John Rambo is an American legend. Portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in the 1982 film, Rambo is by far the most recognizable action figures in cinematic history, but his literary counterpart is far different. Author David Morrell’s character was radically changed from the page to the screen, as was the character of Will Teasle, the sheriff who hunts Rambo through the mountainous Kentucky wilderness.
In the book, Rambo and Teasle are simultaneously polar opposite and very similar characters. Both former military soldiers, they crave the action they experienced in the field, and so antagonize each other further and further until they’re each given an excuse to try and kill the other one. Their differences come with their respective philosophies, or in other words, the reasons they use to justify their mistreatment of each other.
Teasle sees his service in the military as something honorable, expressing great pride for his Distinguished Service Cross, which he earned for his valiant leadership on the battlefield. Rambo, on the other hand, looks back on his time as a Green Beret during the Vietnam War as surviving through hell, as he was forced to live as an animal when he was captured by the Viet Kong. These two starkly different experiences of war are what shape what each character represents: while Teasle is strict authority, Rambo is the bestial wild.
In the movie, however, Teasle is hardly a character, functioning more as a plot device than a worthy adversary, while Rambo is portrayed as a victim rather than one who is equally in the wrong. The only reason Rambo flees from the cops is because they trigger his PTSD, and throughout the entire film the only person he kills is Teasle himself, while in the book he brutally slaughters dozens of innocent police officers, including eviscerating one with a straight razor.
In David Morrell’s First Blood, there is no good guy and bad guy, Both Will Teasle and John Rambo are equally in the wrong, willing to sacrifice their own lives just for their pride. This is what makes First Blood one of the most unique books I’ve read in recent years. Two characters who know no other way to live than to face off against each other, neither of whom you’re rooting for, which I believe David Morrell anticipated, and why, in the end, he has both of them die.