Is there a thesis somewhere out there on The Influence of Giono on McCarthy? I chanced to read Giono’s The Horseman on the Roof (Le Hussard sur le toit) right after McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and found so much likeness between them that the latter began to seem a reworking of the former. I wonder if it is. Let me note some of the similarities.
Giono’s Angelo and McCarthy’s “kid” make their way, on horseback when possible, through hilly or mountainous southern landscapes repeatedly described (especially in McCarthy). The journey seems to admit no end. They suffer hunger and thirst, as well as other privation; they are in constant danger from enemies who have no personal interest in them, they are even imprisoned. Hard as nature is, far worse is the sense of relentless devastation, whose source is the evil (physical, mental) that infects men. For a long time we keep expecting things to improve, but gradually we learn that they can only run out. Death is everywhere, individual deaths are lingered over, corpses lie about. Weapons, especially guns, are prominent—specific kinds of weapons. Morality does not belong in this world, although a certain dignity is possible. The intrepid but unconventional hero—always present and rather loquacious in Giono, often effaced and always taciturn in McCarthy—overcomes every obstacle, only to find another, more or less of the same kind. In Giono’s chapter 13, near the end, a big man with an umbrella appears, and discourses at complicated length about cholera and his notions. In McCarthy’s chapter 21, near the end, the judge, a big man given to obscure speechifying about his notions, appears with a parasol, a “morbid umbrella.”
A sketch like this is far from persuasive. I can only add that the books feel alike, with the important distinction that Giono, having something of the romantic, admits the possibility of human liberty, of a nobler future, whereas McCarthy does not suggest any such thing; and that Giono, perhaps correspondingly, admits women, admirable ones, into his tale (one in particular), while McCarthy has no room for that part of the human race. I have already said that both heroes keep going in spite of everything. But Angelo, who knows happiness, aims to live, because he has good work ahead of him; while the kid, grim as death, kills because he has nothing better to do. The one stands out against the hellish background; the other vanishes into it so completely that for half the book he is all but unseen.