Outer Dark

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First edition (Random House)

Outer Dark is the second novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy, published in 1968. The time and setting are nebulous, but can be assumed to be somewhere in Appalachia, sometime around the turn of the twentieth century.


The novel tells of a woman (Rinthy) who bears her brother's baby. The brother, Culla, leaves the nameless infant in the woods to die, but he tells his sister that the newborn died of natural causes and had to be buried. Rinthy discovers this lie and decides to set out and find the baby for herself.

Meanwhile, the baby has been discovered in the woods and taken by a nameless tinker.

Culla strikes out aimlessly across the country attempting to escape the circumstances that have enshrouded him and forget his sins. Rinthy, despite her post-labor state, tries in vain to track down the Tinker. The siblings' personalities and modes of behavior are very similar, but their experiences differ greatly.

Outer Dark was made into an independent film directed by Stephen Imwalle with Azel James playing the role of Culla and Jamie Dunne playing Rinthy.

Recent essays have questioned the physical existence of the three bad men. Critics have posited that they could have been a projection of Culla, who, everywhere he went, was suspected of wrongdoing by the local townspeople. It seems that he's wrongly persecuted at every step, but questions of whether the narration complies with his psychological denial abound. Or that the three bad men represented the evil in Culla, and consequently in man, and that he was actually responsible for all the killings in the countryside in addition to the death, or metaphysical death, of his baby. The fabular tale has been open to myriad interpretations by its readers, and various theories abound regarding the ending: Culla meets Death on the road, and death lets him by, denoting the aspect of humanity in which man is an extension of Death and does his work for him.

Culla's journey[edit]

After abandoning his sister upon her discovery of the fake grave he created in the woods, Culla sets off walking from town to town looking for work. The attitudes of the country people he encounters are wary and suspicious. When calamity strikes a community all eyes turn to him, no matter how remote the chances are that he was involved in any way. Citizens and strangers accuse him of theft, murder, trespassing, and even inciting a herd of hogs to stampede. No matter where he journeys or who he interacts with it ends tragically. It seems he cannot outdistance the punishment for his original sin.

Rinthy's journey[edit]

Rinthy is taken in and helped by nearly everyone she meets. She usually asks for mere cups of water and winds up with room and board and invitations to stay as long as she pleases. Although her demeanor and style of communicating are similar to her brother's, she can evade the few instances of trouble presented her.