Shane and True Grit - June CC Book Club Selection

Our June selection is an iconic Western duet: Shane by Jack Schaefer and True Grit by Charles Portis. Both first person novels recount a pivotal experience in the life of the young narrator (Joey Starrett in Shane and Mattie Ross in True Grit) and an unexpected connection with a stranger who plays a key role in a time of crisis.

Both tales were originally told in serial form: Shane (as “Rider from Nowhere”) in Argosy magazine and True Grit in The Saturday Evening Post.

Shane was published in 1949 and is considered a Young Adult classic.

“Shane is a work of literature first and a Western second.” - St. George Daily Spectrum

“The author has created a tale which captivates the reader’s attention from beginning to end. . . . The book almost demands completion in one sitting.” - Library Journal

True Grit was published in 1968 and has maintained its popularity for over 50 years. It was recently selected for the 2020-2021 Big Read book list by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Mattie’s voice, wry and sure, is one of the great creations of modern American fiction.” - George Pelecanos, NPR

“Quite simply, an American masterpiece” - Boston Globe

Discussion begins June 1st. Please join us!


I just picked up both books from the library. I’m really looking forward to reading them and then discussing them, of course.

Good choices for a busy time. It looks like I can fly through both.

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Yes, you’ll breeze through them. I have the hardcover of Shane illustrated by Wendell Minor. Reading it makes me feel like I’m 13 again, in a good way.

The cover illustration sets the stage - a lone rider on his horse travels a dirt road into a stark, compelling landscape…Minor visited Wyoming, consulted artist-cowboy friend Geoff Parker, studied early illustrators of Western genre such as N.C. Wyeth and Maynard Dixon for inspiration, even talked to Schaeffer’s son, Carl.
Shane Frame

Lots of Wendell Minor book cover art for you to peruse, @ignatius: Book Covers

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I thought I’d pull this up to remind anyone interested that it’s time to pick up the books. I should have timed them better myself. I finished both about a week ago.

Quick quick quick reads.

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Finished both just in time!!

I finished both books and we watched the newer version of True Grit last week.

I just reserved both books and am 1st on both waiting lists. Will join as soon as I read both books.

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It’s June 1st! Welcome to our discussion of Shane by Jack Schaefer and True Grit by Charles Portis.

It’s hard for me to be objective about these books, as I read them when I was young and the movie versions were family favorites. Looking back, I think it’s because they were films that my siblings, parents and I could all watch together, each understanding the stories in a different way, but with equal enjoyment. My parents first saw “Shane” on their honeymoon and the framed vintage movie poster that belonged to my mom is hanging in my house.

As for “True Grit”, Kim Darby as Mattie Ross had everything I wanted at age 14: self-assurance, determination, fearlessness, and brown gauchos with black boots.

Questions to peruse if you’re so inclined; ignore if not.

Discussion Questions for Shane:

  1. The tree stump, introduced in chapter 2, seems to symbolize many central concerns of the novel: nature’s stubbornness, Shane’s commitment to farming, even the land itself. What is important about Joe and Shane’s struggle with the stump? What do the two men—and Marian and Bob as well— gain from that struggle?

  2. Most readers realize early on that Shane will eventually take up his gun again in defense of the Starretts. How does Schaefer nonetheless maintain an atmosphere of considerable suspense throughout the novel?

  3. As the family returns from town in chapter 6, Bob Starrett observes that “the closer we came [to the farm], the more cheerful [Shane] was.” What accounts for this feeling in Shane?

  4. In chapter 8, Shane seems to lose his serenity in the face of the looming conflict with Fletcher. By chapter 14, however, Shane is again reconciled to “the simple solitude of his own invincible completeness.” Trace Shane’s movement toward this acceptance of who and what he is.

  5. The events of chapter 15 take place after Shane has left the Starretts. What is the purpose of this short chapter? What is the nature of Shane’s enduring gift or legacy to the Starretts?

Discussion Questions for True Grit:

  1. Mattie says that she is looking for a man with “true grit” to avenge her father’s death. When given a choice of marshals, including one who is “straight as a string” as opposed to Rooster, who is the “meanest,” why does she choose Rooster? How do you think she would define the quality of “true grit”?

  2. What evidence can we find that Mattie won’t abide mistreatment of anyone because of his or her background? What prejudices does she admit to?

  3. Though Mattie often seems very mature, self-assured, and tough for age fourteen, in what scenes do we see her react in a way more like a person her age?

  4. Rooster admits to killing and stealing and is portrayed as a drunkard. Why does Mattie, an upright and moral Christian, have such affection and admiration for him? Does this reveal a contradiction in her moral code?

  5. Do you think Mattie’s account of her adventure, as she looks back at her actions from a time decades later, is an accurate one? Why or why not?

  6. At many points during the action, Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf all “stretch the blanket,” exaggerating or lying under certain circumstances. In which situations does the lying seem justified? Do any of these instances of lying or exaggeration change your impressions of the characters?

  7. In what ways are LaBoeuf and Rooster similar in their personalities and in their beliefs about what is right and wrong? In what ways are they different?

  8. There’s an old proverb proclaiming that there is sometimes “honor among thieves.” In what ways do the outlaws and bandits encountered in the book by Mattie, Rooster, and LaBoeuf display a code of conduct that argues that they’re not purely evil?

  9. The language of the book is vivid and colorful, yet often unfamiliar. How does Portis keep the characters’ dialogue authentic to the historical period but make it accessible to a contemporary reader?

  10. Near the end of the book, when Mattie encounters the elderly outlaws Frank James and Cole Younger at a “Wild West” show, she is polite to Younger but says to James, “Keep your seat, trash!” Why does she view them differently and what does it say about her memory of her adventure?

  1. Rooster admits to killing and stealing and is portrayed as a drunkard. Why does Mattie, an upright and moral Christian, have such affection and admiration for him? Does this reveal a contradiction in her moral code?

There’s a line in the John Wayne movie when Rooster Cogburn, watching Mattie defiantly cross the creek, says to LeBoeuf, “By God, she reminds me of me.”

I don’t think that line is in the book, but the message is still there. I think Mattie admires Rooster because they share a certain relentlessness and employ the same kind of straight talk when sizing up their fellow human beings. Mattie may be an “upright and moral Christian” in name, but come on, she has a vengeful streak a mile wide and shows little hesitation when given the chance to shoot Tom Cheney.

Compare that to Bob’s admiration of Shane. It’s a sweeter, more innocent form of hero worship.

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Not being a particular fan of John Wayne movies, I was prepared to dislike both these selections and even to abandon the book if I wasn’t enjoying the read. I was surprised at how engaging both were, largely due to the first person narration from the perspective of the child.

It seems surprising to me that Mattie was able to be so independent in those days, although she certainly seems a force to be reckoned with. She’s intelligent, tough, and able to adapt quickly. The book being written in retrospect probably contributes to the sense that she’s older and wiser than her years. Rooster Cogburn is a flawed hero; really the lesson is that Mattie must be her own hero.

In comparison, Bob seems much younger than the chronological four years difference. He’s naïve and innocent and just beginning to perceive the adult world. Shane appears as the legendary monomythic hero – the outsider who rescues the community in distress, the loner who stands apart, and leaves when the work is done. He serves as a hero for Bob (and the others) while firmly reminding Bob that it’s his father who is the hero.


I read True Grit first and followed with Shane. In both books, I ran across the word “drummer.” In True Grit I took it literally at first - someone who plays drums. Shortly thereafter I realized that it refers to a traveling salesman. When I ran across it in Shane, I no longer stumbled over its meaning and felt greatly amused.

Like @Mary13, I loved Shane growing up. However, while I also loved Mattie in True Grit

… I felt perfectly content to be Bob Starrett, hero-worshipping Shane and Joe. Hmm … maybe that makes me Marian. :blush:

In truth though, I never saw myself in Mattie Ross.

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I guess I am stating the obvious, but Mattie is the one with true grit.


Yes but Rooster definitely does too. That scene where he rides and then runs carrying Mattie to a doctor defines grit. Mattie wasn’t mistaken when she chose him. In his own way, LaBeouf does too; Mattie and Rooster just overshadow him. Maybe his own vanity makes him seem less than the other two, but he sticks and is there when it counts.


Only read “True Grit”, no excuse for not reading Shane,
I may be the only one here, who didn’t know the True Grit story, or saw the movie, so this was a real treat for me.

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You need to read Shane. Good stuff.

Just this minute finished “True Grit.” (Read “Shane” first.) For whatever reason neither of these books were ever on my radar when I was growing up and I haven’t seen the movie versions. I may well be in the minority here, but I found both books to be “OK.” I do wonder, though, if I would have liked them more if I had read them when I was younger.


Being YA fiction, Shane flies by – you could read it in a couple of sittings.

I do thing both stories pack more of a wallop if you’re exposed to them when young. Also–and I don’t usually say this about books–I think both are enhanced if you watch the films. There are scenes in the “True Grit” movies that are laugh-out-loud funny that don’t fully come across that way in the book. For example, the scene where Mattie sells back the ponies to the acerbic Mr. Stonehill.

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I too have never seen either movie. ( I am not a John Wayne fan.) I was not a fan at all of True Grit. I just never connected with any of the characters.

I read Shane last and liked it better than True Grit. I liked all of the characters and appreciated the writing. It was beautifully written.


“I don’t usually say this about books–I think both are enhanced if you watch the films.”

I think books should stand or fall on their own. A movie is an entirely different art form and can also stand or fall on its own, but a book should be able to satisfy without the addition of another art form.

I’m probably in the minority here. I’ve never been a fan of “The Western” – in any art form! The business about recognizing Shane as so special just because of how he holds himself in the saddle is silly to me.

I didn’t care for the narrative style in True Grit – too terse, though maybe that was in keeping with the narrator’s personality of being no nonsense.

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That’s true. And also true of films and sculptures and paintings – any artistic work. I tried to find the right word and settled on “enhanced” because it was as close as I could come. It’s not that novel True Grit wasn’t satisfying (for me), it’s that the film allowed me to hear the dialogue and see the landscape of a world that is outside of what I know.

Perhaps “context” is a better word – the films give the book context, in the same way that a favorite painting at the Art Institute becomes even more alluring (again, for me) when I learn the biography of the artist, or more about the historical or mythological subject of the work, or some anecdote about where or how it was created.

For an adult–especially cynical 21st century adults like us–yes, it’s absurd. But I think it’s something that seems reasonable through the eyes of a child – so in that respect, we’re saddled (pun intended :slight_smile: ) with an unreliable narrator.

The story of Shane is one giant trope: the haunted, mysterious stranger who rides into town, no name, no background, who bonds with a few lucky people who can see his good soul, who saves the day and rides away, never to be heard from again.

Is it a stereotype? In this case, I’d say it’s more of a prototype. Shane is one of the first books that created the mystique of the gunslinger with a heart-of-gold. Why is that particular character and scenario so beloved that we see it repeated over and over again, right up to modern day? (The show “Justified” with Timothy Oliphant comes to mind.)

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