To Cormac McCarthy: A Eulogy

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy dies at 89 (Beowulf Sheehan via AP).

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” – “The Road”

Cormac McCarthy was a true American original; a man who used the familiar trappings of genres such as Southern Gothic, westerns, and post-apocalyptic in order to create a style that was completely his own. He was known for works such as “The Road,” “No Country For Old Men,” and “Blood Meridian,” and some of them have been turned into movies. Most have been very good, like “No Country For Old Men” and “The Road,” but there have been some bad ones: mainly James Franco’s “Child of God” adaptation. But fear not, readers. I have nothing but good things to say about McCarthy today. 

To say that McCarthy is an acquired taste would be an understatement. He often wrote without the use of syntax and punctuation, which gave a lot of his books a flowing style. It certainly turns a lot of people off, but for me, I find that his prose and use of language has a hard-boiled poetry to it. It’s lush, while straight to the point without being too curt. McCarthy’s prose is powerful and hits you with force almost beyond comprehension. McCarthy also was noted for his uncompromising looks into the ugliest parts of the human condition, somehow managing to find a dark beauty within it. 

But even at his darkest, there seemed to be flickers of desire for a better world. Many people have called McCarthy a cynic, a pessimist who exposes the lies that we often feed ourselves in order to get by. But that is too simplistic of a reading. The people who say that aren’t reaching far enough. They aren’t looking at what McCarthy was really saying. 

While I wouldn’t call him an optimist by any stretch, there is the sense that McCarthy wanted to see a better world. In books such as “All The Pretty Horses” and “No Country For Old Men,” McCarthy seems genuinely disappointed that we haven’t really changed, even after all of the advancements in society and changes in technology that make the dreams of science fiction into science fact. But within “The Road,” we see McCarthy prove himself as a humanist and someone who believes in the triumph of the human spirit, even when we’re at our lowest points. 

The loss of McCarthy is a hard one. Alongside Alan Moore, I posited that McCarthy was the greatest living author that we have alive and walking among us. But now he’s gone. I suppose there is a small comfort, since now the mad wizard from Northampton can take the throne as ‘greatest living writer,’ but I am still heartbroken by McCarthy’s loss. Few other artists will ever be like him. Who could explain how he viewed the world with such vividness and such clarity that few others could match him? There’s only a few who could compare, like Moore, Stanley Kubrick, Ray Bradbury, William Blake, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. This week we lost a giant, both in literature and in culture as a whole. 

McCarthy will leave a hole in the world of literature, and I will definitely miss him. I am glad that we got the 89 years that we got, and his 12 works. One thing for certain about McCarthy: we’ll never see another one like him. 

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