Cormac McCarthy was born Charles McCarthy Jr. He was the oldest son of Charles Joseph and Gladys Christina McGrail McCarthy, who eventually had six children, three girls and two boys, other than Charles. Though he was originally named Charles he renamed himself Cormac after the Irish King. It has also been said that McCarthy's family was responsible for legally changing his name to Gaelic, which means "Son of Charles." (Priola, Cormac 1). .
When Cormac McCarthy was four years old (1937), the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, and his father became a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Because Cormac was raised a Roman Catholic, he attended Catholic High School in Knoxville, then went on to the University of Tennessee from 1951 through 1952. His major was liberal arts. In 1953, Cormac joined the U.S. Air Force and served four years, two of which was in Alaska, where he hosted a radio show. However, McCarthy returned to the University and wrote in a student literary magazine. In this magazine, The Phoenix, he called himself C.J. McCarthy. In 1959 and 1960, he won the Ingram-Merrill Award for creative writing. During this time he married a woman named Lee Holleman, also a student, and they had a son named Cullen. McCarthy left the University without a degree, and the small family of three moved to Chicago where he worked as an auto mechanic as he wrote his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, which was published in 1965. The McCarthy's returned to Sevierville, Tennessee, where their marriage ended. (Priola, Cormac 1). .
"The Orchard Keeper tells the story of the aged Uncle Ather Ownby, a ferociously independent woodsman who lives at peace with the natural world in a small cabin adjacent to a ruined apple orchard. There, he has been for years quietly tending the corpse of an unknown stranger that mysteriously turned up in his rain-filled spray pit. Ather also attempts to teach his knowledge about the mountains and forests to young John Wesley Rattner, a mountain boy whose father, the petty criminal and con man Kenneth Ratner, has been murdered by Marion Sylder, a local bootlegger.