Foreword: I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the John Wayne classic and recent remake film, True Grit. Well, it’s actually based off a classic of the same name. I decided to tackle it after watching the movie and really enjoying it.
There are few books that really capture the harshness of revenge and vengeance. But as the name suggests, this book really gets what it is to have true grit (forgive my lameness). It revolves around a young girl named Mattie Ross, whose father is murdered by a man called Tom Chaney. Realizing that no one will pursue him and bring him to justice, she employes a Marshal called Rooster Cogburn. It isn’t long before a cheeky Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, joins their traveling party and helps them bring the criminal to justice. Although a strong team, there is no lack of fighting, shooting and danger as they enter Indian Territory.
If anyone has seen the John Wayne version, pretty much everyone concedes that while it is a great film, it is also pretty lame. A great story with great actors, however for a film based on grit, it’s pretty strange to have clean shirts, shaved faces and perfect makeup. The second film, which was released in 2010, seemed to focus on this image of dirt, blood and pain which really made me interested in what the book could be like.
So I quested towards this book, which was really hard to find and had to eventually order online, put it on my bedside table and didn’t look at it for another month or two. When I finally picked it up, I raised an eyebrow at how thin it was and then flicked it open. And wow, what a book it was! I finished it in only a day because I just couldn’t put it down.
Charles Portis has an amazing way of describing a scene without actually going into depth about scenery or imagery. Mattie Ross is an interesting character who narrates every event with both a mature and naive sense of moral righteousness. By the frankness of her thoughts and words, it’s quite easy to see her and her companions and the life that she leads. In a strange way, too much depth would almost take away from her practical and sensible way of getting a situation across in just a few words.
It’s quite rare to find a book which has absolutely no interest in romance and to be honest, it is incredibly refreshing. Of course, there are creepy inserts by Laboeuf in the direction of Mattie but they are nothing more then far flung insults. There is the suggesting (SPOILER) that Mattie as an adult has never quite forgotten Rooster but as far as her youthful experiences go, she’s incredibly independent. Mattie herself is a great female character and a great insight into how clever and resourceful kids can be when they are on a mission. She is constantly underestimated and always rises to the challenge to prove her critics wrong. Both the movie and the book have reaffirmed my love of this character. Below is just a quote from the book which I think shows her blunt way of thought and her strange sense of humor:
“On his deathbed he asked for a priest and became a Catholic. That was his wife’s religion. It was his own business and none of mine. If you had sentenced one hundred and sixty men to death and seen around eighty of them swing, then maybe at the last minute you would feel the need for some stronger medicine than the Methodists could make.” – Mattie Ross
Rooster Cogburn is also an interesting masculine character. He’s a great representation of both an ignorant fatherly figure and a supporting friend. Being such a complicated character, he does grow within the reader’s opinion throughout the book. In the end, it’s really Mattie’s character which improves his, as evident by his drunken ramblings. Laboeuf is also a great character who begins as quite a negative figure and then slowly improves in his character. He is in no way a villain, as Tom Chaney is (who really isn’t explored much) but he does trick and scheme his way into the traveling group for the reward money. The relationship between Rooster and Laboeuf is one of the highlights of the book and I believe that this small quote seems to represent that strange tryst quite well:
“You do not think much of me, do you, Cogburn?” [Laboeuf]
“I don’t think about you at all when your mouth is closed.” [Rooster]
For the short length of the novel, Charles Portis really does explore Mattie and Cogburn exceptionally well. For that reason, I feel that my 8 out of 10 is well earned by Charles who, for his time, has created a novel that is rich and emotionally complex.
Of course, John Wayne’s classic has to be mentioned. Filmed in 1969, it is remarkable for not only bringing this great story to life but for rewarding John with his first and last Academy Award for Best Actor. It’s definitely a classic and a great film to check out, but of course features the drama and sometimes cliche acting methods of the ‘olden days.
2010 was a great year for films and True Grit was no exception. I found it to be not only entertaining but inspiring. It at least pushed me towards the book and the exploration of cowboy and gunslinging types. I would even suggest this version over the 1969 film but there is something to be said for a classic, which the original was.