True Grit-Written by Charles Portis. (Also: The Film!)

2 02 2011

“The wicked flee when none purseuth.”

Mattie Ross, a young girl of only 14 goes in search of the man who shot her father down in the small Arkansas town of Fort Smith. With characters such as rooster Cogburn and the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf,  I cannot give enough praise to this novel. Please read on, reader!

Mattie Ross is only 14 years old when her father is killed. She is sent up to Fort Smith to recover her father’s belongings and to send his body back home. Yet, she takes it upon herself to do much more than that. Mattie is seeking justice. Tom Chaney shot her father dead, and she plans to see him hanged for it. The plot is rather simple: Young girl hunts down the man who killed her father in the Old West. Yet, it is not completely the plot that makes up a novel. True Grit may only be 224 pages, but those 224 pages make up one of the best books I have ever read.

Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney in the 2010 adaptation of True Grit.

One thing I praise about True Grit is its simplicity as a piece of writing. Reading the novel is as far away from reading Hamlet as one can get. The reader will not be confused by overused metaphors. True Grit is written from the perspective of Mattie, but as an elderly woman. Yet, the writing reminds one of how a 14 year old girl would tell the story, which really places the reader into the story. The book draws from its simplicity. The scenes in which the novel takes place hardly get a description, if any at all. Portis focuses on the story, and the characters. The novel describes the scenes simply, giving little detail on the surrounding areas. When novels such as “Age of Innocence” spend 10 pages describing curtains, True Grit spends 10 pages of a drunk Rooster Cogburn narrating his exciting life. Take you pick, but personally I would have gun battles over drapes any day of the week.

One aspect of the novel that really impressed me about True Grit was the characters. Portis spends a long time building each character, and describing each character from the eyes of Mattie.


Mattie Ross

Mattie is very mature for her age. In the beginning of the novel, I was worried that it would just be another stiff and bland female main character: boy, was I wrong. Mattie is very witty, and quick to insult anyone that decides to argue with her or insult her first. Mattie is a businesswoman in a way, and can talk anybody down from a price or an offer. She constantly mentions her lawyer back home, Lawyer Daggett, and will tell most of the services he can offer them if they help her. She is quick to judge, and slow to forgive. Mattie Ross is very serious, but will play around with Rooster and LaBoeuf, insulting them, and poking fun at them. Mattie’s adventure is told stunningly from a 14 year old’s eye. Mattie may be the most interesting character in the story, tied with Rooster of course. The bravery it would take for a 14 year old girl to ride into the violent Indian Territory to seek justice for her father’s murder is insurmountable, even if the story is fictional.

Mattie is played by Hailee Steinfeld in the 2010 Coen Brother’s film. The Coen Brothers, or whomever their casting director is couldn’t have picked anyone better. I am sure I will say that for every actor and actress from this movie. Steinfeld acts with pomp, and acts as if she lords over everyone in the movie. She speaks with a convincing accent, and does a wonderful job with Mattie’s witty retorts and lengthy speeches. Her acting is not overdown, and has just he perfect amount of young child trying to act grown up to it. A perfect casting job.

Rooster Cogburn

Rooster Cogburn is a US Marshal. Rooster is known for his itchy trigger finger, and for riding with less-than-reputable folks during the Civil War. Rooster, throughout the movie and the novel, is in an almost constant state of drunkenness. It is said he is the toughest Marshal around. Mattie finds Rooster living in the back of a Chinese shop with his cat General Sterling Price. Rooster had been married before, but he was too much of a drunk to be too much of a ladies man. Rooster is one of the most loveable characters I have ever found in a novel. One would think that a man who has killed 25 men could not make a “loveable” character, but Portis pulls off the stunt of making Rooster loveable. Rooster is caring of Mattie, and cares for her well being. Also, he owns a cat. What guy is mean and owns a cat? Anyways, at one point in the story LaBoeuf becomes tired of Mattie’s sharp tounge and persistence, and proceeds to beat her. Rooster only watches this for so long until he draws his pistol on LaBoeuf, and politely asks him to stop. Rooster is a very interesting character, and all around built well. He may be a drunk, and a former criminal, but he is still one of the best protagonists I have come across in any novel. Rooster rode with Cole Younger and Frank James during the Civil War, but left that life to become a Marshal. Rooster is kind-hearted, and is only looking to make a living for himself and his cat.

“Rooster cut the rope with his dirk knife and the mule breathed easy again. The grateful beast wandered off shaking his head about. A cypress stump served for a step up to the porch. Rooster went up and first and walked over to the two boys and kicked them off into the mud with the flat of his boot, ‘Call that sport, do you?’ said he.”

Once again, the actor who played Rooster in the Coen Brother’s film couldn’t have been a better choice. Jeff Bridges is gruff enough to pass as an old marshal, and can pass as a drunk pretty easily. There is not bad acting from Bridges, or any of the cast for the most part. Jeff Bridges plays Rooster perfectly.

The Texas Ranger LaBoeuf

LaBoeuf is a pompous Texas Ranger who is handsome, and a bit of an asshole. He is searching for Cheney too, but only too get a reward in Texas, after Cheney killed a Texas Senator. Before Rooster sets out to find Cheney, he teams up with LaBoeuf, and Mattie soon hunts the duo down to join in on the bloody fun. Mattie is always arguing with LaBoeuf, and LaBoeuf always must poke fun at Mattie’s age. LaBoeuf does not speak too much, Portis leaves that to Rooster. LaBoeuf seems like a jerk until the end of the novel, when he takes part in saving Mattie’s life and helps Mattie gain the revenge on Cheney that Mattie so desperately wanted.

In the 2010 movie adaptation of True Grit, LaBoeuf is played by Matt Damon. Once again, that acting is superb. Damon plays LeBoeuf perfectly; from his pompous arrogant ways, to his heroic moment. Another perfect acting job.

“Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt.”


Rooster, gettin' his drink on.

I won’t say much about the movie, since this blog was specifically for the novel. The movie was wonderful. I saw the movie before I read the book, andafter reading the book I realize that the movie captures the book perfectly. I would almost suggest going to see the movie first, to give yourself an idea of what the scenes and characters of the novel look like. The movie captures the characters and the various scenes perfectly. The movie nearly takes the dialogue out of the book word for word. Some may say that this is just plain lazy of the Coen Brothers, but I think it was a marvelous idea. The movie captures the heart and soul of the novel perfectly. If you hear anybody say, “I refuse to see the movie because it will not do the book justice!”, slap them with a glove and demand a duel of pistols at high noon. the movie captures the book perfectly. The book is wonderful, as is the movie-the end.

Now readers, absorb my opinion, go read the book, and agree with me!




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