Letters Cormac McCarthy wrote in 1980 to Robert Coles, Deaderick Montague, and John Fergus Ryan reveal that he was working on “The Passenger” at least by that year, when he expected it to be published after Blood Meridian (1985). The project was partly inspired by an unpublished poem by Louis Diehl about New Orleans jazz clarinetist Leon Roppolo, who is said to have thrown his clarinet into Lake Pontchartrain in an act of artistic suicide. The novel was not to focus on Roppolo, but its origin in the poem McCarthy quotes suggests that the tragic theme of creative potential spoiled or unfulfilled was central to it, and that originally the domain of creativity may have been artistic rather than scientific. Biographical influences that may also inform McCarthy's early thinking about the novel include his familiarity with three men he met in Ibiza in the late 1960s, art forger Elmyr de Hory and writers Clifford Irving and Leslie Garrett, all of whom followed paths that undermined their artistic potential.

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