Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve been fairly taken with Gustave Doré lately. I’m not particularly interested in his depictions of God – it’s always a let down when artists depict God as a mere man (with a beard!) (in a toga!) – but his engravings are arresting. A friend of mine and I were discussing how Salvador Dali’s colors seem to glow and how we can’t seem to figure out how he did that. I feel that way about Doré and his engravings. There is only black and white, yet there seems to be light coming from the inks. Look at the rays from the clouds, and more importantly follow the trajectory of that light as Leviathan attempts to flee. The print would have worked especially well had he left “God” out and just let the light be the thing striking fear into Leviathan. Anthropomorphization must be the Romanticism bleeding through.
The inscription reads: In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea…(Isaiah 27:1).
Source material in illustration is apparently a boon.
They did not know that they were set forth in that company in the place of three men slain in the desert…The jagged mountains were pure blue in the dawn and everywhere birds twittered and the sun when it rose caught the moon in the west so that they lay opposed to each other across the earth, the sun whitehot and the moon a pale replica, as if they were the ends of a common bore beyond whose terminals burned worlds past all reckoning.
– Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian. 1985. First Vintage International Edition, 1992. p. 86.
And then hand it off to Marilynne Robinson:
Every prayer seemed long to me at that age, and I was truly bone tired. I tried to keep my eyes closed, but after a while I had to look around a little. And this is something I remember very well. At first I thought I saw the sun setting in the east; I knew where east was, because the sun was just over the horizon when we got there that morning. Then I realized that what I saw was a full moon rising just as the sun was going down. Each of them was standing on its edge, with the most wonderful light between them. It seemed as if you could touch it, as if there were palpable currents of light passing back and forth, or as if there were great taut skeins of light suspended between them. I wanted my father to see it, but I knew I’d have to startle him out of his prayer, and I wanted to do it the best way, so I took his hand and kissed it. And then I said, “Look at the moon.” And he did. We just stood there until the sun was down and the moon was up. They seemed to float on the horizon for quite a long time, I suppose because they were both so bright you couldn’t get a clear look at them. And that grave, and my father and I, were exactly between them, which seemed amazing to me at the time, since I hadn’t given much thought to the nature of the horizon.
My father said, “I would never have thought this place could be beautiful. I’m glad to know that.”
– Marilynne Robinson. Gilead. 2004. Picador. pp. 14-15.
A while back I bemoaned Cormac McCarthy seeming to choose darkness when light is available. He plays a kind of Dantean Virgil taking his readers to the mountain of dawn in Purgatory and then turning back, unable or unwilling to tread into Paradise.
It’s his work. I’ll let him do what he wants. But I had longed for a Beatrice to his Virgil – someone with McCarthy’s scope and gifts to imagine the light.
These passages will serve as a baton.