What 14-year-old Mattie Ross doesn't have in age and experience she makes up for double in spunk! This is what will have you loving True Grit by Charles Portis! When Mattie looks for a man with no nonsense determination, and someone who can take care of business without a lot of fuss- someone with True Grit, she finds Rooster Cogburn. And we find a great story of the American West. It's adventure, it's revenge, it's redemption. It's the landscape of the wild west. It's friendship, it's survival, it's ultimately knowing what's right and wrong. True Grit is made up of all the elements of a true classic, with a remarkable cast of unforgettable characters on a quest to fulfill their destinies, and we are fortunate to be able to go along for the ride. (On horseback no less!)
True Grit is the story of Mattie Ross avenging her fathers senseless murder by a low-life drifter, Tom Chaney, that worked for him. The story is told by Mattie Ross, many years later, in a matter of fact tone that is one of her endearing qualities...
"People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day."
It becomes clear from the start of the story that Mattie is mature way beyond her years as she boards a train with Yarnell Pointdexter, a black man who Mattie's Papa arranged to look in on his family while he was traveling with Chaney to buy some ponies some "seventy miles as the bird flies" in Fort Smith. She boards that train to claim the body of her father, but as circumstances present themselves, what turned out to be a simple plan to bring her father home became an adventure through Indian territory to avenge her father's murder by hunting down the man who killed him and bring him to justice... the same kind of justice her father received.
What she finds when she gets to Fort Smith is a sheriff who was apathetic at best. The sheriff assumed Tom Chaney the murderer (actually the sheriff didn't even have Chaney's name right) had fled to the Indian Territories, which local authorities have no authority over, but the sheriff had asked for a fugitive warranty on Tom Chaney with the federal authorities, which are the U.S. Marshalls. Were the U.S. Marshalls on the trail yet? Well Mattie Ross was going to take care of all that herself...
"Who is the best marshal they have?"
The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, "I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a helf-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for a sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have."
I said, "Where can I find this Rooster?"
And so the adventure begins. True Grit has been compared to Huckleberry Finn, but there is nothing light-hearted about Mattie Ross or Rooster Cogburn. That's not to say there isn't humor to be found throughout the story, it's just that the beauty of Charles Portis' writing is his ability to let the humor shine through without distracting you from the story. And where that story brings you is across the American landscape shortly after the Civil War. There is this under current of the after effects of a war where neighbor fought neighbor, which helps shape the landscape of men that existed back then. Portis also paints a wonderful picture of the desolation and isolation the wild west had to offer, which is often times romanticized in literature. I could feel the cold through my coat, and the sting of the snow against my face.
If you want to open the pages to memorable characters, great writing, and a story that will have you wanting more, get yourself a copy of True Grit by Charles Portis to read. I can turn to any page in that book now and enjoy just reading a part of it, and it will be one of those books I can see myself rereading some point in time.
About the author
Charles Portis has long been acclaimed as one of America's foremost comic writers. True Grit is his most famous novel--first published in 1968, and the basis for the movie of the same name starring John Wayne. It tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.
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