian leader of a band of vicious criminals that has been commissioned to collect Apache scalps. The Judge is a towering enigma; he is a polyglot, a man of eloquent speech, education, philosophy, and a jack of all trades. However, he is also a man of extraordinary physical strength, unmitigated violence, sexual deviance, and is an apex predator. He is a man equally held in awe and feared by his troupe of murderous companions; rumors are whispered that he may not be all together human; hearsay discussions allude to the possibility that he transcends time and space; in at least one instant, a claim is made that he is the devil.
While McCormic never provides elucidation regarding the mysterious origins of The Judge, it is unequivocal that he is (at the very least) evil incarnate. At the close of the book, with The Judge at the height of his horrible exultation, the readers are left to determine for themselves whether the antagonist is more than just an evil man... I tend to view Judge Holden as being in a very similar vein as Goethe's Mephistopheles in Faust; undoubtedly, this was an influence on McCormic's development of the antagonist.
Taken as a whole, Blood Meridian is a magnum opus: Combining detailed minutiae on desert landscapes and flora, masterfully utilizing esoteric and arcane forms of language, providing a bedrock of historical knowledge from the time period, amalgamating the profane and the sacrosanct - McCormic's work has definitely left an indelible mark on the mind of this reader. A century from now, I'm certain that scholars will still be reading and analyzing this book.
A final note/caveat: I was given a copy of the 25th anniversary edition of BLOOD MERIDIAN, which contains no introduction. If you procure an older version of this book, chances are that there will be an introduction by Harold Bloom. While this introduction does provide good contextual analysis of the book, it is rife with "spoilers" and it gives away too much of the story. If you have never read BLOOD MERIDIAN, I strongly suggest skipping the introduction until you have finished the book. (Unfortunately, when I was still only halfway through the novel, I stumbled across the introduction from an online resource and unwittingly read it...I was NOT pleased afterward).