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Kill It With Fire / Literature

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Kill It with Fire in literature.note 

  • In Daniel Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events: In the Village of Fowl Devotees, burning at the stake is the designated punishment for breaking any of the town's numerous rules (which includes the biggies like murder, but also trivial and ridiculous offenses like using mechanical devices, reading certain books, and talking out of turn in town meetings).
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  • In Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. books, this is how Garrett kills a nest of vampires.
  • In John Hodgman's second book, More Information Than You Require, he says of rats: "You must kill them all. Do it with fire."
    • He says the same thing about infestations of Scottie Dogs and... tides.
    • Fire works well for most household pests. But for replicants, you've just got to bite the bullet and hire a Blade Runner.
  • In Masques, the refugees hide away from the undead monsters in a cave. Conveniently, the cave comes with protection runes, that make a wall of flames appear when the undead try to enter it. Quite effective, but the smell of roasted undead is nasty.
  • The Monster Plant Beasties from The Day of the Triffids are especially vulnerable to flamethrowers. (Bullets don't have much effect because Triffids don't appear to have any vital organs.) Sometimes they panic and set their allies on fire as well. Too bad there's a fuel shortage due to that Cosy Catastrophe...
    • In Simon Clark's sequel, The Night of the Triffids, the protagonist's group have mitigated the fuel issue by developing flamethrowers that run on the one thing they're not in immediate danger of running short of: triffid oil.
  • Harry Potter and Dumbledore use it to drive off the Inferi at the end of The Half-Blood Prince. And in Deathly Hallows, Fiendfyre turns out to be one of the few ways to destroy Horcruxes.
    • Notable for the brilliant exchange between Harry and Dumbledore that went something like...
      Dumbledore: However, like many creatures that dwell in cold and darkness, they fear light and warmth, which we shall, therefore, call to our aid should the need arise.
      Harry: (bewildered expression)
      Dumbledore: Fire, Harry.
      Harry: Oh... right...
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:
    • In the first fight against the Ringwraiths, swords prove ineffective, so Aragorn grabs a flaming piece of wood form the fire and drives them back. Works remarkably well considering they are the immortal indestructible specters of long dead kings, capable of killing with even a slight blow and causing even squads of veteran soldiers to run in fear. It's hinted, though, that the Ringwraiths are in a weaker state during their initial attack on the Shire. Somewhat justified as they are at the point described as being stronger in the dark and that they need the cloaks to have form and to affect the world. Cloaks can burn and the fire is a bright light.
    • Also, in the modern movie adaptation, fire is the orcs' most useful weapon against the Ent attack. Which is a pretty good idea, as Ents are trees. When Isengard is flooded, you can see a burning Ent rush forward and dunk itself to douse the flames. In the books Saruman uses some kind of automatic flamethrowers against them, causing them to flood Isengard. Also in the books, the dwarves' need for firewood (for their forges) was one reason Ents didn't like dwarves very much. There is a bit in The Two Towers where a tree bends down to get some warmth from a fire, but in general, the trees don't like it.
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  • In Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters trilogy, the animals are afraid of human technology, including, but not limited to, fire.
  • The Lost Redeemer: Being a Sanctifier who can manipulate energy with his mind, Thane uses fire as his primary weapon throughout the first book.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
  • In The Hobbit, fire proves effective in driving off wargs, but much less so when some goblins arrive, who simply use it against the dwarves.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide notes that fire is the only way to safely dispose of a Solanium-infected corpse. It's not that effective as a weapon, because the zombies don't feel pain and won't notice they're on fire, but all traces of the infection will be wiped out once the fire brings them down.
  • And in World War Z, the Army develops an incendiary bullet, nicknamed the "Cherry Pie", designed to burn up a Zombie's brain without causing collateral damage.
  • In The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, vampires are highly vulnerable to flame, to the point where matches will make some flinch.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The undead wights are nearly indestructible except to fire. The only body part of a wight in the series not destroyed by fire remained animate until it rotted away.
    • It's stated that Mad King Aerys was a big fan of this trope.
    • And Daenerys, of course, has her three pet dragons. The very first thing she trains them to do is breathe fire at people. And she has ambitions to use said dragons, once they grow up, to conquer Westeros. Her family's motto isn't "Fire and Blood" for nothing, after all.
    • And who could forget the Battle of the Blackwater when Tyrion Lannister packs a squadron of ships with wildfire (which is basically magical Greek Fire on steroids) and sets not only both fleets but the river itself on fire.
  • As in Mythology above, the vampires in numerous works of Gothic literature—including Carmilla, Varney the Vampire, and Dracula must be destroyed with fire after they're staked and decapitated. The fact that Dracula's body is not burned when he's killed in the original novel is often cited as a reason for latter-day authors to bring him Back from the Dead. Again.
  • In The Licanius Trilogy, this is the only way to dispose of the eletai, as well as those who have been killed by them. If not, the corpses will be revived as new eletai and assimilated into their ranks.
  • A subversion: in H. P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a repeated theme and instruction is to refrain from killing the necromancer villain with fire, as he can be resurrected from the ashes. Instead, the protagonist is instructed to dissolve the body in acid.
  • The vampires in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight can be permanently destroyed by using fire and not much else. It's worth noting that Carlisle failed to try immolation during his many attempts at killing himself after he became a vampire, despite his father being a pastor who believed in wiping out evil supernatural creatures in such a manner.
  • At the end of the Jurassic Park book, there isn't any of that "Let the dinos live in peace on the island" stuff from the movie. The Costa Rican Air Force levels the island with napalm.
  • And somehow Ian Malcolm survives the napalm attack to be in The Lost World (1995). His presence in the sequel book is Hand Waved by stating that his death in the first one was a mistake on the part of those chronicling the events, and he was only critically wounded and later recovered upon receiving proper medical care.
  • In Brian Caswell's The View From Ararat, the only known ways to destroy the inorganic super-plague threatening life on planet Deucalion are extreme heat, and an enzyme conveniently found in all native Deucalion plants and animals, half a galaxy away from where the disease first surfaced.
  • The finale of Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, The Naked God, has a straight example—the Orgathe are immune to most weapons but very vulnerable to heat.
  • A major villain in the Fingerprints series starts out as a Knife Nut. When it becomes clear that a single knife is insufficient to carry out her Roaring Rampage of Revenge, she figures fire will work better. It does.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. Flamethrowers are the best means of dealing with the Chtorran gastropedes (and various other forms of Chtorran ecology), and are preferred by the antagonist over cold-gas and flechette rifles. This is because their unique alien physiology makes the gastropedes very difficult to kill.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Brothers of the Snake, when Khiron killed a fellow Space Marine, he claimed he had been possessed by a daemon and that, since he had not used fire, it had escaped. Fortunately, Priad remembers this when he figures out who it escaped to.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, when Shere Khan incites the Pack against Mowgli, Mowgli uses "the Red Flower" against them.
  • In Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, they discover the troll can be killed only with fire. (This is the source for D&D.)
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, the Living Shadows in the Eye of Terror can be killed only with fire. Even that is not very effective; while the Space Marines can survive, the two Imperial Guardsmen with them are nearly killed by the heat they need, even with the Marines trying to shield them.
  • In Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series, fire spewed by male and green dragons (and flamethrowers wielded by queenriders and ground crews) are the primary means of fighting Threadfall.
  • Beatty in Fahrenheit 451. "If you have a problem, don't face it, burn it". Indeed. The world in Fahrenheit 451 subscribes to this ideology against books and literature.
  • Stephen King:
    • The Shining: Used to deal with the Hell Hotel, with bonus wasp's nest-destroying Flash Back.
    • Subverted in the short story The Road Virus Goes North (part of Everything's Eventual). A horror writer buys the last surviving painting of a troubled artist who burned all his other works and then committed suicide. When he realises the painting is cursed he tries to get rid of it, but the painting keeps returning intact. Eventually, he burns the picture, because that's what works in the books, right? Unfortunately, it turns out that the artist didn't burn all his paintings except this one, he burned all his paintings including this one.
    • Henry does this by burning down the cabin in Dreamcatcher.
  • Subverted in John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" where the scientists in Antarctica use high voltage electricity to kill telepathic, body-morphing aliens. This makes a lot more sense than the flamethrowers used in the movie (John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)) because it takes a while to kill something with fire. Electricity can zap every cell in an organism instantly—hard to adapt to, eh? For another good reason to use electrons, see the end of the movie, where the entire base is charred rubble and the survivors are shelterless in ANTARCTICA.
    • Played straight in the conclusion of the original story—the final alien is destroyed with an oversized blowtorch after a human fires bullets through all three of its eyes, which causes it to become immobilised. Also, the electrocution weapon required mains power from the base's generators, and the final confrontation is too far away to run a lead.
  • Karen Miller's Godspeaker Trilogy where Marlon is immolated by Dexterity's glowing touch.
  • In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, fire is the best way to kill the shapeshifting, vampiric Changers, which are hard to kill but whose blood is very flammable. It's also the best way to kill the zombielike Haunts.
  • In the Night World series, fire is the only thing that can kill any creature, be it witch, human, werewolf, shapeshifter, or vampire. One character does freak out when another speaks nonchalantly about burning a werewolf to death (including the phrase "one of the traditional methods"), so it appears to be a less-used tactic... now.
  • A tanker truck, a fire truck, and an intentionally damaged bridge that the Posleen have to cross provides much fun for the humans defending Fredricksburg, at one point in Gust Front.
  • Sun Tzu devotes a chapter of The Art of War to the use of fire against an enemy.
  • When Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files yells "Fuego!", you take cover and pray for mercy. When he yells "Pyrofuego", you run for your damn life. He's only had to cast the latter spell twice in the entire series, and both times, those on the receiving end... let's just say they had their whole day ruined. Memetic Mutation has turned him into the Anthropomorphic Personification of this Trope.
    • Don't forget, one of those times he was so furious that he said "Pyrofuego! BURN!" Meaning he may have cast the spell in English. Something that is pointed out many, many times to be terrifyingly dangerous, as saying spells in another language, one you don't understand, provides some psychic insulation.
    • His very first duel involved an Eldritch Abomination, a gas station, and fire. Harry won. (Note, though, that Harry eventually discovers the Eldritch Abomination threw the fight, and it could've ripped him apart easily.)
    • He's also a fan of a shotgun loaded with fireball or dragon's breath rounds, as is Kincaid.
    • Harry also once created a spear of flame 20 stories high. Not for nothing does Elaine (no slouch herself) refer to him as the most powerful wizard she's ever met.
      • A bit of clarification: In terms of raw power, Harry is in the top percentile. However, Harry himself notes that more experienced wizards, such as the Wardens or the Senior Council could twist him into knots without even trying, because in the Dresdenverse, as in real life, skill matters much more than power.
      • This one was neat because he wasn't even using it as a weapon—the fire was a heatsink for a lake. Magic is such a Game-Breaker that it's not even funny. note 
    • "How about a little fire, Scarecrow?"
    • The Holy Fire of the Swords (and occasionally their wielders) is very effective against the forces of darkness.
    Harry: Let that be a lesson to you. Hands off the Fist of God.
    • Don't forget the use of superpower hellfire and soulfire, the latter of which is (literally) hell on wheels for destroying stuff, and soulfire, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, and allows a wizard to be more of what they already are by supercharging their spells.
    • In-universe, Harry notes that fire really is a highly effective weapon against all sorts of nasties, as well as being used against magical enchantments. Fire can disrupt and destroy enchantments when used with that intent, and any wizard worth their salt in combat learns how to use fire first. In Turn Coat, a squadron of Wardens cuts loose on a horde of summoned spirits, and the ensuing literal firestorm is simply stunning to behold.
    • Of course, as stated by Harry himself, he follows the above-mentioned Tao of Pratchett.
  • Codex Alera:
    • Although all the Elemental Powers in are useful in war, using firecrafting to make a Flaming Sword is a common tactic when High Lords are fighting because wounds that have been cauterized are extremely difficult for watercrafters to heal. Fire is also handy against the Vord, since the croach they rely on to keep them alive is very flammable.
    • The beam of sunlight (while technically a product of aircrafting) is a prime example.
    • Firecrafting can also induce powerful emotions, like passion and fear. First Lord Gaius Sextus once wields a flaming blade so powerful with this firecrafting-induced fear, men just dropped dead from their fear killing them.
    • In First Lord's Fury Tavi learns that while bonding with a fury to make it loyal to the person requires watercrafting, another person can disrupt that basic process with firecrafting, freeing the fury.
  • Master Ferus of The Cinder Spires is usually genial, and generally claimed to be silly. However, send a task force to invade his home and There Is No Kill Like Overkill.
  • Colt Regan: The only way to keep nihil from coming back for more.
  • In the conclusion to An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Scottish philosopher David Hume says that reasoning can only lead us either to mathematical truths or knowledge about matters of fact based on experiment:
    If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity of number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
  • As mentioned in the main description, the trolls in the Forgotten Realms world regenerate and can recover from anything...except being set on fire. The heroes in Streams of Silver take advantage of this weakness as much as they can.
  • In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, the Bloodtide, begging for death, tells them to use fire.
  • The Krytos Plague in the X-Wing Series is so highly infectious that decontamination of a building consists of burning everything inside it with plasma, including burning half an inch of concrete off the walls.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Black Colossus", the charging knights are destroyed with a wall of fire.
  • Rapier in The Five Greatest Warriors burns several men to death inside the Third Vertex.
  • Averted in Terry Goodkind's Stone of Tears. An Eldritch Abomination shows up and starts killing the crap out of people. A wizard sets it on fire. It screams in pain. Then it puts the fire out and starts killing people some more.
  • In the last Time Scout book, a bad guy running from the heroes tosses a burning rag onto a barrel of gunpowder in the middle of an arsenal in the middle of Victorian London's dockland. This causes some commotion.
  • In Michael Moorcock's The Sailor on the Seas of Fate there's a scene where the heroes have to destroy a pair of buildings. The captain of their ship is insistent that the buildings can only be destroyed by fire. It turns out that the buildings are a pair of evil alien sorcerers.
  • In H. G. Wells's short story "The Cone", an angry steelworker decides to kill his boss by throwing him off of an overhead catwalk onto the red-hot vent cone on top of a blast furnace. His victim starts burning immediately, and it goes From Bad to Worse when the vent opens releasing scalding gases.
  • The only reliable way to kill the undead in The Witch Watch. That and just cutting their heads off and leaving it powerless and buried underground whilst still being conscious.
  • Kantri of Tales of Kolmar have this instinct towards anything that makes them angry. They use claws and teeth too and will rend bodies long after the foes are dead, but when it's over they burn the bodies and preferably things the bodies have touched, right down to the soil. They are dragons.
  • In Septimus Heap - Physik, Queen Etheldredda's ghost and her pet animal are finished off by burning their portrait in an appropriately designed BoneFyre.
  • In The Wheel of Time series, fire is one of the three weapons effective against the Finn. Music puts them in a kind of trance, and while they can become intangible, pure iron and fire will still hurt them. The explanatory poem goes:
    Courage to strengthen
    Fire to blind
    Music to dazzle
    Iron to bind
  • The Cthulhu Mythos story Once More from the Top by A. Scott Glancy shows what happened when the marines were sent to clear out Innsmouth. They hold their own against the Fish People, only to be routed when a shoggoth comes swarming over the sea wall. Fortunately the narrator and a Sociopathic Soldier are able to throw it back with the help of a couple of flamethrowers and some phosphorus grenades (even diving into the water doesn't help the shoggoth, as phosphorus can burn underwater).
  • The Vampire Chronicles, like many other vampire stories (as noted above) have fire as one of the only ways to destroy a vampire (though particularly strong/old vampires are immune even to that). Louis de Pointe du Lac, the narrator of the first book, has a particular fascination with it, burning down two houses, a theater and his creator within his book alone.
  • A peculiar variant with the fire-spiders in The Quest of the Unaligned. Their own natural pyromancy means that fire doesn't actually hurt them, but exposure to a lot of fire affects them like Alien Catnip. This more-or-less saves the heroes' lives when one of them accidentally fills the cave they're in with an inferno and stuns the vast swarm of fire-spiders for over an hour, allowing the heroes to escape.
  • The Enemy employs this against the Zombies several times. It seems to be the most effective weapon against them; unfortunately, it's the hardest to safely employ.
  • Most Secret by Nevil Shute is about a fishing boat during World War II that is fitted out with a large flamethrower in a plan to destroy the German escort vessels keeping an eye on the French fishing fleet. This trope is specifically lampshaded.
  • Given its setting in ancient China, it's no surprise that fire is a pretty big deal in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Its use against armies is obvious, and several mentions are made of Sun Tzu's stratagems in regards to fire. Perhaps the most dramatic example would be the Battle of the Red Cliffs. The Southern Coalition forces couldn't face the North's superior numbers head-on and thus had to resort to alternative methods to overcome Cao Cao's forces. The massive Northern naval fleet is tricked into chaining itself together to prevent seasickness, then set aflame by a surprise attack by Coalition fire boats. What the armies of the South could not do, a single decisive strike with fire accomplishes overnight—Cao Cao's fleet is effectively wiped out by the runaway fires jumping from ship to ship due to the chains holding them all together.
  • Andre Norton invokes this trope in many of her science-fiction novels when referring to destroyed planets as having been "burned off".
  • The Cinder Spires has Master Ferus. Some men decide to attack him in his home. The resulting scene is mostly from the POV of Folly, his apprentice, so we don't know what happened, exactly, but even she can tell they're cooked... without looking.
  • In the Boojumverse story "Mongoose", Izrael Irizarry specializes in clearing space stations of infestation by extradimensional scavengers called Toves. He notes that they are capable of surviving in vacuum, and recommends exterminating them with fire.
  • Kane:
    • The story "Lynortis Reprise" takes place on an old battlefield marked by a two-year long siege. The alchemical phosphorous bombs shot by the defenders of the city were particularly devastating and at one point the effect of two salvaged duds used against advancing enemies is described in gruesome detail.
    • In another story, "Cold Light", Kane locks himself in an old warehouse with two of his enemies. The warehouse was used to store fabrics and quite a lot of them still remain. He proceeds then to set the building on fire. He escapes through a hidden tunnel, the other two are killed.
  • In The Silent War the Redcloaks have, among other things, the ability to channel supernatural fire into melee weapons. It cuts through demons and the walking dead like they're made of paper.
  • Knowledge Of Angels: At the close of the book, Palinor is burned at the stake by the Inquisition for heresy.
  • The burning of heretics comes up a few times in Wolf Hall. A few of Thomas Cromwell's Lutheran associates are burned by Thomas More for making public displays of heresy (namely reading aloud from Tyndale's English translation of the Bible). Cromwell also recalls an incident from his childhood when he watched an old woman burned as a Loller and is horrified by the painful death and the crowd's jubilation. He lingers after the crowd disperses until the old woman's friends arrive to gather her remains and one of them marks his palm with the greasy ash.
  • In The White Rabbit Chronicles, this is the only way to end zombies for good. In the spirit realm, a slayer can summon white fire in his or her hands which is used to "ash" the zombies.
  • Dahlia Sin'Felle uses the lightning properties of her weapon in Companions Codex to set fire to a female drider that was cornering her and Effron during an ambush in Port Llast. This incident comes back to haunt them, when it turns out that said drider was the lover of Yerinninae, the Xorlarrin's strongest drider, who is now bent on revenge.
  • In the Old Kingdom, fire is good for killing off most of the Dead, and purifying cremation is a good way to keep more Dead from rising.


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