Saturday, March 12, 2011

True Grit by Charles Portis

Anyone with electricity has seen the John-Wayne movie version of "True Grit" and, although I probably wouldn’t switch TV channels from “Untold Stories of the ER” to watch it (again), it’s a pretty good version, winning Wayne an academy award in 1970 for his portrayal of one of the main characters, Rooster Cogburn.  

Now we have the 2010 version with Jeff Bridges playing Cogburn. Neither John Wayne nor Jeff Bridges float my boat, but the Cohen brothers do. They produced the new version of the movie as well as "Blood Simple", "Raising Arizona", "Fargo" and "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" Love them.

But what I really want to talk about is Charles Portis’ book True Grit, which is a story about Mattie Ross, who in 1875, at the age of 14,  hired Rooster Cogburn to catch or kill Tom Chaney, the man who murdered her father.  Although there’s nothing particularly outstanding about the story, two things about this book are: Mattie and Portis’ writing.

Portis’ writing is minimalist like Cormac McCarthy, and wry and clever unlike anyone I’ve read before. Here are a few choice examples.  Dying outlaw, about his partner who’d just shot him:  “He never played me false until he killed me.”  Rooster Cogburn challenging an outlaw threatening to draw on him: “Fill your hand you son of a bitch!”  Texas Ranger complaining when Mattie insulted him: “A little earlier I gave some thought to stealin' a kiss from you, but now I'm of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt.” Mattie’s response: “Well, one would be as unpleasant as the other.” Mattie, as Rooster and the Texas Ranger gallop off, trying to lose her: “Those horses can't get away from Little Blackie. They're loaded down with fat men and iron.”

When my book club read True Grit, all we could talk about was how unique and entertaining Mattie’s character was. Her argument with a horse trader is one of the best dialogues I’ve ever read. How an ex-Marine journalist like Portis ever came up with and wrote so charmingly about a 14-year-old girl is an entrancing mystery. Oh, and for the record, Portis' book isn’t about Rooster Cogburn, John Wayne or Jeff Bridges’ “true grit”; it’s about Mattie’s, and I loved it.


  1. I think we have been drinking from the same teapot! I was so impressed with True Grit (the book) that I read it twice. How have we missed Portis all this time? Now I intend to check out everything he has written - love his style and am glad you do, too! Charlena

  2. It's me again! You picked some good quotes - here are a couple of mine -when Rooster says "Who all is in there? Speak up and be quick about it!" The reply, "A Methodist and a son-of-a-bitch!" And also "I call that bold talk from a one-eyed fat man!" And "No grit? Rooster Cogburn? Not much!" I'm with you - forget both movie versions and read the book! Charlena

  3. And, the Coen Brothers tried hard to stick with the book in their remake. We couldn't help but review the movie.

    Oh, come on!! SalGal does a mean Rooster!!

    KK and Sal

  4. Dog of the South by Portis is very funny. I also loved Master's of Atlantis which makes fun of the Masonic Temple and is just hilarious.

    Norwood and Gringos are OK but not up to True Grit standards. Most of these stories are a basic template of someone who is forces into taking a defining trip of a lifetime and all the characters they meet and have to deal with. Master's of Atlantis does not stick strictly to the template.