Monday, June 18, 2012

Wordcraft -- McCarthy’s six-gun gothic, part II

(Guest blogger Jim Dolan concludes his discussion of Gothic elements in the fiction of Cormac McCarthy, author of The Road and No Country for Old Men, among other works. Jim Dolan is a prize winning poet, a fiction writer, moderator of Writer's Garrett Stone Soup All Genres group in Dallas, occasional film actor, a psychotherapist in private practice and passionate bicycle racer. He is a lifelong resident of Oak Cliff Texas, where he lives with his wife, Karen. He regularly blogs at )


I first discovered Cormac McCarthy in the early ’90s. I completely believe that McCarthy's abilities with English are Shakespearian, and the experience began a two decade engagement with everything McCarthy has written, some titles two or even three times through.

Last week, I discussed the Gothic fiction elements of “an ancient house” and “the implication of the supernatural” in McCarthy’s novels Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men. Today, I’ll apply the Gothic criteria of horror, menace, dread; the grotesque front and center; and an absolute concern with good vs. evil, with evil the likely winner.

Is there a mood of horror, menace, dread? Readers of McCarthy will know there is no writer more capable of establishing this tone than he. Is the grotesque present? In No Country for Old Men, the grotesque is present in climactic peaks; in Blood Meridian it is on every page. Check.

McCarthy gives us death on every page, either actual, impending or long since. We are forced to confront the Dark Angel.

He asks us to look at what we should not see. And we are never able to not look at it. We are forced to see ourselves and every human creature as both angel and devil

His novels take place in the created, Biblical world of the Western God, but it is a world from which that God has fled, and as when children are left alone too long, a deadly mayhem is the result. The world is off the chain, and when the Sheriff in No Country for Old Men wonders if now he is seeing 'a new kind', he points a finger to that time in the near future when the moral center has collapsed and we all plunge into the abyss.

And it is into this abyss that the world has plunged in his last novel, The Road. There, a boy and his father wander the wasted world, their only goal survival. McCarthy is so successful at depicting a world where not only God seems to be gone, but the natural world appears to have died as well that I may never be able to bring myself to read it again, so devastating is that atmosphere. But in the end we are given the faintest ray of hope.

I take it that in posing this world, McCarthy is asking me, you, himself, What in the name of God are we going to do about it?


Writing workshop note: Today, June 18, is the last day to register for the writing workshop at the Austin, Texas, ArmadilloCon. If you write science fiction, fantasy or horror, and want writing advice from the likes of Elizabeth Bear, Julie Kenner, Scott Lynch, Cat Rambo, Jeremy Lassen and more, see ASAP.

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