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It was a pleasure to burn.
—Epigraph (from Fahrenheit 451)
Firestarter is a 1980 novel by Stephen King. It's about a 7-year-old girl named Charlene Roberta McGee (she goes by Charlie), who can start fires just by thinking about it, or if she's feeling particularly upset; she also has a hint of precognition and a fair amount of telekinesis. Her father, Andy, has an ability he calls the 'push', allowing him to influence people; and her mother, Vicky, has a very limited form of telekinesis, which only extends to closing doors and turning off the television from across the room.
They have those abilities because Andy and Vicky participated in an experiment sponsored by a government organization called The Shop during their college days; they were told that there was a 50% chance they would be injected with a small dose of harmless hallucinogenic drug and a 50% chance of being injected with water. It was actually an incredibly dangerous Psycho Serum, which gave them - and all the other participants in the test - paranormal abilities. Out of these other people, all but 3 are either dead or in a mental asylum of some sort. (The third one lost his abilities and is living a normal life.)
The agents of the Shop kept the McGees under surveillance, eventually killing Vicky and kidnapping Charlie. However, Andy freed her, using his 'mind domination' ability. At the beginning of the book, Charlie and her father are on the run from the Shop, whose members want to use Charlie's power to "influence" world leaders.
Also made into a movie of the same name in 1984, starring Drew Barrymore as Charlie, David Keith as Andy, George C. Scott as Rainbird, Martin Sheen as Hollister and Heather Locklear as Vicky. There was a Contested Sequel sometime later on titled Firestarter 2: Rekindled in 2002.
Julia Ecklar has written and recorded a song based on the novel, called "Daddy's Little Girl."
Referenced by the Neverwinter Nights 2 mod saga Dark Waters with an incident in the second chapter involving a girl about to be burned at the stake for starting fires.
This book has examples of:
- Affably Evil - Rainbird gains Charlie's trust by posing as a friendly janitor.
- Badass Adorable - Movie version Charlie. Aww, can I take her home with me?
- Blessed with Suck - Andy's powers give him pain and minor brain hemorrhages when he uses them; Charlie's does not, but she has a hard time controlling them (and, of course, they are chased because of them).
- Bullying a Dragon - The government knows how powerful Charlie and Andy are, or have the potential to be, so what do they do? Give them all sorts of reasons to hate the government!
- Burning with Anger
- Cement Shoes: The subjects for the Lot Six experiment were chosen from people with no living relatives, so there would be fewer problems if they die. The Shop still had to kill the godfather of one of the victims, who had been determined to find out the truth of what had happened to his godson. Rather than getting to the bottom of what happened, the only place he wound up getting to was "the bottom of the Baltimore Trench, where he presumably still was, with two cement blocks tied around whatever remained of his legs."
- Daddy's Girl - Charlie (though it's because her mother is killed).
- Death Seeker - Rainbird pretty much. The root of his obsession with Charlie.
- The Dragon - Rainbird to Captain Hollister.
- Dragon-in-Chief - Rainbird
- Dramatic Chase Opening
- Driven to Suicide - Several participants of the Lot Six experiment. Also, Dr. Pynchot (in the book) who commits suicide by shoving his arm into the garbage disposal while it's running, after Andy triggered an 'echo' in his mind.
- Empty Promise: After Charlie finds out that her mother is dead, Andy tells her that everything will be all right, while knowing perfectly well that nothing is ever all right.
- Eye Scream - One of the participants in the Lot Six experiment goes insane and claws out his own eyes.
- Fingore - The Shop agents pulled some of Vicky's fingernails out before killing her to get her to tell where Charlie was.
- Gilded Cage - When Charlie and her father Andy get kidnapped by the Shop.
- Government Agency of Fiction: Department of Scientific Intelligence (the Shop).
- Heroic RROD - Andy eventually has a stroke because he overuses his power.
- I Love the Dead: When Andy temporarily gains telepathic powers during the Lot Six experiment, he reads the mind of one of the Shop agents present, and learns that he killed four people and raped one of the bodies.
- Immune to Bullets - At the end, Charlie reaches this; her powers become fast and strong enough to boil bullets before reaching her.
- In Medias Res - The novel starts with Andy and Charlie escaping from the agents of the Shop. Their backstory is told in parts in Andy's flashbacks.
- Knockout Ambush: The Shop agents capture Andy and Charlie this way. Charlie is shot by Rainbird with a tranquilizer dart from long range, and Andy, distraught over this, is easily taken out from short range.
- Lamarck Was Right: Andy and Vicky gain mental domination powers and telekinesis, respectively, from a drug given to them in an experiment. Their daughter is born with telekinesis and pyrokinesis as a result. This is Handwaved when the father speculates that the drug must have affected their DNA. King mentioned afterwards that he never liked that explanation, preferring stories where supernatural things just happen, and are never explained.
- Magical Defibrillator - Averted; Lot Six causes a heart attack for one of the participants of the experiment. They use a defibrillator on him, but he dies anyway.
- Meaningful Name - Charlie.
- Mexican Standoff - At the end, Charlie, Andy and Rainbird have a three-way Mexican Standoff, with Rainbird being the only one with a gun.
- Mundane Utility - Andy uses his powers to hold diet classes and confidence classes. Charlie once uses hers to light a fireplace.
- Next Sunday AD - The novel is set between 1981-1983.
- No Control Group: The participants of the Lot Six experiment are told that half of them will only be injected with distilled water in a double-blind test. Actually, everyone gets Lot Six.
- No Conservation of Energy: Lampshaded. In an interdepartmental memo, a Shop scientist writes that they have no idea where the heat Charlie is producing is coming from. "Figure that one out and you've got the Nobel Prize in your hip pocket!"
- One Girl Army - Charlie, as the arrogant idiots of The Shop found out the hard way.
- Only Sane Man - Rainbird; see Too Dumb to Live below.
- Person of Mass Destruction - Charlie, obviously.
- Power Incontinence: Charlie finds it very hard to control her power.
- Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Cap thinks that the Shop could use Andy's power for that: "Imagine him getting close enough to that pinko Ted Kennedy to suggest in a low voice of utter conviction that suicide was the best answer."
- Psychic Nosebleed / Deadly Nosebleed - In the film, Andy gets one of these whenever he uses his power (in the book, he has terrible headaches).
- Psychic Powers - Well, yes.
- Compelling Voice - Andy's "Push" ability.
- Mind Over Matter - Charlie's mother, Vicky, has some limited powers of telekinesis. Charlie also has this power; she uses it to get change from payphones.
- Playing with Fire
- Telepathy - Andy and Vicky could converse without talking when they were under the effect of Lot Six (though not later). Charlie also has limited telepathic powers.
- Psycho for Hire - Rainbird. He kills people because he's obsessed with death. From the money he receives for it, he mostly buys shoes that he never wears.
- Psycho Serum - Lot Six, the experimental substance given to 12 college students, including Charlie's parents, in hopes of boosting their ESP abilities. Most of the participants didn't live very long afterward.
- Puberty Superpower - not precisely, but it's hinted that the psychic powers are linked to the pituitary gland, which goes nuts at puberty. Charlie is already extremely powerful, and she's prepubescent. At the end she reflects that someday she might be able to affect the sun itself.
- At least some of the Shop's scientists think that the pituitary gland is the key to the powers, and during puberty they fear Charlie will literally be able to destroy the world at will.
- In The Dark Tower series the crimson king uses Pineal Extract from psychic twins to amplify the power of his breakers, possibly based on the research from The Shop.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge - Charlie burns down every building belonging to the Shop and kills several agents after her father dies.
- Stern Chase - About half the book.
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Andy finds Vicky's body in an ironing closet after the Shop agents killed her.
- Super Soldiers - One of the goals of The Shop's experiments on parapsychology is creating people who might be useful as weapons.
- The Movie of the Book
- Tomboyish Name - Charlene's nickname "Charlie".
- Too Dumb to Live - You have a girl who you know can start fires -- BIG honkin' fires -- just with her mind. Wouldn't it be a lot better to, oh, be nice to her?
- Rainbird once muses how stupid the Shop's agents are, comparing them to thieves who he had heard of. They blew a safe, destroying all the money in it because they used too much explosive. "The Shop, like the FBI and CIA, had a long history of killing the money. If you can't get what you want with foreign aid, go in there with some Thompsons and gelignite and assassinate the bastard. Put some cyanide gas in Castro's cigars. It was crazy, but you couldn't tell them that. All they could see where RESULTS, glittering and blinking like some mythical Vegas jackpot. So they killed the money and stood there with a bunch of useless green scraps sifting through their fingers and wondered what the hell had happened."
- Transvestite - Dr. Pynchot returns to being one of these in the book, as a side effect of being "pushed" by Andy.
- Tyke Bomb: Charlie is able to set cinderblocks on fire with her mind if she concentrates, or if she gets upset. She's seven years old.
- And at the end, she looks up at the sun, which is shrouded by steam and looks very odd, and realizes that "someday she would be able to change the sun--if she wanted to."
- Villainous Breakdown - Captain Hollister receives an awful side-effect of Andy's powers, heightening his love for golf and fear of snakes, to the point that they're pretty much the only things he can think of. When Andy and Charlie finally meet, he believes he finds a snake in the barn and screams loudly in terror. This leads to the complete and utter destruction of the compound, and the deaths of himself, Andy, Rainbird, and countless Shop employees.
- Villains Out Shopping - Rainbird's home has entire rooms full of shoes that he collects during his travels.
- With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility