Sunday, April 21, 2013


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.

TRUE grit.

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.

Michael Cleary considered Portis to be "one of the most inventively comic writers of western fiction" in his essay on the writer, included in Twentieth Century Western Writers (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1982). I'd have to agree with that, since there are many places I laughed out loud while reading the
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

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.


Meg Mims is an award-winning author and artist. She writes blended genres – historical, western, adventure, romance, suspense and mystery.

Her first book, Double Crossing, won the 2012 Spur Award for Best First Novel from Western Writers of America, was named a Finalist in the Best Books of 2012 from USA Book News for Fiction: Western, and was named a Top 12 Book Pick from The Spiritual Woman. 

Double or Nothing is the sequel. Meg has also written two contemporary romance novellas, The Key to Love and Santa Paws — which reached the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list. She earned an MA from Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program in 2010.


  1. Thanks, Meg, for this post on Charles Portis. Despite being one of the least known (or, perhaps, least promoted) writers, he stands as a unique literary craftsman of our time.

  2. Meg, I remember reading True Grit when I was about 11 or 12, and just loving it. I must confess, I love the John Wayne original movie, but was not crazy at all about Glen Campbell or Kim Darby--still, that movie as a whole is one of my favorites. It's too bad they didn't film some of it in Oklahoma/Arkansas where it was to have taken place. There is some beautiful country in that area. Great post, Meg.

  3. I agree, Tom -- why don't peeps celebrate Portis for exactly those traits. Unique and definitely a master writer. And Cheryl, I loved Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. Spot on, really. And the ending is from the book, which is also perfect. But I do love them both, for different reasons. I still like the book better. LOL

  4. As I've said before, the deputy US Marshals I 'grew up' with all quoted True Grit daily and watched it as if it was a training video. I can't count the times I've shown the big shootout scene where Rooster says takes Beau's reins in his teeth and Ned Pepper's gang.
    We promoted a young lady to supervisory deputy a few years ago. For months, I would say things like: "you can't serve papers on a rat, baby sister..."
    Finally, she said: "Chief, why do you keep calling me baby sister?" I said, "You know, True Grit."
    She said..."What's True Grit..?"
    And I knew that I was old.

  5. Yep, liked True Grit, but liked Lonesome Dove and liked The Nations even better...but then again I'm a bit prejudiced.

  6. Minority opinion here. Have never had the chance to read the book, but despised the original movie... so much so I didn't even consider seeing the remake. Far as I'm concerned, Mattie was not a strong woman at all, but merely a spoiled brat. The opening scene where she was treating her father like an idiot turned me off the character right there.

    Jim Griffin

  7. Good post, Meg. I have not read the novel, but have seen and enjoyed both movies. But now I am going to read the book and look forward to your re-release of Double Crossing in July. Interesting to know that True Grit was your inspiration.

    I also liked the story graphic.


  8. I didn't read the novel True Grit, but I saw both movies.
    A most interesting post. I enjoyed reading it, Meg.

  9. LOL, Marc! Yeah, don't ya hate when these baby sisters have no idea what we're talkin' about. heh heh... as for the movies vs. the BOOK -- the book wins HANDS DOWN. And Jim, trust the book. The 1969 movie was wrong in many many ways.

    Mattie was a very strong heroine - who changed over the course of the "adventure" due to the events, as all heroes and heroines must.

  10. It is amazing what our inspirations are. You picked a good one. Great post with great and useful information.