More True Grit


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Has anyone around here read anything else by Charles Portis? Without a doubt, he’s one of America’s finest satiric writers, almost in the tradition of Ring Lardner, another writer for the Saturday Evening Post. True Grit was written as a parody of a Western novel and was understood to be so to by everyone who read it at the time. Norwood, his other novella, is as good as Confederacy of Dunces.

    Charles Portis’ gift for pedantic dialogue arises from the Ozarks, where he spent time as a newspaper editor. Maddie Ross’ voice is an amalgam of a hundred stern old spinsters writing letters to the editor.

    All this maundering on about Redemption is to miss the entire point. True Grit is a send-up of Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and a thousand other stereotypical Western Dramas.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      That’s entirely possible, and I was slightly skeptical of using the word ‘redemption’ in my post, but it was what was being tossed about in the one I had just read, and my mental word-engine has been in the shop as of late, so — when I say redemption, I don’t necessarily mean a religious redemption. If there’s redemption of any sort, it’s simply going from being a dishonorable drunk to a drunk capable of a single heroic deed. I mention a Biblical allusion merely because that’s the world in which the characters and their language maneuver.

      As for the matter of novel and film: I feel like I should have made this explicit early on my meandering about the movie, but I’m treating them as entirely different texts. Just because Portis wrote a satire doesn’t necessarily mean that the Coens intended their film to be a send-up of the stereotypical Western drama. (Of course, now I’ll be looking for it when I think about/re-watch their movie — it’s entirely possible I’ve been taking it far too seriously, as you say.) Nevertheless, the tone of the Coens’ adaptation doesn’t feel, to me, like satire.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Well, as a short introduction to Charles Portis, the Atlantic has Combinations of Jacksons, which may give you more insight into how to gloss True Grit.Report

  3. Avatar Maxwell James says:

    When in doubt, I think you need to listen to the artist (literally and figuratively). Charles Portis’ other books are deadpan, funny observations of everyday life. And the Coen Bros. are absurdists. These are the guys who made The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, and The Hudsucker Proxy. Even in their “serious” movies such as Fargo and No Country for Old Men, they constantly take steps to undercut the narrative with ludicrous visual touches (such as Javier Bardem’s mop-head and can of compressed air in the latter).

    This is not to deny that True Grit is devoid of sincerity or drama; I don’t think it is, in either book or film form. But by focusing so intently on Rooster’s redemption (for what – riding with Quantrill? Who knows if he was even telling the truth about that?), I think you lose sight of the comedy that is really at the heart of it. It’s a humorous and (mostly) affectionate look at a world that was, or might have been.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Dog of the South got me in considerable trouble for laughing in class.

      I always tried to help Leon and you see the thanks I got. I hired him to drive for me right after his rat died. He was with the Murrell Brothers Shows at that time, exhibiting a fifty-pound rat from the sewers of Paris, France. Of course it didn’t really weigh fifty pounds and it wasn’t your true rat and it wasn’t from Paris, France, either. It was some kind of animal from South America. Anyway, the thing died and I hired Leon to drive for me. I was selling birthstone rings and vibrating jowl straps from door to door and he would let me out at one end of the block and wait on me at the other end. Report

      • Avatar Maxwell James says:

        That’s pretty great. I haven’t read Dog of the South – perhaps I will now.

        One thing I really appreciated about the Coens’ take was the extent to which it retained (and in a few cases, even amplified) the book’s trademark humor. In that respect it was a huge improvement over the Hathaway film.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    When I had a minute, I was going to see how closely Mattie squares with Electra and maybe blog about that.Report

  5. Avatar smedleyI know longer know whether says:

    J.L., I do wish you would proof read your posts.
    “I know longer know whether…”
    Perhaps they’re not that important to you.
    But it is annoying to the reader.Report

  6. Avatar stuhlmann says:

    I haven’t seen the new movie, but I have read the book several times. And having enjoyed the book thoroughly, I am somewhat leery of seeing the film. I hate to see a good book ruined by some movie director who thinks his vision is better than the author’s – Lord of the Rings for instance. That said, I don’t think Rooster needed redemption, in his own mind at least. He didn’t see fighting with Quantrill and robbing a New Mexican bank as moral failings. And at least in the book, he does not find redemption. After his services to Mattie, Rooster is eventually forced to turn in his badge – excessive use of force. He dies while traveling as a member of a wild west show.

    I found it interesting how Rooster first became a federal marshal. He had been arrested for shooting a man on a cattle drive, and some federal marshals came by. One of them was an old friend of Rooster’s from the war, who promised to take Rooster in for trial and punishment. Instead he got Rooster a job. As Rooster tells Mattie, he would gladly have remained a teamster out in Colorado. He got along well with his boss and was paid well. Then the boss up and died…..Report

  7. Avatar Will says:

    So, this discussion of True Grit got off to a fantastic start . . .Report