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Day 2

Reading: From p.28 to p. 40 ("He had a mustache like Cleveland too.")

September 4, 2020 by Ed Park

Digression on animals and evil, with a particular dig at our feline friends: “Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces?”

Love how Mattie backs it up with Scripture—great example of Portis locating humor in religion without mockery.

I can’t think of a better bargaining scene in fiction than Mattie negotiating w/Stonehill for the price of the (now unwanted) ponies Frank purchased & his horse (which Chaney made off with).

He starts out condescending: “I admire your sand but I believe you will find I am not liable for such claims.”

As Stonehill is ground down by M.’s bargaining, he mutters, “I would rather be a county road overseer in Tennessee than in this benighted state.” (M. says, “People who don’t like Arkansas can go to the devil!”)

Side note: “the popular steamer Alice Waddell”—that’s the name of Portis’s mother.

Stonehill on the Indian Territory: “The lawmakers are legion and they range over a vast country that offers many natural hiding places. The marshal travels about friendless and alone in that criminal nation.”

Here & elsewhere, moments of highly stylized speech—“true” transcriptions, or inflected by Mattie’s storytelling chops? (Whatevs, I love how she cuts to the chase after his florid aside: “I would like to sell those ponies back to you…”)

When the melancholy Stonehill. says, “Not a day goes by but there comes some new report of a farmer bludgeoned, a wife outraged, or a blameless traveler set upon and cut down in a sanguinary ambuscade”(!), I hear an echo of Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy.

I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, & etc, daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies and sea-fights; peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms.

“I will take it to law”: Love how Mattie brandishes the name of her lawyer (J. Noble Daggett) to gain advantage. She’s no ordinary 14-year-old.

A fed-up Stonehill: “Lawyer Daggett! Lawyer Daggett! Who is this famous pleader of whose name I was happily ignorant 10 minutes ago?”

Stonehill’s a northerner who bemoans coming south. “They told me this town was to be the Pittsburgh of the Southwest.”

On this re-read, I burst out laughing—I don’t recall this line ever cracking me up before. Why now?!

Mattie is the author of a “good historical article” about the trial she witnesses. The title is: You will now listen to the sentence of the law, Odus Wharton, which is that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead dead! May God, whose laws you have broken and before whose dread tribunal you must appear have mercy on your soul. Being a personal recollection of Isaac C. Parker, the famous Border Judge.

M. is critical of “the magazines of today,” editors who “say my article is too long and ‘discursive.’” (I love Mattie’s tic of putting certain words in quotes, as I’m sure you’ve noticed: “scrap,” “moonshiners,” etc.)

Side note: Portis was an acclaimed journalist (for a time based in London & NYC), left the field to write his 1st novel, Norwood. (True Grit was #2.) Escape Velocity collects some of his pieces.

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