Judge Holden in Blood MeridianRead about the other books on the list.
I’ve saved the biggest, most awful character for last. If there’s a truer monster than Holden in modern American literature, I don’t know who it is. The judge isn’t the protagonist of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, but he is unquestionably the central character. And while not technically fantasy, this surreal tale of mid-nineteenth century marauders and scalp hunters along the Mexican border takes place in as complex and richly self-contained world as anything conjured up by, for instance, Tolkien. You could describe Blood Meridian as a western, but by its language and imagery it’s a western written by a mad and vengeful Old Testament God. Over the course of the book, the judge murders, rapes, leads hideous raids on bands of Indians and towns, and collects scalps as trophies. Judge Holden is up there with Ahab in terms of obsession, but instead of a white whale, what the judge is seeking is horror itself. He is the personification of endless, mad violence. It’s hinted that the judge might not even be quite human. His strength is phenomenal. His appetites and knowledge are boundless. Near the end of the book we see him dancing in a saloon, “He dances in light and shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”
Blood Meridian is one authority's pick for the Great Texas novel; it is among Jason Sizemore's top five books that will entertain and drop you into the depths of despair, Robert Allison's top ten novels of desert war, Alexandra Silverman's top fourteen wrathful stories, James Franco's six favorite books, Philipp Meyer's five best books that explain America, Peter Murphy's top ten literary preachers, David Vann's six favorite books, Robert Olmstead's six favorite books, Michael Crummey's top ten literary feuds, Philip Connors's top ten wilderness books, six books that made a difference to Kazuo Ishiguro, Clive Sinclair's top 10 westerns, Maile Meloy's six best books, and David Foster Wallace's five direly underappreciated post-1960 U.S. novels. It appears on the New York Times list of the best American fiction of the last 25 years and among the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King.