I think it would be hard to argue that David Morrell’s book First Blood (Rambo’s first coming out) is not an action book. It definitely is. What might be surprising, to those that haven’t read the book, is how violent it is. In the movie, I believe there is only one death, the man that falls from the helicopter, and the rest are just injured or incapacitated. The novel, on the other hand, is a blood bath. And in the end, though I doubted myself at first (because who wants to go against Rambo), Rambo is the bad guy, the antagonist. He’s the guy going around killing police officers, civilians, and National Guardsmen. And despite what an asshole Sheriff Teasle is for setting Rambo off, in the end he is just trying to end the bloodbath.
Content: Action/ Hunted
There is not really an internal genre, Rambo and Teasle don’t change internally at the end of the book, they are both the same people. Teasle does make the chase personal though.
The inciting attack happens in the jail when Rambo suffers a PTSD attack and kills one deputy and severely wounds another.
Teasle sidesteps his responsibility to use every resource in his power to take down Rambo, not allowing the State Police to take over because he wants to be the one to take Rambo down.
The ordinary world for Teasle is the one that makes sense, that when you arrest a hippie he doesn’t have the capabilities to take out armed deputies and fight back. Lashing out, Teasle summons his friend with the trained dogs and also the helicopter, going outside the limits of the law by bringing in civilians to help.
Rambo wants to get revenge on Teasle.
Teasle fails to catch Rambo with just his men and local friends, and all of them are killed by Rambo and Teasle barely escapes with his life.
First Teasle admits that he needs help from State and National Guard, and then he listens to Col Trautman (mentor of sorts) and gets his gift, thinking like Rambo.
Teasle begins to think like Rambo and outsmarts him while Rambo is stalking him, getting a shot off and wounding Rambo, but Rambo’s survival instinct allows him to critically wound Teasle even though he has the drop on Rambo.
Teasle wounds Rambo enough that he is killed by Col Trautman. Teasle dies from his wounds (sacrifice).
This is very interesting, because Rambo is the victim of PTSD and abuse by Teagle and his men. Other victims could be seen as the police officers that are just doing their job.
Teasle wants to stop Rambo’s killing rampage and fix the problem that he started by his abuse.
While it appears that Rambo is outnumbered and outgunned, because of his training and war experience, he actually has the upper hand.
Also, Col Trautman gives a speech in praise of Rambo, telling about his training and war experiences
There are two Points of View in this novel, both third person limited – Rambo and Teasle.
Wants: Teasle wants to survive Rambo’s rampage and capture him
Needs: Teasle needs to stop him himself, stop what he started
Death results when the protagonist abuses his authority
Beginning Hook: When Rambo arrives in a small town he is treated unfairly by the Sheriff and arrested, but when he is abused in the jail his PTSD kicks in and he fights back, wounding one and killing another deputy when he escapes.
Middle Build: When Rambo escapes into the surrounding wooded mountains, he begins to kill his pursuers, but is finally unable to kill Teasle who started the unfair treatment. After Teasle escapes, he leads a huge manhunt and Rambo is forced to hide deeper and deeper into a cave until he finds a hidden exit and escapes.
Ending Payoff: Rambo escapes back into the town and begins blowing up gas stations and buildings as distractions, trying to escape the town. Meanwhile, Teasle begins to think like Rambo. In a final shoot out between the two, Teagle and Rambo are both mortally wounded and Col Trautman, Rambo’s old commander, kills Rambo.
Here is a breakdown of the 5 Commandments of Storytelling (from the book the Story Grid):
Value Shift: unjustly treated to feeling justified
Polarity Shift: -/+
Value Shift: Harrassed to ‘under police control’ again
Polarity Shift: -/–
Value Shift: Unjustly treated to justified
Polarity Shift: -/+
If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:
Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.
My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.
Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!