Brace yourself. I am about to say something un-American:
I have not seen either True Grit movie.
I fully expect John Wayne to ride up on horseback and punch me. I accept the consequences.
Chalk it up to my age, but I have never been one for Westerns. That’s stuff for my dad and grandpa. I am a product of post-Space Race entertainment. Star Wars and Star Trek are my visions of wild frontiers. Westerns sometimes are downright uncomfortable with their portrayal of non-White races and other times just seem so boring.
Then I watched Firefly.
Yes, I had heard Han Solo labeled a space cowboy, but it wasn’t until I saw the crew of the Serenity stroll around in dusters and laser revolvers that I finally showed an interest in Westerns. I wanted to learn more about Joss Whedon’s inspiration for the series and that led me to Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This is a great book if you haven’t read it and makes the Civil War come alive.
But what about Western fiction? Sure, I could watch a Western movie. Who doesn’t like The Magnificent Seven? But could I sit down and read a Western?
Thankfully, I began my experiment with True Grit by Charles Portis.
This book does not need me to recommend it. This one’s a classic. When older teachers hear me talking about it, they’re like, “Well, yeah!” So, older readers, you can sit back and enjoy your wisdom accrued over the years. This review is for the younger crowd.
Main character Mattie is a teenage girl on her own in the world attempting to right a wrong. This screams of YA fiction, so I don’t know why it hasn’t been pushed recently in secondary libraries. Mattie’s father was killed by the man he was trying to help. The killer, Tom Chaney, will probably be lost in the system and escape punishment. Mattie recruits washed-up Marshal Rooster Cogburn as her hired gun to track down Chaney. Portis will have to forgive me that, as I read, I pictured Haymitch from The Hunger Games as Cogburn.
I think a teen reader will appreciate the story, although the rising action part of the plotline does take a little bit as Mattie is trying to get Cogburn to help her. Those scenes develop Mattie as a character and show where she can hold her own with any adult, but they’re not action-packed. Her characterization is right up there with Katniss and Tally Youngblood. Some critics will try to convince you that Mattie is like Huck Finn.
Sure. They’re both:
But if I were going out into the badlands to hunt down a crew of killers, I would never take Huckleberry Finn with me. He’d be more likely to chew loudly on some straw, pull a prank out of boredom, and get us both killed. Mattie has the determination and purpose that makes for a strong female protagonist. (Yes, I do understand that Katniss and Tally get whiny. They’re not uber-heroes. They’re human.)(Well, fictional humans.) Huck Finn is more about fate and where The River will take you.
Get True Grit by Charles Portis. It’s worth the read, even if you’re not a big Western fan. Now that I’ve finished, I plan on getting the new version of True Grit on Netflix. The reviews have said that it stays pretty closely to the book.