True Grit is the story of Mattie Ross, a young teenager seeking her father’s killer. Mattie is a gem of a character. Portis brings her to life on the page. She’s full of spunk, wise beyond her years, with a sardonic view of the world and the men in it. This is her story from page one as she battles the adult word to obtain the goal she seeks.
She’s driven by either revenge or justice depending on how you view it. She wants the killer of her father to pay for his crime. She soon discovers not all those in the policing business share her zeal for quick action and think she should just go home like a good little girl. She enlists Rooster Cogburn, a marshal she believes has true grit who quickly reveals feet of clay.
Mattie is the one with true grit as she holds Rooster to the agreement they made, faces the outlaws by herself, and overcomes the harrowing experience of being trapped in a crevice with her father’s killer above her, rattlesnakes around her, and bats flapping around her legs.
The movie versions are excellent renditions of the book. But they don’t capture the deeper nuances we can only glean from the words on the page. If you enjoyed the movies, you’ll appreciate the novel for the insights it gives into what we see on the screen.
A couple of minor notes on other things that make this novel so memorable. Portis presents a very real story world of the Oklahoma/Arkansas region and what it was like to live in that time and place. Also, his minor characters are as fully developed as the major ones and give the story the flavor of the Wild West.
If you enjoy Westerns with suspense and honest emotions, make sure you read this one at least once.