Judge Holden

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Judge Holden
'Blood Meridian' character
First appearanceBlood Meridian
Created byCormac McCarthy
Full nameJudge Holden
NicknameThe Judge
AffiliationGlanton Gang

Judge Holden is purportedly a historical person, a murderer who partnered with John Joel Glanton as a professional scalphunter in the mid-19th century.[1] To date, the only source for Holden's existence is Samuel Chamberlain's My Confession, an autobiographical account. 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.

Judge Holden in Blood Meridian[edit]

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, torture, and kill across the borderlands between the United States and Mexico. Throughout the novel, he brutally murders dozens 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.[2]

As depicted in Blood Meridian, Holden is a mysterious figure, a cold-blooded killer and an implied pedophile; aside from the children he openly kills, he is seen enticing children with sweets, and a child often goes missing when he is in the vicinity. Further, at one point in the novel he is seen with a naked 12-year-old girl in his room. Holden displays a preternatural breadth of knowledge and skills—paleontology, archaeology, linguistics, law, technical drawing, geology, chemistry, prestidigitation, and philosophy, to name a few.

He is described as seven feet tall and completely bereft of body hair, including no eyebrows or eyelashes. He is massive in frame, enormously strong, an excellent musician and dancer, a fine draftsman, exceptionally articulate and persuasive in several languages, and an unerring marksman. His skin is so pale as to have almost no pigment. This strange appearance, as well as his keen, extremely fast reflexes, strength, agility, apparent immunity to sleep and aging, and multifarious other abilities point to his being something other than a normal human being.

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.

Scholarly debate[edit]

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, who declared McCarthy's Holden to be "the most frightening figure in all of American literature",[3] has even come to regard The Judge as immortal.[4] However, unlike Daugherty, Bloom argues that The Judge defies identification as any being under any "system" such as Gnosticism, citing the passage in the book stating that there was no "system by which to divide [The Judge] back into his origins".[5] Rather, Bloom "resort[s]" to literary comparison with Shakespeare's Iago, a methodical dispenser of strife.[6]


  1. ^ "John Glanton". xroads.virginia.edu.
  2. ^ Paik, Christine. "NPR: 100 Best Fictional Characters Since 1900". www.npr.org.
  3. ^ Hartman, Andrew (January 14, 2014). "Blood Meridian and Its Implications". U.S. Intellectual History Blog. Allendale, Michigan: Society for U.S. Intellectual History. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  4. ^ Hage, Eric (2010). Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786455591.
  5. ^ Bloom, Harold. Novelists and Novels. New York City: Infobase Publishing. p. 535. ISBN 978-0791093733.
  6. ^ Turner, Edwin (September 30, 2010). ""The Authentic American Apocalyptic Novel" — Harold Bloom on Blood Meridian". Biblioklept. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)