Monday, July 25, 2022

Second Thoughts about First Blood

© by Gerald So | 4:30 PM

The Fifth Profession by David Morrell was the first novel I read after deciding to write commercial fiction in 1993. It was an adventure about the deep bond between a ex-Navy SEAL and a present-day samurai who work as bodyguards. The book cover touted Morrell as the author of First Blood, which factored heavily in my choice of the book as a template.

At the time I only knew First Blood as the 1972 novel that introduced Rambo, that spawned the hit movie franchise with Sylvester Stallone. I would come to learn, to my endless intrigue, Morrell killed off Rambo in the novel. Yesterday I watched the movie on 4K disc for the first time and afterward I read the novel, even more morally ambiguous—and richer for it—than I'd heard.

In the movie, Brian Dennehy's Sheriff Teasle pegs Rambo for a vagrant and drives him to the town limits. Rambo walks back two or three times. The novel gives Rambo a prior record of trouble with the law. Rambo mouths off to Teasle more. both pushing each other, not so much Teasle pushing Rambo. The novel offers both characters' conflicted thoughts. Rambo doesn't want to hurt anyone at first. He knows he must control himself, but he's fed up with prejudice toward his generation. Teasle wants to keep the status quo. He's afraid that showing leniency would change the town's makeup and lessen the people's respect for the law, for him.

Speaking of generation, many characters in the novel call Rambo a kid. I imagined him half Teasle's age, not the eleven years between Stallone and Dennehy. The novel also establishes the character Orval, who owns the dogs used to track Rambo, as a father figure to Teasle. Teasle resents Orval the way Rambo resents Teasle, but the analogy never occurs to Teasle. The novel paints neither Rambo nor Teasle as heroic. They are two unyielding characters headed for their appointments in Samarra.

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