by Charles Portis
John Wayne's acting and Marguerite Roberts' screenplay was my first taste of True Grit, Charles Portis 1968 western. Portis' story endures because his subject, courage in the face of injustice, is universal. Yes, many stories tell that story, but not with such an unforgettable cast of characters: Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, the unscrupulous and recalcitrant upholder of the law, Mattie Ross (who narrates the story), seeking justice for the murder of her father by the gun of Tom Cheney, the antagonist, who is running with the Lucky Ned Peppergang. And then there is the Cogburn foil, La Boeuf, the Texas Ranger with a chip on his shoulder and a soft spot in his heart for the young Mattie.
Early on Mattie says,
I bought some crackers and a piece of hoop cheese and an apple at a grocery store and sat on a nail keg by the stove and had a cheap, yet nourishing lunch. You know what they say, "Enough is as good as a feast."
True Grit is a feast. It is a feast because it is enough -- enough character development, enough tension, enough story, and enough beautiful writing to tame an afternoon, if not enough to tame the Wild West.
Why "True Grit"? Eliot Fremont-Smith, former book critic for the New York Times put is so well:
True grit is when you are a 14-year-old girl from Yell County, Arkansas, and you just shot a dangerous outlaw, and the gun's recoil has sent you backwards into a pit, and you are wedged in the pit and sinking fast into the cave below where bats are brushing against your legs, and you reach out for something to hold onto and find a rotting corpse beside you and it’s full of angry rattlers, and then it turns out you didn’t kill the outlaw, he’s up at the rim of the pit laughing at you, about to shoot you – and you don’t lose your nerve. That’s true grit!
Perhaps you've seen the movie (1969 or 2010). Now it's time to read the book!