Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans


I was saddened to hear of the death of Cormac McCarthy, in my view one of America’s greatest ever writers. According to his publishers, he passed away on Tuesday of natural causes aged 89 in his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Mr McCarthy didn’t write ‘Westerns’ as such, at least not in the way that Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour did. He was an original talent with a particular voice. If he came from any tradition it would have been that of Steinbeck or Faulkener.


We have reviewed several of his books on this blog at different times, the more ‘Western’ of the stories. Click the links to go to our assessment of the three books that comprised the so-called Crossing Trilogy, All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994) and Cities of the Plain (1998), as well as No Country for Old Men (2005) and the movie made from it, and Blood Meridian (1985), which some regard as the great American novel.



Charles Joseph McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1933 in an Irish Catholic family, one of six children, but he spent much of his childhood in Tennessee, where his father worked as a lawyer. He attended university there. Latterly he worked with the Santa Fe Institute, studying human consciousness and the origins of language.


In 1973


He was a very private man and rarely gave interviews. In one, with Oprah Winfrey in 2007, he said, “I don’t think [interviews] are good for your head.” He added, “If you spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about it, you probably should be doing it.”


Stephen King (not one of my favourite American authors but never mind that) called McCarthy “maybe the greatest American novelist of my time” and tweeted “He was full of years and created a fine body of work, but I still mourn his passing.” I agree with Mr King.


Why Cormac McCarthy never won the Nobel Prize for Literature is a complete mystery.


10 Responses

  1. A giant. Still astonished that no one has made a film from Blood Meridians. Maybe because Peckinpah is gone to early…

    1. There has been talk of making a movie of Blood Meridian. Ridley Scott (who produced The Assassination of Jesse James…), Todd Field (Bob Younger in the 1995 Frank and Jesse) and James Franco (no Western connection that I know of) have apparently all tried to launch it as a project but given it up. You can understand it: how would you translate that prose to the screen, how would any studio accept that essential degree of blood, how would such an uncommunicative protagonist as the kid fare in a film, how would you cast the judge? Maybe Jim Jarmusch could make it, as a sort of acid Western like Dead Man. But I doubt it. We’d need Peckinpah Redux with Brian de Plasma and Quentin Tarantino and even their combined arterial artistry wouldn’t be enough.

      1. Jeff, I know its really more crime than Western but did you care much for ‘The Counselor’ that McCarthy wrote and Ridley Scott directed? I thought it was interesting, flawed, but not as bad as critics had it and certainly the characters spoke like McCarthy characters. No ‘No Country for Old Men’ but what is?

        1. I did see it though haven’t reviewed it due to its non-Western-ness, though it did have a cross-border tough aspect and Javier Bardem…

  2. Jeff, I won’t disagree with you concerning Cormac McCarthy being one of the USA’s greatest ever writers, because he probably is. I mean it’s amazing to me how someone can write like he does. Do I read McCarthy’s books, of course I do, and I marvel at the language and imagery of his prose. I think the first part of THE CROSSING(1994) in which Billy Parham takes the wolf back to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, is one of the best written incidents of the human and animal condition that I’ve ever read, even as brutal as it is.

    Is Cormac McCarthy a favorite writer of mine? No, not really, but I read him. Everyone has their likes and dislikes and that is what makes us individuals. Personally, I like writers that use humor in their writings, even if they’re writing about something that’s bleak and brutal. One of my favorite writers is Charles Portis writer of TRUE GRIT(1968), THE DOG OF THE SOUTH(1979), and others. His friend and fellow writer Roy Blunt, Jr. gave a wonderful description of Portis’ writing style, “Charles Portis could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny.” I think that Portis is a master in writing about difficult situations and lacing it with humor, which makes his writing appear so effortless, but it’s not. There are other writers that are favorites of mine, although they don’t have to be humorous, but for me it helps. Larry McMurtry, Max Evans, Donald Harington, Joan Hess, Paulette Jiles, J. Lee Butts, Dusty Richards, Brett Cogburn, Ellen Recknor, Elmore Leonard, and so many others. I could just keep naming them all day.

    Recently, I read a book that I think is a gem. SOUTHERN BOUNTY(2020) written by Junior Cogburn. This book is a humorous contemporary crime mystery involving a bounty hunter. It’s a good story, with characters that you care about, and is action packed. While reading SOUTHERN BOUNTY I recognized the style and realized that I had read one of this writer’s books before and maybe some short stories. An unknown mysterious writer, no less, who I think should be read and I hope readers will find him. I highly recommend SOUTHERN BOUNTY and you can find it at


    1. Thanks, Walter. I share some (though not all) your enthusiasms. I’d certainly put Portis in the ranks of the fine American writers.

      1. Jeff, we all have our likes and dislikes. I agree with you concerning Charles “Buddy” Portis being, “in the ranks of the fine American writers.” I think that TRUE GRIT is absolutely a splendid Classic Novel.

        For fans of Portis’ TRUE GRIT, I would like to recommend another very fine novel. WINDING STAIR(1979) written by Douglas C. Jones, who like Portis, is a native of Arkansas. This novel takes place in Fort Smith, Arkansas and the Choctaw Nation of what is now Southeast Oklahoma. The year is 1890, which is about ten years after the setting of TRUE GRIT and WINDING STAIR is set in the same locale. This fictional story involves the Federal Court of Isaac C. Parker, known as the hanging judge, a deputy US Marshal Oscar Schiller, a young lawyer Eben Pay, Osage posseman Joe Mountain, Jennie Thrasher, and others that make this book a tribute to people and places, which gives it a distinct sense of time and place, as well as interesting and memorable characters.

  3. McCarthy in his writings divided people like one of my favorites and his too, William Faulkner. I admire writers that go to the edge (and over) without compromise. Like or dislike at least a reaction is provoked.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *