Seattle's Book-It theater just presented Dog of the South, the funniest play I have ever seen, funnier even than Larry Shue's The Foreigner. After reading about Charles Portis in the playbill, I immediately downloaded True Grit and read it through with few breaks, well aware it would not be humorous.
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross is looking for a marshal to track down her father's killer. She asks the sheriff,
"Who is the best marshal they have?"
The sheriff thought on it a minute. He said, "I would have to weigh the proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest is Rooster Cogburn, He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L. T. Quinn, he brings prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now an then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and alay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have."
I said, "Where can I find this Rooster?"
John Wayne won his only Oscar in the first movie version of the book, a book which all agree is a masterpiece.
I was on a Portis kick now and just finished The Masters of Atlantis, back to humor.
Lamar Jimmerson has an ancient Greek text translated into English.
He committed the entire work to memory, all eighty-eight pages of Atlantean puzzles, Egyptian riddles and extended alchemical metaphors. He knew every cone and every triangle by heart, just as he knew the 13 Hermetical Precepts, and how to recognize the Three Secret Teachers, Nandor, Principato and the Lame One, should they make one of their rare appearances before him in disguise. Soon he began to wonder if he might not be an Adept. He became sure of it one afternoon when he overheard a remark in the street--"Don't worry about Rosenberg."
Jimmerson becomes one of the two masters of the Gnomon society. When he is invited to Texas by a Mr. Moaler, Moaler's son Big Boy is aggrieved and asks for an investigation of the cult. Austin Popper responds to the request from the inquiring committee.
Senator Churton said, "Thank you for coming, Mr.--is it Popper or Wilson?"
"Mr. Popper then. Thank you for coming and bearing with us. We're running very late. Your boss, I understand, has taken to his bed with the sniffles, or should I say, Mr. Moaler's bed. Is he feeling any better?"
"He was able to eat a little solid food last night."
"Always a good sign. Senator Moaler tells it a little differently. He tells me that this crafty old man, Mr. Jimmerson, is down there in his daddy's trailer lounging around in his shorty pajamas and eating like a hog, with a broad sheen of grease around his mouth, just smacking his big lips around for more."
"I'm not surprised he called in sick," said Senator Gammage. "Eating like that at his age."
"Not true," said Popper. "And I was not aware that Senator Junior Moaler was a member of this committee."
"Big Boy is here at my request. He is acting as an adviser. All perfectly proper. His father's homestead is overrun by a swarm of mystical squatters and you wonder he takes a personal interest?
Later in the interrogation.
" . . . What are you Gnolon's up to? We don't have to know your passwords or your secret winks and nods but we would like to get some general idea of your mission."
"It's the Gnomon Society, not the Gnolon Society . . . "
" . . . What can you tell us, Mr. Popper, about Mr. Jimmerson's police record?"
"He has no police record."
"So you say. According to my information he was released from a maximum security prison in Arizona in June of 19 and 58 after serving seven years of a ten-year sentence for armed robbery and aggravated assault. He was going by the name of James Lee 'Jimbo' Jimmerson at the time. It says here he played various percussion instruments in the prison band."
"That would be another Jimmerson."
Well, that's a taste of Charles Portis's range. Currently I'm reading his Norwood, also very funny.
As many of you know, True Grit was made twice made into a movie. John Wayne won his only Oscar as Rooster Cogburn.