Greetings, Manic Fans.  Les here to begin the glorious task of restoring my saved blogs from our original platform that shall not be named.  Posted March 1st, 2012, this was the first of over 200 blogs I would be involved with before we finally formed our new site.  I’m going to post the ones I deem necessary(Some of the others weren’t relevant except to the time I posted them-like the 3 blogs about how my computer was broken….) to preserve here for your enjoyment.  And so, here’s the first blog I posted at the original Manic Expression.

Greetings my friends. Les here with my good friend BigBlackHatMan to begin a 3 blog review of “True Grit,” The story by Charles Portis. We’ll be taking a look at the Novel(1968), The adaptation produced by Hal Wallis(1969) and the adaptation produced by the Cohen Brothers(2010).

We’ll rate each version on applicable criteria-I.E. Story, Characters, Pacing, Faithfulness to the source material, Musical Score and The interest the story evokes. Ratings will be on a scale of 1(Sorry Trash) to 10(True Grit)

Les: And so, please welcome BigBlackHatMan to my blog. BBHT, you’re looking great. Thanks for coming over to collaborate with me. I’ve admired your “Support Your Local Western” series ever since I returned to Blogging.

 BBHM: Thank you for having me and for the kind words, sir. I appreciate the chance to work with one of the best bloggers on the site and getting to work on one of the finest original Western stories written in the 20th century.

     Les: Indeed it is. Let’s begin by reviewing the Novel that started it all.


“TRUE GRIT”

by Charles Portis.

THE STORY

 

     First published in 1968, this story hit the top 10 on the New York Times Bestseller List on July 14, 1968. It stayed there several weeks getting as high as #4.

In it, Charles Portis tells a Western tale of Mattie Ross, an old spinster who recounts an adventure she had at the age of 14 where she sought to avenge the murder of her father by hired hand Tom Chaney.

     Finding out from the Sheriff that Chaney has fled into the Choktow Indian Nation and joined up with “Lucky” Ned Pepper’s gang, she looks for the meanest Federal Marshal with True Grit to hire to pursue the fugitive. She finds Marshal Rooster Cogburn who’s old, fat, a drinker and only one good eye, but has a reputation for being the meanest one around, who gets his bounties dead or alive(more dead than alive, but I digress….)

     Shrewdly bartering with the stable owner to sell back the ponies her late father had bought, she earns the money to buy a horse and hire Rooster for the job. In the meantime, a new player in the game, a Texas Ranger named La Beoff, wants in on the job too, since he’s been hunting the same man, who under another alias, killed a Texas Senator and has a substantial bounty on his head.

     Mattie doesn’t like him and turns him down, but he goes to Rooster to convince him to change employers and work with him. Rooster comes to an agreement with La Beoff and Mattie has to “include” herself in the expedition by stubbornly refusing to not follow them.

     After a run in with La Beoff’s switch, Mattie’s determination not to give up wins Rooster’s loyalty and he calls the Ranger off of her. The three then continue on together in search of the gang and the fugitive who’s joined them. During their time together, each one struggles to prove themselves in some way-with a lot of one-ups by Rooster and La Beoff who clash in their tracking styles and opinions on each other.

     Without spoiling the outcome, the pursued and the pursuers finally meet in a real nail-biter showdown that truly tests the “true grit” in all of them.

     Les: I love this story. It had me from page one with an engaging writing style and descriptions that drew me into the world of Mattie Ross. The build-up to the confrontations are handled very well and the action is fantastic. The dialogue is eminently quotable and leaves an impression when you’ve finished the novel. My Score: 9

 

     BBHM: I could not agree with you more on this story. The dialogue is what really does it for me as the character interactions are memorable, but still realistic. It is not surprising both movies carried over so much of it verbatim. Portis really lands his audience in 1870s Arkansas and puts them on a wild ride. My Score: 10


The Characters


Mattie Ross

     14 and headstrong, Mattie is God-fearing and churchly in her quest for justice upon the wicked Tom Chaney.

     Les: This girl is awesome! She doesn’t take crap from anybody, and is quite wise in the way she shrewdly negotiates her deals. Brave and resourceful, I admire this girl greatly. My Score: 10

 

     BBHM: Mattie is certainly a strong and interesting character, but I also keep in mind that she is the narrator remembering what happened several decades later. She may have glorified her own grit and righteousness. Maybe I am nitpicking. At times, she does annoy me a little with how she seems to look down on others a bit, but she is still a really strong central character. My Score: 9


Rooster Cogburn

     Old, one-eyed, fat, ornery and tough as they come, the Marshall never fails to leave an impression. Whether it’s the way he tells tales of his youth, or the way he dispenses justice, he’s larger than life and genuinely intimidating when he runs down his targets.

     Les: This character definitely had John Wayne in mind when Mr. Portis created him. He’s an epic Western man who, hands down, gets the best line in the whole book. My Score: 9

 

     BBHM: Rooster is great with a largeness of his own. He is right around fifty years old and not slowed down a bit. Rooster may not be the most admirable character on earth due to his drinking and violent temper, but he does the right thing when it counts. My Score: 9

Mr. La Beoff

     A green Texas Ranger with spurs on his boots and a chip on his shoulder. La Beoff endlessly tries to prove himself to anyone who’s around. A little clumsy on the hunt, but a sharpshooter with his Sharps Rifle.

     Les: He’s definitely a sympathetic hero, who gets put down a lot in this story. However, when it really counts, he proves himself. My Score: 8

 

     BBHM: La Beoff feels the need to prove himself, especially to Rooster. While Rooster was fighting and sacrificing for the South during the war, La Beoff was a little too young for the fight. Now he gets his chance to show he is good as any man. My Score: 8


Tom Chaney

     A murderous weasel of a man, Chaney(AKA Tom Chelmsford) is a loser who is always running from his mistakes. One minute fierce, and the next cowardly, he exudes foulness.

     Les: This guy was just plain weak. Sure, he gets his hands dirty and kills some men in the story, but he’s constantly whining about how all the bad stuff happens to him! My Score: 5

 

     BBHM: I am actually going to disagree with you a little here. I think Chaney is the perfect opposite of both Mattie and Rooster as he has no grit. Anything he does, he more or less stumbles upon and blames anyone else when things go wrong. Due to his limited appearance, the character is managed the best he could be. His whining does get old. My Score:7


“Lucky” Ned Pepper.

     The outlaw who’s gang Chaney joins. He’s ruthless and cold, unafraid to pop a cap on a 14 year old girl if she’s in his way.

     Les: One of the stronger literary villains to come up the pike in the last 50 years, Ned Pepper is genuinely intimidating and frightening in his delivery. My Score: 8

 

     BBHM: I would like to read a whole book about Pepper. To be honest though, the audience gets a lot of stories about his exploits, but never really sees him do anything. I actually find him a little dumb when Mattie is having to explain to him part of the loot they took in the recent robbery. I take some points away for being more bluster than action. My Score: 6


Pacing

     Les: This story moves at a fairly manageable pace. There’s no wasted space in it. There’s no uncomfortable pauses to slow the story down. I finished it in 3 sittings. My Score: 9

 

     BBHM: I have actually read quite a few Western novels and comparing this one to McMurtry or Lamour, it is the best paced Western novel I have read as it never bogs down in character development. It does it well within the context of a well written story. My Score: 10


Interest generated by the story

      Les: I’ll be honest with you all. Having loved the John Wayne film most of my life and then seeing the Jeff Bridges remake, I was curious as hell to see which film had more faithfully adapted the story since the films were really different in plot and style. However, all that melted away as I read this wonderful tale. I found myself seeing these characters in my head not as either version of the film, but as the written entities they were. THAT, my friends, impressed the hell out of me. My Score: 10.

     BBHM: I saw the first movie before I read the book, but actually read it in anticipation of the release of the Coen brother’s flick. So, I was extremely interested before I started and did not end up being disappointed a bit. My Score: 10


Les’s final score of “True Grit” by Charles Portis: 8.5

BBHM’s final score of “True Grit” by Charles Portis: 8.63

     Did you read this book? What were your thoughts on it as a story? We’d love to know what you have to say about it, my friends.

Join us next time when we rate the 1969 film adaptation produced by Hal Wallis starring John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glen Campbell. Peace.

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