Eric Allen's Reviews > First Blood

First Blood by David Morrell
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Sep 12, 12

Read in April, 2012

First Blood
By David Morell

A Retroview by Eric Allen

I led a rather sheltered childhood, and I did not get to see my first R rated move until I was well into my teens. Looking back, I find that I am actually rather grateful that I did not have such influences as prolific cursing and blood and gore on my formative years. I believe that it allows me to more appreciate the gravity of them now. It did not keep me from chafing under the strictures placed upon me by my parents when I was young, though.

Back in the day, I heard of this movie called Rambo, but that's not really what the movie was called, it was just what everyone called it because that's what the sequels were called. It sounded awesome, a movie about a Vietnam vet coming home and starting a war with police. It had everything a growing boy wanted to see in a movie. BUT, my mom would not allow. So I went to the library and looked for the book, but couldn't find a book called Rambo, so I asked the librarian who smirked at me and led me to a shelf. She handed me a book called First Blood and said that the movie was based on it.

I was somewhat intrigued. A book that was a book BEFORE it was a movie? Did things like that actually happen? This book must be especially awesome, because think of all the things that wouldn't be able to fit in a movie. Much to my dismay, when I began to talk about it with my friends, the book is so different from the movie that the movie might as well not have been based on it at all. The book dealt heavily with questions of morality, and made the two main characters BOTH seem like the good guy AND the bad guy. If anything, the cop came off as being more sympathetic in the book, rather than Rambo. My friends were SHOCKED to hear how the book ended, as it would have prevented any sequels from happening. They were also shocked to hear how much BLOODIER the book was from the movie, and they all checked it out of the library to read for that purpose. In the book Rambo is a killing machine that just wastes everyone in his path, in the movie I think he indirectly kills a single person.

I've recently gone back and reread this book, and here are my thoughts on it.

First Blood begins with Rambo, a Vietnam Vet, former Green Beret, and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. His time spent in a work camp as a PoW have left him with deep mental and physical scars. Because of these he has been unable to keep a job, and has let his hair and beard grow out because he can no longer bare to have someone cut his hair, or even to shave himself because of what it brings back to him from the war. This is a day and age when unshaven men with long hair were thought to be extremely undesireable. Though he served his country to his fullest, and sacrificed so much, he is mocked, scorned, and treated like trash by the people who see him, and tossed out of town after town by law enforcement as he wanders afoot across the USA, desperately seeking a meaning to his own life.

When yet another cop, Teasle by name, throws him out of town, he decides to fight back by returning to town several times until Teasle finally arrests him. When he is forced into a haircut, Rambo flashes back to his time being tortured in the war and runs for it, killing about a dozen cops in the process. The national guard is called in, and Rambo is cornered. Though he wants nothing more than to escape from the law to Mexico, he is herded back toward the town where an explosive and bloody confrontation between him and the police takes place.

The Good? There is a lot of subtle political commentary, and criticism of the way America viewed its sons coming home from Vietnam in this book. It is really thought provoking, and very well incorporated into the story. At the time that this book was written, it asked a lot of questions and brought up a lot of points that many people wanted to ignore.

The way that this book is written, alternating chapters from the points of view of Teasle and Rambo makes BOTH of the characters sympatheic. You see both sides of the story, and you can see where each of the characters is doing right by himself and wrong by the other. There really is no good guy or bad guy in this book, but if I actually had to choose between them which is the good and which is the bad, I'd probably pick Rambo as the bad.

Where the movie focused on the action, the book focused on the internal struggle of the two men, the generation gap between them, and how each generation was hailed coming home from war. As a preteen I found this to be especially interesting, because I'd never really read anything like it before. Looking back I can see why the librarian smirked at me when I asked for this book. Rereading the book now that I've seen the movie, I thought the book was even better. It had a very clear and important message to impart and the movie, I feel, completely missed the point.

The Bad? This book is not exceptionally well written. It was David Morell's first, and as a first novel it's not bad, but there is huge room for improvement in his prose and style. He uses a few key phrases over much, and repeats the same word noticeably in close proximity quite a bit. Morell does not display much of a vocabulary in this novel. His descriptive skills are not exceptionally good here either. I am happy to say that he does improve as a writer greatly in his later novels, which only leads me to wonder how much better this one would have been had he written a couple of his others first for practice.

All in all, this book was pretty entertaining, though not for the same reasons the movie was. It asks a lot of deep questions, and points out a lot of problems with the thinking of most Americans in the 70s. It shaped a lot of my opinions in my formative years on war and those who return from it. It's a provocative novel that focuses much less on the action of the story than the movie does, and more on the characters, their emotions, their motives, and their struggle against each other, both physically and mentally. I give it three stars because while it was entertaining and really got me thinking, it wasn't exceptionally well written.

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