Cody ’13 Shares Cormac McCarthy Conference Stage with Professor
Providence College English major Thomas R. Cody ’13 (Wilton, Conn.) was just 1-year-old when Cormac McCarthy’s landmark novel, All the Pretty Horses (Alfred A. Knopf), was published in 1992.
Dr. Russell M. Hillier, PC assistant professor of English, was living in London when he discovered the tome in a second-hand bookshop.
Twenty years later, the pair’s mutual admiration for the author found them sharing the dais as presenters at The Cormac McCarthy Society’s annual conference in Berea, Ky.
The society is dedicated to furthering the scholarship and general appreciation of the writer and his work. The conference included presentations by more than 40 McCarthy scholars and independent researchers from around the world.
Born in Providence, R.I., and raised in Knoxville, Tenn., McCarthy has written 10 novels, spanning the Southern Gothic, Western, and Post-apocalyptic genres. He won the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006). His 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men (Alfred A. Knopf), was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. For All the Pretty Horses, he won both the U.S. National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.
Love at first read
Cody’s interest in McCarthy was fueled by a 2011 course he took with Hillier on English poet John Milton. After reading All the Pretty Horses last summer, Cody “fell in love” with McCarthy’s writing and asked Hillier to supervise an independent study where he would read and report on the author’s major works.
Hillier was quick to oblige and cited Cody’s intellectual curiosity and self-motivation as reasons he arranged a special study opportunity.
“Tommy is mature beyond his years, both in his character and in his scholarly aptitude. He is a natural self-learner, which is a wonderful thing,” said Hillier.
“Before Christmas, I asked Tommy to knuckle down and read as much McCarthy as he could. By the time the spring semester began in January, he had read almost everything in the author’s oeuvre — nine novels and three plays.”
Hillier encouraged Cody to submit an abstract proposal to the McCarthy conference’s selection committee. Three weeks later, he was notified of his acceptance, and he honed his presentation topic — “John Grady Cole, the American Moses: All the Pretty Horses and the Exodus Mythos.”
By pointing out McCarthy’s use of imagery and themes of exile from the Book of Exodus in The Old Testament, Cody argued that McCarthy broke the archetypal mold of the myth of the American Adam and created a new archetype in his main character, John Grady Cole, an American Moses.
Cody acknowledged the help and encouragement he received from Hillier in preparing for his first conference presentation.
“Presenting a paper at a conference was a new experience for me,” said Cody. “I was a little overwhelmed at first by the prospect of appearing in front of a large group of professors who have been studying McCarthy for decades, but Dr. Hillier was a great mentor and helped me immensely in preparation. The professors and scholars there were incredibly welcoming and supportive.”
Hillier also was an invited presenter. His paper, “The Judge’s Molar: Infanticide and the Meteorite in Blood Meridian,” examined one of McCarthy’s most troubling characters — the Judge. Hillier analyzed a single paragraph from the novel Blood Meridian (Random House, 1985) and the way in which its allusions, images, and concerns permeate other aspects of the narrative and its vast moral design.
“I know of no other writer writing in English today who can hold a candle to McCarthy. That is high praise, I know,” said Hillier.
Cody is thrilled with the way his presentation was received and looks forward to a lifetime of McCarthy scholarship.
“When you read almost 10 novels by the same author in the span of just over a month and never get tired of him, you know he is something special,” said Cody.
— John Larson
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