It's no secret.
My favorite western novel - absolutely favorite - is True Grit by Charles Portis. Why? The authentic dialogue. The in-depth narrative. The action-packed plot. The unique characters, both major and minor. What's not to like?
The novel first came out as a serial edition in The Saturday Evening Post in 1968. And just look at this classic illustration! Clearly this is a gritty heroine. By her dress, a reader knows she's not rich. She's also not pretty, like many of the heroines we see now on book covers. She holds the rifle as if she knows full well how to use it. And she has that determined look in her face. Oh yeah.
So what exactly does "true grit" mean? "Unyielding courage in the face of danger, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and & Culture, which has an entire page
devoted to Charles McColl Portis (born in 1933) and considered one of the state's finest writers. His other books haven't sold in the millions like True Grit - and only Norwood was made into a film in 1970, also starring Glen Campbell, after the first version of True Grit came out in 1969. Everyone knows the film earned a Best Actor Oscar for John Wayne's portrayal of Rooster Cogburn.
book - long after I saw the 1969 movie as a young teen. I discovered, as many know, that the book is far better than the movie. But our culture is becoming far more visual, and a film gives us that expansive view of what the setting is like, and I was mesmerized by the cinematography of the first movie. But it wasn't filmed in Oklahoma - instead, in California and Colorado! It was also far more colorful, while the 2010 movie seemed grittier - and filmed in Texas and New Mexico. Guess Arkansas and Oklahoma weren't available. (wink)
While I enjoyed the Duke's portrayal despite him being far too old for the role, I sensed Kim Darby wasn't right (and I was right) nor was Glen Campbell as LaBoeuf. I didn't consider any of these actors while reading the book - Portis' characterizations contain plenty of strong descriptive passages. The incredible dialogue blew me away. A novel is supposed to sweep the reader off their feet and carry them away into its world. I can attest that when I picked up Portis' novel, True Grit, I became totally immersed in the 1800s setting and eagerly followed Mattie Ross' journey to track her father's killer.
The story is a classic - following the hero's journey (not all stages, but the most important) when Mattie accepts the call to adventure (her decision to track down Chaney), gaining a mentor and ally in Rooster Cogburn, faces tasks and trials (convincing Rooster and LaBoeuf to allow her to join the search, dealing with criminals in the cabin), and surviving a severe challenge (abduction by Ned Pepper's gang, the fall into the snake pit after facing Chaney.) It's a great action plot, with plenty of gunfire - and both the 1969 and 1910 film showed Rooster's hell-bent-for-leather shoot-out with his rival and gang-leader Ned Pepper. Also, Rooster's mercenary ways are redeemed when he saves Mattie from death. I loved it. Totally loved it. It's a book I'd read again and again, like many true classics.
And of course, as many people know, I was inspired to write Double Crossing due to True Grit's "heroine facing a challenge." While I twisted the theme (adding betrayal to Lily's challenge to survive) and utilized the newly opened transcontinental railroad instead of horses, I included some character traits from both Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf - rolling them into Ace Diamond. He's a Texan, ex-Confederate, expert fighter with or without weapons, and also courageous despite his mercenary tendencies.
Double Crossing will be re-released in July - with a new cover - but it's available in hardcover large print (as seen on the right) as well as in Audiobook from Audible.com.
I have to give Charles Portis a rousing "yeehaw" for his book's influence. If you haven't read True Grit, I urge you to RUN to the bookstore or switch now via this link and buy it! IMMEDIATELY. And then relax, in a comfy chair by the fire, with a great beverage (your choice) nearby, and READ.