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A Cormac McCarthy Companion

A Cormac McCarthy Companion: The Border Trilogy

Edwin T. Arnold
Dianne C. Luce
Edwin T. Arnold
J. Douglas Canfield
Christine Chollier
George Guillemin
Dianne C. Luce
Jacqueline Scoones
Phillip A. Snyder
Nell Sullivan
John Wegner
Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    A Cormac McCarthy Companion
    Book Description:

    With essays by Edwin T. Arnold, J. Douglas Canfield, Christine Chollier, George Guillemin, Dianne C. Luce, Jacqueline Scoones, Phillip A. Snyder, Nell Sullivan, and John Wegner

    The completion of Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy--All the Pretty Horses(1992),The Crossing(1994), andCities of the Plain(1998)--marked a major achievement in American literature. Only ten years earlier this now internationally acclaimed novelist had been called the best unknown writer in America.

    The trilogy is McCarthy's most ambitious project yet, composed at the height of his mature powers over a period of fifteen years. It is "a miracle in prose," as Robert Hass wrote of its middle volume, an unsentimental elegy for the lost world of the cowboy, the passing of the wilderness, and the fading innocence of post--World War II America. The trilogy is a literary accomplishment with wide appeal, for despite the challenging materials in each book, these volumes remained on bestseller lists for many weeks.

    This collection of essays is the first book to examine these novels as a trilogy, the first to read them as an integrated whole. Together these explorations of McCarthy's magnum opus serve as an ideal companion reader.

    Represented here are nine of the most notable Cormac McCarthy scholars, both American and European. Their essays provide a substantial exploration of the trilogy from different perspectives. Included are gender issues, eco-critical approaches, explications of the war or land history underlying the trilogy, studies of narrative voice, dreams, the cowboy tradition, and the pastoral tradition, and considerations of McCarthy's moral and spiritual outlook. These essays complement one another in highly provocative ways, prompting new appreciation of the complexity of McCarthy's work and the profundity of his vision.

    Edwin T. Arnold and Dianne C. Luce are editors ofPerspectives on Cormac McCarthy(University Press of Mississippi). This new volume is an admirable companion toPerspectives, bringing McCarthy scholarship into the 21st century.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-238-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)
    Edwin T. Arnold and Dianne C. Luce

    This volume is intended as a companion to our earlier collection of essays,Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy(1993, rev. ed. 1999). In that book, we brought together studies of all of McCarthy’s major writings, with the exception of his playThe Stonemason. Now we have chosen to concentrate on a specific, unified body of work—All the Pretty Horses(1992),The Crossing(1994), andCities of the Plain(1998)—the three novels that comprise McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. McCarthy spent some fifteen years writing this story. If one also included his first western,Blood Meridian(1984), which might rightfully be seen...

  4. Autotextuality, or Dialogic Imagination in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 3-36)
    Christine Chollier

    By writing three southern novels—The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark,andChild of God— which were followed by the atypical semi-autobiographicalSuttree, then shifting to the revisionist southwestern novel of collective bloodshed—Blood Meridian—which was followed by a series of three southwestern works conspicuously called a trilogy, Cormac McCarthy has obviously foregrounded the oscillation of his creative work between continuity and discontinuity. The sample of his prose which can be found in the Border Trilogy may nevertheless be scrutinized for its own sake, especially with a view to unearthing traces of what Mikhail Bakhtin called dialogism, that is to...

  5. “Go to sleep”: Dreams and Visions in the Border Trilogy
    (pp. 37-72)
    Edwin T. Arnold

    It may be that all of Cormac McCarthy’s writings constitute a prolonged dream. Reading McCarthy’s works—any one of them—is an experience not quite real. We are never in the present world, neither in time nor history. Even though the locales are most often identifiable, for the author is unusually precise about streets, towns, distances, dates (he maps the world with the nuanced eye of a master literary cartographer), there is nonetheless always the sense that this is some world never quite our own. Perhaps it is the warp of the dream that confounds us, or the brilliant clarity...

  6. “Wars and rumors of wars” in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 73-91)
    John Wegner

    War is the central thesis to McCarthy’s southwestern works.The Crossingbegins between World War I and World War II with America on the verge of the Depression, andCities of the Plainessentially ends in 1952 as America’s presence in Korea grows. John Grady Cole’s father returns from a World War II p.o.w. camp sick and dying;The Crossingends with Billy’s witness of the “strange false sunrise . . . of the Trinity Test” (Hunt 31); andCities of the Plainbegins with John Grady’s drinking with Troy, a war veteran. Even more pervasive are the accounts of...

  7. “As of some site where life had not succeeded”: Sorrow, Allegory, and Pastoralism in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 92-130)
    George Guillemin

    The pastoralism of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy most likely constitutes the three novels’ most overlooked aspect, and this not despite the novels’ relative accessibility, but because of it. The simplicity of their quest stories, their generic proximity to the Western, and the conventionality of their plot structures as heroic journeys apparently have caused the novels’ complexity to go largely unacknowledged. Interpretations that confine themselves to the realistic façades ofAll the Pretty Horses, The Crossing,andCities of the Plaindo not necessarily constitute misreadings, yet they ignore the novels’ multiple layers and the very essence of their meanings. The...

  8. The World on Fire: Ethics and Evolution in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 131-160)
    Jacqueline Scoones

    One of the predominant Border Trilogy themes is that the human story, our world, is only a fragment of the earth’s history—yet one increasingly influential and dangerous for many of earth’s inhabitants. For in the Border Trilogy, McCarthy portrays a variety of extinctions both past and possible: the extinction of families and homes, customs and beliefs, governments and nations, civilizations, salt seas, the fish that once swam in them, grey wolves and, by inference, all living things. The uncontrolled violence of nature and its sometimes-inexplicable processes is juxtaposed with the increasingly potent trajectory of violence wrought by men. The...

  9. The Vanishing World of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 161-197)
    Dianne C. Luce

    Early inCities of the Plain, when Billy and Troy are driving late at night, returning to the McGovern ranch that is about to be taken over by the government, Billy rounds a curve and collides with a large owl, which dies “cruciform” on the shattered windshield “like an enormous moth in a web” (34). It is one of those moments in which life veers, a moment as unexpected as anything in the Border Trilogy. Troy is visibly shaken, and the seemingly irrelevant event settles him in his decision not to return to his boyhood home. Billy appears less affected,...

  10. Cowboy Codes in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 198-227)
    Phillip A. Snyder

    This question, uttered by Billy Parham in the second paragraph of Cormac McCarthy’sCities of the Plainin reference to John Grady Cole, circumscribes the central issue around which all three volumes of the trilogy revolve: the shifting locus of American cowboy identity and the displacement of the vocation within which that identity and its attendant values once flourished. The settings of the Border Trilogy volumes, not to mention their writing, are far removed from the thirty-year post-Civil War heyday of the cowboy and the cattle industry and thus connect themselves mostly to the legend that remains, despite their authentic...

  11. Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Be Gone: The Circuit of Male Desire in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 228-255)
    Nell Sullivan

    Published separately over a span of six years, the three volumes of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy constitute an intricately woven text, not only through the use of common protagonists, but through the common themes and images resonating in all three. One of the most striking patterns to emerge is the narrative expulsion or containment of women. Two textual moments bracketing the action of the Border Trilogy suggest the uneasy place that women hold within it. InAll the Pretty Horses(1992), the first volume, Lacey Rawlins tries to rein in John Grady Cole’s self-destructive desire for women, telling him, “She...

  12. Crossing from the Wasteland into the Exotic in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy
    (pp. 256-270)
    J. Douglas Canfield

    Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy ends where it began: with the screenplay called “Cities of the Plain,” written in the 1980s and revised as the trilogy’s final volume.¹ In its genesis, then, as well as in its final form, the trilogy is set in a wasteland in the American Southwest, where modern technology and weaponry have corrupted the pastoral frontier that is already slipping through the hands of John Grady Cole after the death of his grandfather inAll the Pretty Horses. In a sense, the encroachment of the U.S. Army on Mac McGovern’s cattle ranch, among others, in the early...

  13. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 271-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-280)