First Blood (novel)

First Blood is a 1972 American action thriller novel by David Morrell about a troubled homeless Vietnam War veteran, known only by his last name of Rambo, who ends up in a bloody standoff with local police in Kentucky. It was notably adapted into the 1982 film First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone,[1] which ended up spawning an entire media franchise around the Rambo character.

First Blood
First edition
AuthorDavid Morrell
Original titleFirst Blood
CountryUnited States
PublisherRowman & Littlefield
Publication date


The story centers arounds a homeless Vietnam veteran known only by his last name, Rambo. He wanders into Madison County, Kentucky and is quickly intercepted by the local police chief, Wilfred Teasle, who drives him to the town limits and orders him to stay out. When Rambo repeatedly returns, Teasle finally arrests him on charges of vagrancy and resisting arrest, for which he can be held for up to 35 days in jail. Stripped naked and kept inside a claustrophobia-inducing cell, Rambo experiences a flashback to his days as a POW in Vietnam, and he attacks the police as they attempt to cut his hair and shave him, grabbing a straight razor and using it to disembowel an officer. He forces his way out, steals a motorcycle, and hides in the nearby mountains. Teasle orders a manhunt, resulting in most of his officers, several civilian deputies, and countless National Guardsmen getting killed by deadly traps and ambushes set by Rambo.

It is eventually revealed to Teasle that Rambo was a member of an elite Special Forces unit in Vietnam; he has extensive experience in guerrilla warfare and survival tactics, and received the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty while in Vietnam. Since his discharge from the Army, he has been unable to hold down a job, thus forcing him to live as a drifter. Despite knowing that his abuse of Rambo is largely responsible for the latter's actions, Teasle stubbornly refuses to call off the manhunt or try to reason with Rambo.

The story ends back in town, with Rambo finally meeting his match when a specialist, Colonel Sam Trautman, arrives to help Teasle. Using his local knowledge, Teasle manages to surprise Rambo and shoots him in the chest, but is himself wounded in the stomach by a return shot. Rambo flees town, and Teasle follows. Both men are essentially dying by this point; the only thing keeping them alive is a mix of pride and a desire to justify their actions. Rambo, having found a spot he feels comfortable in, prepares to commit suicide by detonating a stick of dynamite against his body; however, he then sees Teasle following his trail and decides that it would be more honorable to die fighting.

Rambo fires at Teasle to get his attention, but to his surprise and disappointment, Teasle is fatally wounded. For a moment, Rambo reflects on how he had missed his chance of a decent death because he is now too weak to light the fuse, then suddenly feels the explosion he had expected — but in the head, not the stomach. Rambo dies, satisfied that he has come to a fitting end. Trautman returns to the dying Teasle and tells him that he managed to finish off Rambo with a shotgun. Teasle relaxes, experiences a moment of affection for Rambo, and then dies.



Morrell stated he was inspired to write the novel by hearing about the experiences of his students who had fought in Vietnam.[2] The author also said "When I started First Blood back in 1968, I was deeply influenced by Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male."[3][clarification needed] The character's name was derived in part from the Rambo apple, a supply of which his wife brought home while he was trying to come up with a suitable name for his character.[4] In the DVD commentary for First Blood, Morell comments that one of the inspirations for Rambo was World War II hero Audie Murphy. The town that Madison, Kentucky, was modelled after was Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.


Critical responseEdit

While John Skow of TIME described the book as "carnography",[5] this negative review appears to be the exception: the book was praised by Newsweek as "First-rate", by The New York Times Book Review as "A fine novel" and by the thriller writer John D. MacDonald as "one hell of a hard, fast novel".[6] When Stephen King taught creative writing at the University of Maine, he used it as a textbook, and the book has been translated into 26 languages.[7]

Film adaptationEdit

Cuban-Italian actor Tomas Milian read First Blood soon after its release and wanted to star in an adaptation of it; however, he was unsuccessful in persuading Italian producers to support the project. Still, he used "Rambo" as the name of his character, an ex-cop, in the 1975 film Syndicate Sadists.

In 1972, Morrell sold the film rights to First Blood to Columbia Pictures, who in turn sold them to Warner Bros. The film languished in development hell for ten years, with the story passing through three companies and eighteen screenplays. Finally, Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar, two film distributors looking to become producers, obtained the film rights. Sylvester Stallone was cast in the lead role, due to the star power he had from the films Rocky and Rocky II. Stallone was able to use his clout to force changes to the script to make Rambo a more sympathetic character, including having Rambo not directly kill any police or national guardsmen (in the novel, he kills many), and having him survive at the end instead of dying as he does in the book.

Rambo, whose first name is not specified in the novel, was given the first name "John" for the film as a reference to the song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home".[8]

The resulting film, First Blood, was a major success, earning $125 million on a $15 million budget, and spawning an entire Rambo franchise.


  1. ^ David Morrell. "Rambo". Retrieved July 21, 2012.
  2. ^ Drawing First Blood. First Blood DVD: Artisan. 2002.
  3. ^ Joe Hartlaub (March 23, 2007). "Interview". The Book Reporter. Retrieved 2021-04-22.
  4. ^ Morrell's 2000 introduction to the novel, entitled "Rambo and Me", gives insight on the inspirations and development of the novel (pp. vii–xiv).
  5. ^ Skow, John."Carnography". TIME. May 29, 1972.
  6. ^ Praise for "First Blood".
  7. ^ David Morrell on Rambo. Archived 2013-09-28 at WebCite
  8. ^ Morrell, David (1985). "Introduction". Rambo (First Blood Part II). ISBN 0-515-08399-2.

Further readingEdit

  • First Blood by David Morrell (1972). Morrell's 2000 introduction, entitled "Rambo and Me", gives insight on the inspirations and development of the novel, as well as the development of the film adaptation and its first two sequels (pp. vii–xiv).
  • Stiffed by Susan Faludi (1999). Chapter 7 (pp. 359–406) offers a fuller treatment of the genesis and metamorphosis of First Blood from book to theater, including the screenplay's radical and reactionary swings in development and the alternate movie ending.