Poe & McCarthy/Apocalyptic Visions

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  • 23 May 2012 at 9:18 pm #1329


    “I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens.” (Blood Meridian 3)

    There has been extensive, excellent commentary on the opening passage of Blood Meridian and its cosmological allusiveness, namely the connection between the kid’s birth in 1833 coinciding with the Leonid meteor shower. Sepich is especially good on this in his Notes on Blood Meridian.

    My thought is that in addition to the Leonids and other connections such as those relating to myth, that McCarthy might also be alluding to the Dark Night Sky Problem, also commonly known as Olber’s Paradox http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olbers%27_paradox, a solution for which was given by the author Edgar Allen Poe, an amazingly prescient possible solution.

    While I find that possible connection intriguing, what is possibly more substantial is a rich similarity between McCarthy’s The Road and a Poe short story — The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion — in which a comet (“the strange orb”) comes into contact with earth and causes its end in a ball of flame.

    Some of the phrasing by Poe immediately recalls TR, such as when Poe describes the comet as a “dull red” and McCarthy describing the apocalyptic event, or a sign of its onset, as “A dull rose glow in the windowglass,” and also when Poe links the word earnestness to theologians dwelling on biblical prophecies as the comet approaches earth and McCarthy, similarly, linking the same word to the man and the wife being much like philosophers chained to a madhouse wall.

    There are many more resonances, which makes sense since the two authors are both essentially wring about the same thing, but some of it is uncanny and I think it’s possible McCarthy was familiar with Poe’s tale and judiciously borrowed from it. I have a few more notes but I will keep this short and close with a tidbit gleaned from an article which I will link to that offers a nice summary of Poe’s interest in cosmology (including notes on the Leonids) and that tidbit is that in a poem called Al Aaraaf, Poe caled comets “Carriers of the fire.” (I, line 94)


    25 May 2012 at 9:10 pm #1347

    Sounds like a solid Poe-Cormac link, Peter. Growing up, I read a lot of Poe (he was more popular then than now, though this recent Poe film may bring him back into focus for some readers): “The Raven” “Mask of the Red Death,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and others. I seem to recall “The Raven” and possibly “Red Death” in our Knoxville Catholic High lit text (St. Thomas More Edition, 1949).

    This text McCarthy very probably also studied before his graduation in ’51.
    I think you’re on to something pretty big here, Peter.

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