Study Guide

All the Pretty Horses Introduction

By Cormac McCarthy

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All the Pretty Horses Introduction

This ain't your grandma's western.

Sure, All the Pretty Horses sounds pleasant enough. Maybe there will be cowboys, you think. Maybe a local sheriff with a gun-toting posse, who drives some cattle rustlers out of town and wins the local sweetheart in the process.

Yeah, not so much. Think less John Wayne and more… well, think less John Wayne.

Our novel's hero isn't much of a hero at all. He's a sixteen-year-old gun-toting outlaw named John Grady Cole. And while All the Pretty Horses does have standard western fare rugged individualism, toughness, fighting, and romance, it's all set against the backdrop of a rather lonely journey across an unforgiving landscape. But hey, there is a ride off into the sunset at the end, so that's something.

It's the late 1940s, and John takes off from the Texas ranch that his mother is selling to wander the Mexican plains, with only his horse and his friend Rawlins for companionship. Along the way he finds love, violence, and runs headlong through two worlds that have no place for him: an America that seems to have long moved beyond old school frontier fantasies, and a Mexico that seems stuck in rigid class structures, reeling from the power struggles that come with.

When the novel was published in 1992, it won critical acclaim for its author Cormac McCarthy--including the National Book Award—and it has stayed pretty popular ever since, despite the mediocre movie version, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, that was made in 2000.

All the Pretty Horses is also part of the Border Trilogy, a series of novels by Mr. McCarthy that get progressively more depressing as the grand ol' frontier gets eaten up by the modern world.

What is All the Pretty Horses About and Why Should I Care?

Did you ever run away from home as a kid because you were mad at your parents? Even just for a second?

Maybe. But did you ever run away from home because you were mad at your parents, your mom was selling the ranch, you were generally alienated from modern American civilization, and you decided to live like some sort of superbad teenage cowboy in Mexico?

Yeah, we didn't think so. All the Pretty Horses is about the struggle for independence that one experiences not just with one's own parents, but with society in general—John Grady Cole just takes it to extremes, that's all.

The novel may be set in the past, and the struggles of the Mexican elite that John Grady Cole mingles with may seem hard to relate to at first, but at its core, the novel is about coming of age and finding that first passionate love—a love which begins out of one's reach, yet becomes possible…

Until it ends in disaster, because of reasons outside of one's own control. (Or maybe because one just doesn't know enough about other people yet.) It's also about finding the strength to stand on your own two feet in the world and stand up for your friends. In short, it's a novel about growing up in the strange, sometimes barren place that is adolescence—except with a lot more gunplay and horse riding than your usual suburban fare.

All the Pretty Horses Resources


Yelping with Cormac McCarthy
Check out this blog that has fake Yelp reviews written in Cormac McCarthy's style. Required reading, we think.

Notable Quotes for Cormac McCarthy
Here's a handy list of quality McCarthy quotes.

Cormac McCarthy's Official Website
This official site has information about the author, as well as links to the journal devoted to him and his books. Go crazy.

Movie or TV Productons

All the Pretty Horses (2000)
This not-completely-faithful adaptation was directed by Billy Bob Thornton, and starred Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz.

Articles and Interviews

Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction
This rare interview with McCarthy was printed just prior to the publication of All the Pretty Horses.

Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers
This discussion between McCarthy and the brothers who adapted his novel No Country for Old Men, touches on aspects of McCarthy's style & the difficulties of film adaptations relevant to All the Pretty Horses.


All the Pretty Horses Movie Trailer
It gives away pretty much the entire plot of both the novel and movie. Spoiler alert?


All the Pretty Horses, the Lullaby
A recording of the lullaby that the novel gets its title from, recorded by Joan Baez


Cormac McCarthy Author Photo
Here's our author in the digital flesh.

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