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slight hint

Judge Holden

Judge Holden is purportedly a historical person, a murderer who partnered with John Joel Glanton as a professional scalphunter in the mid-19th century. To date, the only source for Holden's existence is Samuel Chamberlain's My Confession, an autobiographical account which has been criticized as unreliable. Chamberlain described Holden as well-spoken, intelligent and physically quite large. He also described Holden as perhaps the most ruthless of the roving band of killers led by Glanton.

A fictionalized Holden is a central figure in Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian. In the novel, he and Glanton are the leaders of a pack of nomadic criminals who rob, rape, and kill across the border between Texas and Mexico. He is described as seven foot tall and completely bereft of body hair. One study of the novel reports that Holden is "unscrupulous, violent, and more than a little spooky." . Throughout the novel, he murders scores of people, including children. Finding verification of Holden's existence has been a hobby for some Cormac McCarthy scholars.

In 2002, Book magazine rated Holden, as appearing in Blood Meridian, as the 43rd greatest character in fiction since 1900.

Judge Holden in Blood Meridian

As depicted in Blood Meridian, Holden is a mysterious but authoritative figure, a cold-blooded killer, and possibly a pedophile. Aside from the children he openly kills, he is seen enticing children with sweets, and a child often goes missing from locations when he is in the vicinity. Holden displays a preternatural breadth of knowledge and skills - paleontology, archaeology, linguistics, law, technical drawing, geology, prestidigitation, and philosophy, to name a few.

The assumption that Holden is an albino may well be mistaken. His paleness is not a feature of albinos only, and there is no indication that he has colorless irises, poor eyesight or the extreme sensitivity to sunlight that this normally entails. A slight hint might be that at the well (watering hole) where, after the ferry slaughter, he is insistent upon obtaining Toadvine's hat. He is entirely hairless, not even having eyebrows or eyelashes, very unusual for any human being; the trait is common in people with alopecia universalis. This strange appearance, as well as Holden's awareness and anticipation of situations, enormous strength, quick reactions, apparent immunity to sleep and aging, and other abilities point to his being something other than human. In Blood Meridian, he may represent the incarnation of war itself. His supreme knowledge of ballistics, tactics, and melee combat indicate a certain affinity toward the art of battle. Furthermore, he makes several speeches regarding the propensity of man towards war. In the final pages of the novel, McCarthy makes more direct reference to the Judge as a supernatural entity, or even as a concept, personified.

In the novel, Holden delights in misleading, manipulating and setting men against one another, and in complex argument. Holden mysteriously appears at the crucial time before the Apache siege of the volcano. Also, he is the best prepared for the Yuma attack on the ferry (one assumes that the cannon was not normally in his room). It is hinted that he plays a part in Tobin's final disappearance, as well as the arrest of Toadvine and Brown. He mysteriously knows the details of Tobin's ecclesiastical background. He sketches interesting artifacts and botanizes in his notebooks but habitually destroys at least some of whatever he discovers.

Scholarly debate

In his essay "Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy", literature professor Leo Daugherty argued that McCarthy's Holden is — or at least embodies — a gnostic archon, a kind of demon. Harold Bloom declared that McCarthy's Holden is "the most frightening figure in all of American literature" and compared him favorably with Shakespeare's Iago.

References

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