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Literature / First Blood

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A Psychological Thriller novel by David Morrell, published in 1972.

A disturbed vagrant named Rambo walks into the town of Madison, Kentucky, and is soon driven off by Sheriff Teasle, who wants to keep the place clean from potential troublemakers. But Rambo keeps coming back, and Teasle has him arrested. Rambo manages to escape from him, killing one of his deputies in the process. This sets off a manhunt, where Teasle learns that he isn't up against any normal fugitive, but a PTSD-afflicted Green Beret and Vietnam War veteran who thrives in survival situations and killing the enemy.

A film adaptation starring Sylvester Stallone was released in 1982, and its more sympathetic portrayal of Rambo paved the way for a popular action movie franchise.

This novel has examples of:

  • Abandoned Mine: Just as Rambo is about to finish off Sheriff Teasle in the woods, he becomes too weak due to his broken ribs and loses consciousness. When he wakes up, he finds himself in an old mine, and uses it as hideout while the National Guard searches for him.
  • Abusive Parents: Rambo's father drank heavily and beat his son, going so far one night as to try to kill him.
  • Accidental Murder: Sheriff Teasle's father died during a hunting trip, where a newbie mistook him for a deer and shot him.
  • Anti-Hero: Teasle in the book may have some downplayed traits of being a Rabid Cop at the beginning of the book, but eventually proves himself to be much nobler then the Ax-Crazy Rambo.
  • Artistic License Law: Art Galt is identified as a deputy in the novel despite working for a municipal police department run by a chief. This makes more sense in the movie, where Hope's police are county cops headed by a sheriff.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Whatever P.O.W. torture or other other unspeakable horrors Rambo had to endure in Vietnam is what turned him into an Ax-Crazy Cop Killer of a Fallen Hero.
  • Big Bad: Subverted. Teasle starts off as both this and a Supporting Protagonist. However, by the end of the novel, it is made clear that Rambo has switched roles with Teasle.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Trautman finishes Rambo this way.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Balford is so frightened from a sudden ambush from Rambo that he soils his pants.
  • Cop Killer: Rambo becomes one over the course of the novel.
  • Downer Ending: Most of the small town's police force is dead, and Rambo and Teasle slay each other in a Mutual Kill.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Part of the reason Teasle is so hateful about Rambo is because of The Korean War (where he served) being pretty much forgotten by the American people while Rambo (a Vietnam War vet) is a symbol of the new, controversial thing.
  • Fallen Hero: Rambo, as he is reduced from being a war hero in Vietnam to a psychotic Cop Killer.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Rambo escapes from the jail, steals a motorbike and heads towards the woods all while being naked.
  • Go for the Eye: During his escape from the station, Rambo breaks Preston's nose, sending bone splinters into his eyes, permanently blinding him.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Teasle is vindictively jealous of Rambo for being a Vietnam veteran who places Korean War vets like Teasle in his shadow. Teasle however is more jealous of WWII vets for doing the same thing towards Korean War vets.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Before he's going to put Rambo into a cell, Sheriff Teasle tries to have his long hair cut and beard shaved with a razor. This freaks Rambo out and he wrenches the blade from Teasle's hands, and slices open Deputy Galt's stomach when he goes for his gun, spilling his guts out.
  • Hillbilly Moonshiner: Rambo comes across a father and son duo in the woods, and guesses correctly that they have a still hidden in the area. He convinces them give him clothes and a rifle so that he'll move on and lead his pursuers away from them.
  • It's Personal: At first Sheriff Teasle chases Rambo in the name of duty for killing one of his men. Once Rambo severely wounds Orval, who was Teasle's foster father after he was orphaned, Teasle wants to hunt Rambo down for vengeance. His personal hunt is then cut short when Rambo kills all his men, and he has to crawl his way back to civilization, where he has to remain on the sidelines because of his injuries.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Teasle may be trying to protect his town from troublemakers, but Rambo has as much right to be there as any other citizen. However, Teasle has every reason to be wary of Rambo, especially how he breaks out of his custody and started committing local mass murders, confirming Teasle's suspicions.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Teasle in the novel may not be the nicest officer around, but is nonetheless a sympathetic character.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Invoked, but ultimately averted when Rambo, who's resting and spying on his pursuers standing on a cliff, aims his rifle at Sherif Teasle and humours himself with a thought about shooting him through his throat just as he's in a middle of a sentence. He then decides against it, wanting to give him hell before finishing him off.
  • Madness Mantra: When the manhunt goes wrong, Balford takes to muttering "Never so scared" over and over.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The book suddenly gets quite surreal towards the end as both Rambo and Teasle get close to death and appear to have some kind of psychic connection, to a point Teasle admits Rambo to be a Worthy Opponent for him.
  • Mercy Kill: After Orval notices that Rambo gutshot one of his dogs, he finishes the suffering thing off by shooting it, since the search party is thirty miles away from any help.
  • Moe Greene Special: Rambo shoots Deputy Shingleton in the head, and when he still lives, finishes him off by shooting him in the eye.
  • Morality Pet: Orval Kellerman acts as this for Teasle, trying to tell him how he is doing his job the wrong way and how it would lead to the He Who Fights Monsters path. Orval's death only fuels Teasle with vengeance against Rambo.
  • Mutual Kill: Teasle and Rambo bleed out after trading fire. Rambo has his head blown off by Trautman to finish the job, but it's very clear that he was already a dead man.
  • Only I Can Kill Him: Teasle firmly believes that not only does he and he alone have the right to kill Rambo, but that Rambo wants it that way, misinterpretating Rambo's destructive doubling back through town as the troubled vet seeking a confrontation with him. In reality, Rambo is simply trying to get away again, and while he does eventually seek a showdown with Teasle, it's only after his plan fails and he realizes there's no way out for him.
  • Parental Substitute: Kellerman acts as the surrogate father figure for Teasle after Teasle's dad was killed accidentally in a deer hunt.
  • Properly Paranoid: Teasle turns out to be correct to distrust Rambo's presence in the first place, especially after we learn Rambo is really a homicidal maniac rather than some drifter vagrant.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Teasle wanted Rambo out of Madison, but he did give him several chances to leave peacefully and even allowed him to order a meal as long he made it a take-out. It is only when Rambo deliberately returns, when he no longer needs to be eating his lunch that he was after initially, that Teasle finally loses his patience and arrests him.
  • Run for the Border: Running from the law, Rambo initially decides to head toward the warm beaches of Mexico. But his anger gets the better of him, and he tries to finish off Teasle and his men.
  • Shellshocked Veteran: Rambo's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam left him greatly disturbed, and a danger to anyone whom he thinks pushes him too far.
  • Slashed Throat: Sheriff Teasle leaves two of his remaining deputies for a while to go look for Rambo by himself. When he returns to them, one of the men is missing and the other lies in the mud with his throat cut.
  • Sole Survivor: Preston is the only officer who doesn't get killed, and only then because Rambo's blinding him during his escape leads to Preston being hospitalized and thus removed from danger.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: In contrast to the film's Teasle's Inspector Javert, the novel's Teasle is considered to be this towards Rambo.
  • Tragic Bigot: Teasle. He is divorced from his wife Anna, lost his father in a hunting trip and he himself is a Korean War vet whose service is forgotten and buried by the presence of Vietnam vets, which Teasle bears Irrational Hatred against in return right next to WWII vets for the same thing.
  • Villain Protagonist: Unlike the film, where the deputies were abusive Dirty Cops, Rambo violently and ruthlessly kills them for doing their jobs. By the end of the book, Rambo has become the story's Big Bad.
  • War Hero: Rambo is specifically mentioned as being a winner of the Medal of Honor as well as a highly trained and experienced Green Beret. It's relevant to the plot as he's an opponent whose capabilities are far beyond what the lawmen of a small-town Sheriff's department are able to handle. Interestingly, Sheriff Teasle is also a decorated veteran of the Korean War. While being booked, Rambo sees his citation for having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. This saves Teasle's life later. When Rambo ambushes Teasle's men and kills several, Teasle panics and runs away. Colonel Trautman later tells Teasle that Rambo assumed that Teasle, being a trained combat veteran, was not running away but actually strategically retreating to draw Rambo into a trap. Therefore, Rambo didn't pursue him.
  • Worthy Opponent: Rambo considers Teasle to be one for him after finding out about his Korean War service. Teasle also feels Rambo to be one when they are dying from their wounds, finally returning this gesture while he was close to death.