John Ridd is engaged in a schoolboy fight in the yard of Blundell’s school when John Fry, employed by Ridd’s father, comes to take the boy home. Before the two leave, however, young John completes his fight by knocking out his opponent. On their way home through the moorlands, the man and boy are nearly captured by members of the outlaw Doone band, which has been ravaging the countryside by stealing and killing. When John Ridd reaches his father’s farm, he learns that the Doones attacked and murdered his father only a few days previously. This incident stimulates the desire for revenge in all the residents of the parish of Oare, for the murdered man had been greatly respected.
John settles down to the responsibilities that the death of his father have thrust upon him. At first, his time is greatly consumed by farm work as he grows into the largest and strongest man in the Exmoor country. As he matures, John learns much about the wild Doone clan. There is one Doone, however, toward whom he feels no animosity: Lorna Doone, the beautiful daughter of the man supposed to be the murderer of John’s father. On first sight of the young woman, John had been stirred by her beauty. Ever since, he has been in great conflict, as he understands that his passion is directed toward someone he ought to hate for his father’s sake. After John’s great-uncle, Master Reuben Huckaback, is attacked and robbed by the Doones, he goes with John to swear out a warrant for their arrest, but he has no luck because the magistrates are unwilling to incur the enmity of the Doones.
Over time, John is drawn deeper into a relationship with Lorna Doone. The two meet secretly in Doone Valley, and she tells him the story of her life with the outlaws. She has always loved her grandfather, Sir Ensor Doone, but she fears and has come to hate the rough, savage sons, nephews, and grandsons of Sir Ensor. This hatred is increased when Carver Doone cold-bloodedly murders Lord Alan Brandir, a distant relative who had come to take Lorna away from the Doones.
About this time, John is called to London to serve the cause of King James II’s tottering throne. There he discloses all he knows of the Doones’ activities and of the false magistrates who seemed to be in league with them. He is warned that Tom Faggus, a highwayman who is John’s cousin, might go to the gallows soon. Because John refuses to accept bribes or to become the dupe of sly lawyers in the city, when he eventually returns to his mother and his farm he is not a penny richer or poorer than when he left.
In the meantime, John’s concern over Lorna, who has two suitors among the Doones themselves, has almost unhinged his mind. He is delighted to discover that Lorna, still only seventeen years old, has refused both her suitors. At the same time, he fears more than ever that he will lose his chance of winning Lorna, the ward of the outlaws he has pledged to help the king destroy. He at last, however, wins Lorna’s agreement, and, with her support, he feels that nothing can stop him.
At home, the love of John’s sister Annie for her cousin, Tom Faggus, reminds John of his duties as his father’s son and plunges him into...
(The entire section is 1311 words.)