About the Author
Charles McColl Portis (born December 28, 1933) was raised and educated in southern Arkansas. During the Korean War, Portis enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and reached the rank of sergeant. After receiving his discharge in 1955, he enrolled in the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He graduated with a degree in journalism in 1958.
After graduating, Portis worked as a reporter, including two years at the Arkansas Gazette. He moved to New York, where he wrote for the New York Herald Tribune. Throughout the early 1960s, he returned to the South frequently to cover civil rights–related stories. After serving as the London bureau chief of the New York Herald Tribune, he left journalism in 1964. Two years later, he published his first novel, Norwood.
Portis’s second novel, True Grit (1968), was serialized in condensed form in the Saturday Evening Post and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for 22 weeks. The story is told in first person from the perspective of the adult Mattie Ross. At the time of the novel's events, Mattie is a shrewd, strong-willed, Bible-quoting 14-year-old girl. When her father is murdered in Fort Smith, she sets out to bring the killer to justice. She recruits Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn—whom Mattie sees as one possessed of "grit"—to help her hunt down Chaney (who has joined an outlaw band) to "avenge her father’s blood".
Newsweek writer Malcolm Jones wrote in 2010: “True Grit is one of the great American novels, with two of the greatest characters in our literature and a story worthy of their greatness. They are at odds with the ordinary ways of making do, and they don't care what the world thinks. This is not just a book you can read over and over. It's a book you want to read over and over, and each time you're surprised by how good it is. In True Grit, these elements are the raw ingredients for one of the finer epic journeys in American literature.”
A long-time and current resident of Little Rock, Arkansas, Portis has consistently avoided the public spotlight. William Whitworth, the former editor of The Atlantic said of Portis, ''Talking about himself is something that would feel false and strange to him. It would be like asking him to stand up and sing like Frank Sinatra, or be on 'Dancing with the Stars.'”
Portis has been proclaimed by some as a “writer’s writer,” and several prominent critics and fellow writers—including Larry McMurtry, Roy Blount Jr., Nora Ephron, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt—have heaped their praises on Portis’s work and regard him as a major figure in his own right: possessor of an original American literary voice comparable to Mark Twain's.
In addition to his five novels, Portis has also contributed shorter fiction and nonfiction articles to such periodicals as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, the Arkansas Times, and the Oxford American. In 2010, Portis was honored with the Oxford American’s first Lifetime Achievement in Southern Literature award.
An independent fourteen-year-old girl who plans to avenge her father’s murder, Mattie is a force to be reckoned with. She stubbornly haggles to get her way, causing many to call her “saucy.”
A one-eyed veteran of the American Civil War, he is known as the toughest U.S. Marshal working in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). He’s enlisted by Mattie to track down the man who killed her father because she’s convinced that Rooster has “true grit.”
A Texas Ranger who has been tracking Tom Chaney for some time, LaBeouf attempts to get Mattie to hire him though she initially refuses. Instead, LaBeouf strikes a deal with Rooster Cogburn and the two men set after Tom Chaney without Mattie--that is, until she catches up with them.
A notorious criminal who most recently shot Frank Ross in the street. Under the name of Clemsford, he also shot a senator and his dog in Waco, Texas. To escape capture, he later joined Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang in Indian Territory.
Leader of a gang of outlaws in Indian Territory, he is known as Lucky Ned Pepper. According to Rooster Cogburn, Pepper is notoriously hard to kill.
Mattie’s kindhearted father. He originally hires down-on-hisluck Tom Chaney out of pity, but one night when he follows a drunk Chaney into the street, attempting to calm him down, Chaney shoots him dead.
The owner of a boarding house, Mrs. Floyd has met both Frank Ross and Tom Chaney by the time Mattie comes to stay with her. She often speaks about Mattie’s dilemma to other boarders, including LaBeouf.
1. Charles Portis has been described as “a great noticer, always alert to the odd but telling detail.” What are some of your favorite details in this book?
2. Mattie Ross is not your typical fourteen-year-old. How is she breaking stereotypes of women from the 1800s?
3. In what ways are Rooster and LaBoeuf similar? How are they different?
4. How does competition and jealousy influence the relationship between Rooster and LaBoeuf?
5. How does Mattie convince Rooster to let her join him on the search for Chaney?
6. Mattie says at one point that Rooster “stretches the blanket” or greatly exaggerates his stories. Do you think the same could be said of her recollections?
7. Who is Little Blackie and what happened to him?
8. Who is the only person that could appeal a decision in Judge Parker's court?
9. What does the phrase "true grit" mean to you? How does the book seem to define it?
10. Do you consider True Grit a quintessential “Wild West” novel? Would you recommend it to someone who doesn’t usually like Western stories?