The New York Review of Books asked authors Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana to talk about True Grit – the Charles Portis novel, the John Wayne movie, and the Coen Brothers’ recent adaption. The two writers know a thing or two about adapting western literature for the big screen. They collaborated on the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain. It’s a great exchange. I keyed in on this part:
L: The Coens each read Portis’s True Grit to their children.
D: I found that it does read like a novel accessible to young people.
L: I think Donna Tartt, the critic who contributed the afterword to the paperback, was right to mention that it owes more to The Wizard of Oz than to Huck Finn …
D: … because of the relentlessness of the young heroine. Dorothy wants to get back home to Kansas; Mattie wants to avenge the murder of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney. The language might feel similar to Twain’s, though Portis’s dialogue is more formal. I loved reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finngrowing up, and in fact that’s where my belief that boys have more fun than girls originated. I enjoyed True Grit the novel because a girl was having the adventures for a change…
D: In their interview with the Guardian, Joel and Ethan gave the journalist the impression that, “To hear the Coens tell it, their True Grit may not even be a western.”
L: Yes, they likened it more to Alice in Wonderland. I think they’re right. Mattie goes across the river, to a place she’s never been before, where she sees all these things.
As I’ve mentioned before, a friend of mine read True Grit to his six year old daughter on the advice of Donna Tartt, and he highly recommended it, too. As the daughter of a six year old girl myself (7 in April), I’m always on the lookout for good books that have girls having big adventures. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.
I went on a Charles Portis reading kick in 2003 after reading Ed Park’s excellent piece on Portis in The Believer. At the time, I picked up a first edition of True Grit for a few bucks. It looks like those days are over.