Study Guide

The Judge in Blood Meridian

By Cormac McCarthy

The Judge

The Troublemaker

We meet Judge Holden within the first few pages of this book. He stands up in the middle of a preacher's sermon and informs the crowd that this man is a fraud:

In truth, the gentleman standing here before you posing as a minister of the Lord is not only totally illiterate but is also wanted by the law in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas. (1.21)

He speaks so persuasively that the town descends on the preacher with murderous blows. When asked afterward how he knew the preacher's story, the judge admits the he made everything up. Everyone finds this pretty funny, but hopefully we readers realize that the judge just got some guy beaten within an inch of his life for the sheer fun of it. This guy would definitely be on Santa's naughty list.

Even before he starts speaking, the judge gives off a weird vibe. The narrator tells us numerous times that the man has a strange appearance, beginning with the fact that there not a single hair on his entire body. Oh yeah, and his skin is pure white:

The enormous dome of his head when he bared it was blinding white and perfectly circumscribed about so that it looked to have been painted. (6.32)

It's almost as if the judge is an egg, with no way in and no way out. It would definitely help explain why it's so hard to get any details about the guy's past. You have to wonder whether this guy ever even had a childhood or if he was just born a seven-foot man. And whether he shaves or waxes. We can only dream of having legs as smooth as his must be.

So… is He the Devil or Not?

The more we learn about the judge, the more we realize that this guy's a little too good at everything he does. As the ex-priest Tobin tells the kid, the judge "can cut a trail, shoot a rifle, ride a horse, track a deer. He's been all over the world" (10.21). Later on, we hear about what an amazing dancer the guy is, despite the fact that he's seven-feet tall. One of Glanton's men sees the judge one night dancing naked during a storm:

Someone had reported the judge naked atop the walls, immense and pale in the revelations of lightning, striding the perimeter up there and declaiming in the old epic mode. (9.55)

Let's not forget that these old walls are topped with broken glass. So how is the judge doing this without hurting his feet? We know for sure that he's crazy. Now it's just a question of whether he's supernatural…and if he's a big Annie Lennox fan.

At the end of the book, we don't know what's happened to the kid. But the last thing we see is the judge leading a dance inside the saloon. The book closes by telling us:

He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die. (23.218)

Now to be fair, the judge just says he'll never die. But from what we've seen in this book, that might just be true. After all, he's gotten himself out of all kinds of jams and he hasn't aged a bit since the kid first met him. But when it comes to figuring out for sure whether he's some sort of demon or just a crazy dude, McCarthy leaves us hanging. Either way, he sounds like he'd at least be a hoot to go out dancing with—if you can keep up.

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