Bearing considerable in common with Charles Kingsley's ideal of a "muscular Christian," R.D. Blackmore's hero John Ridd fights for identity and virtue as much as for love and country. A Yorkshire farmer, Ridd becomes embroiled with the outlaw Doone family of Scotland when he falls irrevocably in love with Sir Ensor Doone's granddaughter, Lorna. Though aristocrats, the Doones are rebels, thieves and Catholics—the opposite of John Ridd, a devout Protestant, a simple yeoman, a man of his word.
On the surface a rousing adventure story, Blackmore's masterpiece is actually an investigation of the meaning and nature of masculinity, and the hierarchy of allegiances every man must make for himself. It is also a celebration of pastoral life, romantic love, and Victorian ideals from the ideal domestic situation to religion and morality. By having Ridd narrate the story, Blackmore has effectively removed himself as author, and left us a firsthand defense of the good life in narrative form, rather than relying on philosophic digressions to relay the various messages.
Ridd struggles throughout the novel to resolve the tension between his love for Lorna and his love of country and family. A major element of this conflict concerns what form true manhood takes. Ridd is self-admittedly immensely strong of body and somewhat simple of mind (though his actions often suggest the second claim is not the case), and in every situation he attempts to pursue the manliest course. While he is often obsessed with outward displays (at one point he carries sheep two-by-two under his arms through a snowstorm), his less visceral feats are the ones that finally earn our admiration (his wooing of and care for Lorna, for instance).
Praised by writers as diverse as Thomas Hardy and Robert Louis Stevenson, Lorna Doone is an often overlooked classic that is both thoughtful and well-crafted. Adeptly blending scenes of agrarian bliss with exciting and even scary adventure story elements, Blackmore's novel, while intensely relevant in his own day, is just as powerful and universal today.