Skip directly to content

The Pre-Justified Adventures of Raylan Givens

on Mon, 03/07/2011 - 00:00

There have been numerous novels written by Elmore Leonard that have been adapted onto the silver screen, including Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Rum Punch, which served as the basis for the Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown. Despite such notaries as John Travolta, Jennifer Lopez, George Clooney and Pam Grier bringing Leonard’s creations to life, however, it is the small screen’s Justified that has most captured the quirky style of the successful novelist. In the FX drama, Tim Olyphant stars as US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, an old-school lawman who is transferred from Miami to his childhood haunting grounds of Eastern Kentucky. Although Justified lists the short story Fire in the Hole as its inspiration, in actuality Givens appeared in two earlier Elmore Leonard novels, Pronto and Riding the Rap.

While the Raylan Givens of Justified mirrors the Raylan Givens of Elmore Leonard in terms of both his actions and dialogue, a few of the particulars have been altered in the transformation from the page to the small screen nonetheless. Raylan Givens is divorced from wife Winona in both, for instance, but Givens has two small children from the marriage in the novels as opposed to being childless on television. Furthermore, it is the father of the Raylan Givens from the books who died when the future US Deputy Marshal was younger, not the mother, and there are no hints or suggestions of the elder Givens being violent or a member of the criminal element of Harlan County.

Although such details may differ between Elmore Leonard’s original characterization of Raylan Givens and those of the television series, many scenes within both Pronto and Riding the Rap are depicted—often verbatim—on Justified. In the pilot episode of Justified, Givens remarks upon meeting the criminal loser Dewey Crowe that he “sent a boy to Starke from Bella Glade, fella named Dale Crowe Junior.” In Riding the Rap, meanwhile, the lawman is assigned the task of transporting Dale Crowe Junior through the state of Florida in much the same fashion that he escorts the arrested Dewey Crowe in the second episode of the series. Not only do the two scenes mirror each other, with both Crowes attempting to outmaneuver the US Deputy Marshal and finding themselves handcuffed to the steering wheel of the car afterwards, but the dialogue is practically word-for-word as well.

Pronto, meanwhile, contains a scene from the episode “Long in the Tooth.” On the television series, it is two enforcers from a Miami drug cartel who track down Raylan Givens in the California desert—in Pronto, it is two Mafiosos in Northern Italy. The scenarios play out the same in both, with Givens telling the more experienced gunman “you take one more step, I’ll shoot you” and then following through when the culprit does indeed take one more step. While the second shooter in California was stupid enough to raise his weapon when Givens advised him to “use it or throw it away,” however, the mobster in Italy does have the common sense to toss his firearm.

Pronto also more fully details—albeit slightly differently—the events from the beginning of Justified in which Raylan Givens shoots hitman Tommy Bucks after giving him 24 hours to leave town. Again, the novel deals with the mob as opposed to the drug cartel of the series but it is still the cold-hearted nature of Tommy Bucks that leads to the Old West ultimatum of Raylan Givens. “I watched as Tommy Bucks stuck a stick of dynamite in that poor man’s mouth, taped it so he couldn’t spit it out, lit the fuse,” he tells Winona in regards to a previous encounter with the drug cartel enforcer on Justified. In Pronto, meanwhile, it is the casualness of Bucks’ killing of an unarmed man that riles the US Deputy Marshal. “You didn’t see him shoot Robert,” he simply states afterwards.

In both Justified and Pronto, Raylan Givens crossed paths with Tommy Bucks while tracking down a potential witness who had once given the lawman the slip. In Pronto, it was seven years earlier and the embarrassment of allowing his captive to sneak away after using the bathroom resulted in Raylan Givens being reassigned to Glynco as a firearms instructor. Givens worked for a time as a firearms instructor in Justified as well, side by side with his future boss in Kentucky, Art Mullen.

While Pronto offers a different but more descriptive account of the events that directly preceded the pilot episode of Justified, follow up novel Riding the Rap apparently served as the plot for another season one episode, “Fixer.” In the television series, Raylan Givens is handed a new CI (confidential informant), bookie Arnold Pinter. When Pinter sends thug enforcer Curtis Mims to collect $15,000 from stoner Travis Travers, Travers turns the tables by recruiting Mims to a kidnap Pinter. The basics of the narrative likewise serves as the basis for Riding the Rap in which bookie Harry Arno—a major character in Pronto—sends Bobby Deo to collect from the equally stoned Warren Ganz and likewise finds himself being held hostage instead.

Although the novel contains a number of other characters and subplots not contained in the television episode, many of the scenes run parallel nonetheless. Bobby Deo is Puerto Rican and Curtis Mims hails from Detroit, for instance, but both have a penchant for gardening and a desire to face Raylan Givens in an Old Western-style showdown. While that gunfight never materializes, the wannabe horticulturalist finds himself at the bottom of a swimming pool in both versions when he is double-crossed during a gun drawing practice session. And although the names have been changed from the print version to those on the small screen, the word play of character Louis Lewis from Riding the Rap has obviously been duplicated in the moniker of Travis Travers.

Elmore Leonard followed up his two Raylan Givens novels with the short story Fire in the Hole, which provided the framework for the pilot episode of Justified. Some details have been slightly altered here as well—Givens is only temporarily assigned to Kentucky because of his coal mining association with white supremacist Boyd Crowder, for instance, and the characters appear to be approximately 10 years older in the Elmore Leonard version—but the vast majority of the story successfully finds itself transformed into the FX television series known as Justified.

The Raylan Givens of Justified not only dresses in a similar fashion to the Raylan Givens of the novels—“you still look the same as you did at Glynco, still wearing the same suit and boots,” Art Mullen tells him in both Fire in the Hole and the pilot episode of the series—but his unique quirks are evident in both mediums as well. It is also impossible not to read Pronto or Riding the Rap without hearing the voice of actor Timothy Olyphant reciting the lines of Raylan Givens in much the same fashion as he does on Justified.

Although a few specifics have been altered on the television show, the Raylan Givens novels still adequately serve as a prolog to the events of Justified, and while some of those events overlap, there is enough originality to keep fans of the series entertained nonetheless. In the end, Elmore Leonard created a legendary character within the pages of Pronto, Riding the Rap and Fire in the Hole, and the FX drama Justified not only adds to the legend but does justice to it as well—making Raylan Givens a true classic regardless of the medium.

Anthony Letizia

Follow Geek Pittsburgh: Facebook - Twitter - RSS Feed