Life Imitating Art, But Softly: Russian Meteor a Mini-Version of the Fireball That Ends Civilization in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"

So I’ve been teaching Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985) for the last two weeks, although the more I know about the novel, the more I’m struck that it needs an entire semester to cover thoroughly—though if I did that, I imagine the students would rebel like Comanches. This week I was comparing the end of Blood Meridian with the end of McCarthy’s end-o-the-world masterpiece, The Road (2006), and as if on cue, here comes a meteor streaking across the Russian skies, causing $33 million dollars in damages and injuring over a thousand people, the same day as a bigger asteroid made a close fly-by. As readers of The Road well know, the event that kicks the apocalypse in motion is some mysterious flash in the sky, followed by horrific fires that burn the world to an ashy crisp. Various interviews and glimpses of what Cormac had in mind are available online, some that hint of an asteroid impact, such as here, while others that hint at a super volcano.
Here’s what he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, regarding what caused the destruction at the outset of The Road: “A lot of people ask me. I don’t have an opinion. At the Santa Fe Institute I’m with scientists of all disciplines, and some of them in geology said it looked like a meteor to them. But it could be anything—volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who’ve gone diving in Yellowstone Lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it could go on Thursday. No one knows.”
Personally I think he’s being coy—the clocks stoppage at 1:17, the streak of light in the sky both tip the hand toward asteroid impact. There are also later descriptions in the novel that detail a line of cars fleeing from an area, buildings that seem to have withstood some great cosmic blast, with their glass now melted, and I think you could posit that the asteroid actually impacts somewhere in the southern United States. And, tellingly, meteor is the first thing he mentioned when asked the question. So watch the many terrific videos on YouTube of the Russian meteor lighting up the sky, and think The Road. Count your lucky stars you’re not trying to outrun a cannibal, too.

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