This month, the Brown Baggers discussed JMRL’s Big Read selection, True Grit by Charles Portis. One of the main objectives of the Big Read is to get various members of the community reading and discussing one book together, so the group was delighted to welcome a whole posse of newcomers. We gathered ‘round the proverbial campfire and had a great discussion.
To help ground us in the story, we started our meeting with a brief overview of the novel’s timeline. Many of the background events and characters were true to life, including William Quantrill, Judge Parker, and Cole Younger. True West magazine has a great timeline of the novel’s events, with real historical events highlighted, along with a helpful slideshow.
First and foremost in our lively discussion was the character of Mattie. The group agreed she was a wonderful character to root for and certainly embodied “true grit.” It was also interesting to consider that she narrates the novel when she is much older, but describes herself as clearly and bluntly as any other character — no rose-colored glasses here. We also thought her plain-speaking was a great source of humor. Although she is very strict in her Presbyterian morals, her determination to seek justice causes her to pick Rooster Cogburn to aid in her mission. Rooster is also a sympathetic character, but he’s not quite a paragon of moral virtue. He’ll use whatever methods he has to in order to get the job done, but as many of us noted, this unorthodox brand of justice is a trope that we often enjoy, whether in Westerns or modern-day superhero stories.
One group member noted that perhaps the novel’s publication date (1968) also influenced the work; perhaps there is a parallel with America’s reputation as a “global cowboy” in terms of foreign involvement — an example that has persisted today in certain cases. The group also touched on both movie adaptations and how they have colored our perception of the novel. Even for those who hadn’t seen either, John Wayne is practically a pop culture icon: the archetype of the gruff cowboy. As you might expect from book group members, this frustrated many who prefer to read the book first before viewing the film equivalent. We also noted that no matter how faithful an adaptation, Mattie’s voice will always be strongest in print.
More information about True Grit and JMRL’s other upcoming programs can be found on the library’s Big Read page.
Find out more about the history behind True Grit in True West magazine.
The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Charles Portis.
Make sure to join the Brown Baggers at noon on Thursday, April 17 to discuss Alice Munro’s Dear Life. See you then!