True Grit (novel)
Front cover of the 1968 Simon & Schuster hardback 1st edition of True Grit by Charles Portis.
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
|Media type||Print (hardcover) (paperback)|
True Grit is a 1968 novel by Charles Portis that was first published as a 1968 serial in The Saturday Evening Post. The novel is told from the perspective of a woman named Mattie Ross who recounts the time when she was 14 years old and sought retribution for the murder of her father by a scoundrel named Tom Chaney. It is considered by some critics to be "one of the great American novels".
In 1969, it was adapted for the screen as a Western film True Grit starring John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (a role that won John Wayne Best Actor at the Academy Awards) and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. Wayne would reprise the role in Rooster Cogburn (1975) with an original screenplay. The sequel was not well received, and the plot was considered a needless reworking of the plot of True Grit combined with elements of The African Queen.
In 2010, Joel and Ethan Coen wrote and directed another film adaption also called True Grit, which starred Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director(s) (The Coen Brothers), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jeff Bridges), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Hailee Steinfeld), and Best Adapted Screenplay (The Coen Brothers). The film, however, failed to win any awards.
Portis’s novel is narrated by Mattie Ross, a thrifty, churchgoing elderly spinster distinguished by intelligence, independence and strength of mind. She recounts the story of her adventures many years earlier, when, at the age of fourteen, she undertook a quest to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a drifter named Tom Chaney. She is joined on her quest by Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn and a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (pronounced "La-beef").
As Mattie's tale begins, Chaney is employed on the Ross’s family farm in west central Arkansas, near the town of Dardanelle in Yell County. Chaney is not adept as a farmhand, and Mattie has only scorn for him, referring to him as "trash", and noting that her kind-hearted father, Frank, only hired him out of pity. One day, Frank Ross and Chaney go to Fort Smith to buy some horses. Ross takes $250 with him to pay for the horses, along with two gold pieces he always carried. He ends up spending only $100 on the horses. When Ross tries to intervene in a barroom confrontation involving Chaney, Chaney kills him, robs the body of the remaining $150 and two gold pieces, and flees into Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) on his horse.
Hearing that Chaney has joined an outlaw gang led by the infamous "Lucky" Ned Pepper, Mattie wishes to track down the killer, and upon arriving at Fort Smith she looks for the toughest deputy U.S. Marshal in the district. That man turns out to be Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn, and although he is an aging, one-eyed, overweight, trigger-happy, hard-drinking man, Mattie is convinced that he has "grit", and that he is best suited for the job due to his reputation for violence.
Playing on Cogburn's need for money, Mattie persuades him to take on the job, insisting that, as part of the bargain, she accompany him. During their preparation, a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf appears. He too is tracking Chaney, and has been for four months, for killing a senator and his dog in Texas, with the hopes of bringing him back to Texas dead or alive for a cash reward. Cogburn and LaBoeuf take a dislike to each other, but after some haggling, they agree to join forces in the hunt realizing that they can both benefit from each other's respective talents and knowledge. Once they reach a deal the two men attempt to leave Mattie behind, but she proves more tenacious than they had expected. They repeatedly try to lose her, but she persists in following them and seeing her transaction with Marshal Cogburn through to the end. Eventually she is jumped by Cogburn and LaBoeuf, who had hid themselves from view and LaBoeuf begins to spank Mattie. Mattie appeals to Cogburn and he orders LaBoeuf to stop. At this point Mattie is allowed to join their posse.
Together, but with very different motivations, the three ride into the wilderness to confront Ned Pepper's gang. Along the way, they develop an appreciation for one another.
Film and television adaptations
The novel was adapted by Marguerite Roberts for the screenplay of the 1969 film True Grit, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1970.
A made-for-television sequel, entitled True Grit: A Further Adventure and starring Warren Oates and Lisa Pelikan aired in 1978. The TV-movie featured more adventures of Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross.
In 2010, Joel and Ethan Coen released another film adaptation of the novel, also entitled True Grit, with thirteen-year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, veteran actor Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn, Matt Damon as LaBoeuf, and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney. Although their version is claimed to follow the novel more closely than the 1969 film, focusing more on Mattie's point-of-view, some scenes from the book were changed for their film version. The Coen movie is shot in settings more typical of the novel (The 1969 film was shot in the Colorado Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, while the 2010 film was shot in Santa Fe, New Mexico as well as Granger, and Austin, Texas.) 
- Ed Park. "Like Cormac McCarthy, But Funny", The Believer, March 2003.
- Lehmann, Chris, "Pelecanos on the Enduring Power of 'True Grit'", NPR, June 2006
- Jones, Malcolm, "True Lit", Newsweek, December 9, 2010
- Fleming, Michael , "Coen brothers to adapt 'True Grit'", Variety, March 22, 2009
- An interview with writer George Pelecanos about the novel, National Public Radio
- Ed Park, "Like Cormac McCarthy, But Funny", The Believer, March 2003.