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Literature / Firestarter

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The original Katie Kaboom.

"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 a mental domination ability he calls the 'push', allowing him to enact powerful influence over people; and her mother, Vicky, has a very limited form of telekinesis, which only extends, on a good day, 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 Department of Scientific Intelligence (nicknamed "The Shop," after A.E. van Vogt's "The Weapon Shops of Isher") 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, directed by Mark L. Lester and starring Drew Barrymore as Charlie, David Keith as Andy, George C. Scott as Rainbird, Martin Sheen as Hollister, and Heather Locklear as Vicky. This was the first of several Stephen King adaptations produced by the Dino De Laurentiis Company. A (contested) sequel series, Firestarter 2: Rekindled, aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2002. A second adaptation of the novel, by Blumhouse Productions and starring Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie and Zac Efron as Andy, was released May 13, 2022 in theaters and on Peacock.

This book has examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Vicky is a redhead in the book, and played by the blonde Heather Locklear in the film. Oddly, the scene in the book where Andy thinks of Vicky's hair as "like copper set on fire" (which she hears due to the effects of Lot Six) was adapted to the film unchanged.
  • Adaptational Superpower Change: In the book, Charlie simply causes heat and fire where she directs her attention to. In the movie, at least in the climax, she seems to generate fiery "cannonballs" that fly toward her target.
  • Affably Evil:
    • The Shop assassin Rainbird gains Charlie's trust by posing as a friendly janitor.
    • Cap Hollister often comes across as a kind, elderly gentleman who genuinely loves his wife; it's also noted at one point that more than one of his grandchildren are very close to Charlie's age.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Rainbird correctly predicts that, like pretty much all little girls, Charlie will no doubt love horses, and thus allowing her to visit the stables and even ride the horses is a perfect way to bribe her into cooperating.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Wanless' explanation of Charlie's relationship with her father, and how the McGees controlled her ability by creating a complex.
    • Andy also explains Wanless' habit of shredding cigarettes in this way.
    An oral retentive smokes them. An anal retentive shreds them.
  • Animal Motifs: Horses are a recurring motif. Andy describes the thudding headaches he gets as a "riderless horse," and this comes up again in later scenes and dream sequences after Charlie starts riding the horses on the Shop's grounds.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: After the conflagration at the Manders' farm, a government agent shows up at the hospital where Irv is recovering. He offers them a $35,000 check (equivalent to over $100,000 in 2017) and tells them not to talk about what happenedóleafing through files with their names on them. The files contain potentially damaging information on relatives of theirs both immediate and distant, and the agent implicitly threatens to make a lot of trouble for those people if Irv and Norma don't keep their mouths shut.
  • Arcadian Interlude:
    • Andy and Charlie have a short break from being chased by the Shop when they stop for a big country lunch at Irv and Norma Manders' farm. Charlie returns there alone after the death of her father and the destruction of the Shop.
    • Although the weather is rough, the winter Andy and Charlie spend hiding out at his grandfather's cottage in Vermont is on the whole peaceful and restorative.
  • Badass Adorable: Charlie is a cute, blond-haired, little girl... who is capable of vaporizing people with her mind.
  • Big Bad: Captain Hollister, the man in charge of The Shop and the person behind the manhunt to find Charlie and her father.
  • Blackmail: Rainbird blackmails Captain Hollister into both letting him live (Hollister wants him to have an "accident" after he captures Charlie) and letting him get close to Charlie, by revealing he has gathered enough incriminating evidence to have the Shop closed down and Captain Hollister put behind bars for the rest of his life.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • The Shop claimed that they were using the double blind method in the Lot Six experiment, in which only half of the volunteers would get the drug (which they also claimed was a harmless hallucinogenic) and the other half would just get distilled water. All the volunteers got Lot Six and reacted in different, drug trip-like ways.
    • Rainbird's story of his time in the POW hole is completely fabricated.
  • Blessed with Suck: Andy's powers cause pain and minor brain hemorrhages when he uses them; Charlie's powers do not, but she has a hard time controlling them. Not to mention that the government wants to use her as a weapon.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Charlie's escape from the Shop in the film compared to the book. She massacres quite a few more Shop agents and personnel, and even blows up a helicopter in mid-flight.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Mostly averted with the Shop. They do everything possible to keep Charlie happy, including using Rainbird as The Mole, and give her a chance to exercise her power in safe confines. However, the one thing they cannot do is let her see her father, and after a while, that's all she wants to do...
  • Burning with Anger: Charlie has some anger issues, and that makes her a little hot under the collar sometimes...combine that with the murder of her mother and being on the run, and she's a lit fuse the Shop willingly takes into itself.
  • Can't Stop The Signal: Throughout the book, Andy is desperate to make his way to a national media outlet with no government ties so that he can tell the story of the Shop and what they did to his family. In the final scene, Charlie is seen entering the offices of Rolling Stone magazine. This makes far more sense than the movie's ending, which has her heading to the New York Times instead, as sending letters to the Times in the book results in them being intercepted by Shop agents.
  • Cement Shoes: The Shop killed the godfather of one of the test subjects this way. Rather than getting to the bottom of what happened to his godson, 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."
  • Composite Character: The two psychologists, Dr. Hockstetter (who was the main one in charge of getting results from Charlie) and Dr. Pynchot (his subordinate who was in charge of monitoring Andy's Push and getting him hooked on Thorazine before being Driven to Suicide), are combined into one person in the movie.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Dr. Pynchot has secretly enjoyed dressing up in women's underwear since his college days. His crossdressing eventually becomes the death of him, after a "push" from Andy goes horribly wrong and causes him to stick his arm in a garbage disposal while crossdressing.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Right before he dies, Andy tells Charlie to take the gloves off and kill anyone who gets in her way, because he knows they'll kill her if they get the chance. Charlie, grieving the death of her father and completely out of fucks to give, proceeds to burn everything and everyone. Grown men are pissing themselves while trying to get away.
  • Daddy's Girl: Charlie, though it may just be because her mother was killed.
  • Death Seeker: Rainbird. It's the root of his obsession with Charlie.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Rainbird goes barefoot when he's alone. He's fascinated with shoes and has a whole collection of them; he just doesn't like wearing them.
  • The Dragon: Rainbird to Captain Hollister.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Rainbird. See Blackmail above.
  • Dramatic Chase Opening: The book starts with Andy and Charlie chased by the Shop agents in New York. The movie replicates this, only transferring the scene from New York to Washington, D.C.
  • Dramatic Wind: The Film of the Book features this when Charlie uses her powers, causing her hair to blow around.
  • The Dreaded: John Rainbird is this to the Shop. Even Cap Hollister is afraid of him.
  • 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 will ever be all right.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Cap Hollister on a number of occasions. He is disgusted when Dr. Wanless tells him about how his brother burned his child's hand with a match to stop him from playing with matches and about an experiment that tried to convince participants to wet their pants. He is also horrified when he mistakenly thinks Rainbird wants to rape Charlie and loathes Rainbird's enthusiasm about killing her.
  • Eye Scream: One of the participants in the Lot Six experiment goes insane and claws out his own eyes with his bare hands.
  • Fate Worse than Death / Cool and Unusual Punishment: When Andy and Charlie escape from the Shop the first time he puts one of the agents responsible for Vicky's death in a coma, and permanently blinds the other one by mindraping him into knowing he's blind.
  • Fiery Stoic: Charlie generates spontaneous combustion just by concentrating on the target, and once the sinister government agents kill her father, all she wants is out of the Shop. The Film of the Book shows actress Drew Barrymore as Charlie giving the eye to every Shop agent she meets, giving each the chance to stand down. Alas, Shop agents are all Too Dumb to Live and dare to oppose her, which nets them instant cremation right where they stand. Although the complex and all its personnel are left a roaring bonfire, it was not a Roaring Rampage of Revenge by a hothead; it was a methodical eradication of all those who opposed her, with Charlie's grim purpose being especially chilling.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Fingore: The Shop agents pulled some of Vicky's fingernails out before killing her to get her to tell where Charlie was. Andy feels her pain in his fingers at his workplace, among other sensations, which gets him to leave early and head home, only to find her murdered.
  • Foreshadowing : A very early mention of Rolling Stone foreshadows Charlie approaching them to tell her story in the epilogue.
  • Funny Background Event: After the woodchips scene if you look hard enough, you can see Charlie walking out of the room while the Shop agents discuss what to do about her and Andy. Rainbird is the first to notice when she leaves.
  • Gilded Cage: When Charlie and her father Andy get kidnapped by the Shop they are given attractive living quarters. Andy notes, however, that his apartment door has no inside handle.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Shop wanted to see the full extent of Charlie's powers and trained her to harness and control them. This blew up in their faces. Literally.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Played with with the Lot Six victim who rips out his own eyes; it's flashed briefly, then you get a long, loving look at the poor sot screaming, covered in blood and holding his own eyes in his hands.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Department of Scientific Intelligence, aka "the Shop".
  • Happily Married: Andy and Vicky, before she is murdered.
  • Headache of Doom: Andy McGee's power of psychic persuasion takes a significant toll on his brain the more he uses it, resulting in agonizing headaches by the start of the book. With his daughter's safety on the line throughout the story, he's inclined to use it more and more, until he actually begins suffering mini-strokes that leave parts of his face numb. In the finale, it ends up causing a stroke, though given that Andy had been shot by Rainbird by this stage, it's not certain if this was the final cause of his death.
  • Heal Thyself: By way of a dream, Andy "pushes" himself clean of his thorazine addiction.
  • The Heavy: John Rainbird serves as this and The Dragon to Captain Hollister as he is the most direct threat towards Charlie and becomes her archenemy after killing her father
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Vicky's "coppery" hair is part of Andy's attraction to her.
  • Heroic RRoD: Andy eventually has a stroke because he overuses his power. He dies soon after this, but it's unclear if it was the result of the stroke or getting shot by Rainbird immediately after.
  • Hidden Depths: Rainbird, of the villainous kind. Though he is a murderous, death-obsessed psychopath, he is also a gifted actor who is able to convincingly portray himself as a friendly janitor who is also shell-shocked from his ordeals in the Vietnam War, and hence gains the sympathy and trust of a very suspicious Charlie. By the time the novel begins he also already knows much more about the Lot Six program than Cap Hollister realized, having been able to secretly tap into Hollister's computer and personal files for the past three years. He was also able to finance all his information gathering through some skillful financial investments.
  • High-Voltage Death: When Charlie levels the headquarters of The Shop in the book's climax there's a brief description of "one of the commissary cooks...holding onto roughly two thousand volts" from a lethally-electrified security fence.
    He was jittering and jiving, his feet doing a fast boogaloo in the grass, his mouth open, his cheeks turning black.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Charlie uses the same pyrokinetic powers the Shop has been training to turn her into a weapon in order to escape and burn the Shop down in the climax.
  • Hollywood Silencer: In the climax of the book Rainbird is described as carrying a revolver (a .357 Magnum) fitted with a silencer "of Rainbird's own construction". The text does note that it's not "a very silent silencer", but in fact a silencer on a .357 Magnum revolver is basically nonsense simply because of the way revolvers are constructed.
  • Hypno Fool: Andy puts a Shop agent into a coma by telling him to "go to sleep" and giving a strong 'push'. He wakes up after six months, but from that moment on, every time somebody mentions the word "sleep" in his presence, he will fall into a deep slumber again that usually lasts for four hours to a day.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Andy rescues Charlie from two Shop agents who kidnapped her, by sending one to a come and blinding the other. When the blinded agent gets in front of his car, Andy considers running him over, but decides against it, because "then what would separate him from them?"
  • I'll Be in My Bunk: Dr. Pynchot in the middle of the ricochet set off by Andy's Mind Rape, puts on his wife's lingerie and masturbates over the garbage disposal.
  • 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.
  • Immortality Seeker: Subverted in Rainbird's case. Despite being power-hungry, he tells Captain Hollister that, after killing Charlie and stealing her power, he hopes to die as soon as possible and take her power with him into the afterlife.
  • Immune to Bullets: At the end, Charlie reaches this; her powers become fast and strong enough to explode 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.
  • Ironic Nickname: "The Shop," a nom de guerre hung on the Department of Scientific Intelligence, is a grisly joke. It's derived from A.E. van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher, except that, in that book and its sequels, the Weapon Shops are intended to give power to the people against their government; The D.S.I. is only interested in expanding government power at the expense of its people.
  • Kill It with Fire: Yeah, there's a lot of that going on when Charlie cuts loose on the Shop compound.
  • 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 Hand Waved 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.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Wanless. Lampshaded when Andy's friend compares him to Dr. Cyclops.
  • Magical Counterfeiting: Andy uses his powers to make a $1 bill look like $500 when taking a taxi.
  • 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.
  • Magical Native American: A rare negative example. Rainbird's death-oriented mysticism makes him terrifying and dangerous rather than understanding and helpful.
  • Meaningful Name: Charlene/Charlie. Also, in Stephen King's Dark Tower books Char is a root word meaning death in the High Speech of In-World.
  • Meet Cute: Vicky borrows a pen from Andy when they have to fill out a questionnaire for the Lot Six experiment.
  • Mexican Standoff: At the end, Charlie, Andy and Rainbird have a three-way Mexican Standoff, with Rainbird being the only one with a gun. He's arguably the least well-armed of the three.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Cap in the book wrongly assumes Rainbird wants to rape Charlie when he says he plans to know her "intimately." Rainbird's intentions towards Charlie are murkier in the movie, however.
  • Mundane Utility: Andy uses his powers to hold diet classes and confidence classes. Charlie once uses hers to light a fireplace. Vicky's powers are quite weak and she uses them to do things like close doors.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The novel, published in 1980, is set between 1981-1983.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In a combination with Hoist by His Own Petard, by taking Charlie hostage and running tests on her, thus making her use her ability in a safe, controlled environment on successively bigger and bigger targets, The Shop is solely responsible for teaching Charlie how to gain control over her pyrokinesis, which is exactly how she manages to utterly destroy it.
    • In the novel's backstory, The Shop had Andy, Charlie and Vicky under effective but unnoticeable surveillance for years without incident. Everything was going great, until Charlie slept over at a friend's house for two days. At which point the agents wildly overreact, assume she's gone on the run, break into the McGee home, interrogate, torture and kill Vicky and then track down and kidnap Charlie. That spurs Andy into action and sets events into motion. Andy's utterly baffled as to why The Shop reacted the way it did, eventually settling on, "they're just kind of stupid."
  • 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!"
  • No-Sell: When Andy first describes his powers, he makes it clear that his "push" does not work on everybody. How effective it will be depends on a person's ethnicity (Caucasians are easier to manipulate, while Asians are very hard), age (the older a person is, the harder it becomes to manipulate their mind), and intelligence (intelligent people are the easiest to manipulate, while very dumb or even insane people are immune to the push).
    • The immunity of very dumb or insane people to supernatural powers is a recurring theme in Stephen King's works, most notably in The Stand, where Tom Cullen, a lightly retarded man, is immune to Randall Flagg's "eye".
  • Obi-Wan Moment: A villainous example. Despite being power-hungry, Rainbird tells Captain Hollister that, after killing Charlie and stealing her power, he hopes to die as soon as possible and take her power with him into the afterlife.
  • 1-Dimensional Thinking: Subverted. Three men try and run away from a line of fire at the climax. It seems to be played straight until two of them try changing direction. All for nought when the fire just splits in three and follows them anyway.
  • One-Man Army: Well, One Girl Army: Charlie, as the arrogant idiots of The Shop find out the hard way. She essentially becomes a walking tank - armored against conventional firearms with heat-walls and rapid-firing incendiary projectiles at everything and everyone in the vicinity.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Orville Jameison has two with OJ and The Juice, the latter of which is his preferred one but got him reprimanded when he signed with that. Captain James Hollister is also referred to as Cap more often than not.
  • Only Sane Man: Rainbird; see Too Dumb to Live below. (Well, "sane" perhaps isn't the right word to describe him, but he sees the situation more clearly than others).
    • Orville Jamieson - manages to survive relatively unscathed, as he's one of the few Shop agents to understand that Fear Is the Appropriate Response when it comes to Charlie's powers. Surviving as long as he did, only because he ran away after getting a front row seat in the Manders' farm incident, he has no intention of joining his fellow agents when the alarm sounds at the Shop.
  • Papa Wolf: Andy is this the Charlie for most of the movie, not that she needs much protection. It ends up getting inverted at the end, when Rainbird murders Andy right in front of Charlie, and she is mighty pissed off about it.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Rainbird befriends Charlie, and she becomes very attached to him; Rainbird asks Cap, "Who is her father when her father isn't there?"
    • After the death of Andy and the big showdown that leads to the destruction of the Shop, Charlie ends up returning to the Manders farm where they nurse her back to health and spend several months taking care of her. Both Irv and Norma truly do love Charlie as though she were their own daughter but they also acknowledge that they not only can't replace her parents, the isolation would be painful for all three of them. Charlie reluctantly ends up leaving them to go to New York City so that she can tell her story to Rolling Stone.
  • Patience Plot: In one scene, the antagonist Rainbird is staying in a hotel. Rainbird's assignment is to kill someone in the hotel who knows too much. He's described as simply sitting in his hotel room, waiting for it to get dark. Then he'll wait for it to get late. Then he'll wait for it to get early. Only when the hotel is absolutely quiet and no one is moving will he go to his target's room and kill them.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Charlie, obviously. And her powers are constantly increasing. Dr. Wanless says that when she grows up, she may be able to cause nuclear explosions, or even destroy the whole planet. Later on, Charlie herself thinks that she may one day be able to affect the sun itself.
  • The Peter Principle: Lampshaded by Rainbird in reference to Patrick Hockstetter, one of the shop doctors in charge of Andy and Charlie. When summoned back to the Shop one night for an emergency involving Charlie, Hockstetter is mainly peeved that he was interrupted while watching a James Bond film.
  • Pineal Weirdness: An acceptable variation. The extrasensory powers induced by Lot Six are connected to changes this drug creates in the pituitary gland. Dr. Wanless says that if the soul exists, it is probably located in this gland.
  • Power Incontinence: Charlie finds it very hard to control her power at first. Even at the end, she still has trouble getting it to stop working, it seems to "want" to keep going, burning up everything despite the control she has learned. Basically, she is like a race car driver for whom the steering wheel works just fine, and she can accelerate with ease. But it takes a tremendous effort to reduce the throttle even a little.
  • Powers Do the Fighting: Used to very eerie effect in the film version, especially in the climax. Charlie just stands with her hands at her sides and looks at the people, buildings and vehicles she is blowing up, while also remaining unflinching as she vaporizes bullets fired at her.
  • Pstandard Psychic Pstance: In the movie, Andy has a variant where he brushes his hair back from his forehead and presses his palms to his head.
  • 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."
    • Andy is momentarily tempted to use a strong push to interrogate Pynchot of everything he knows, then get him to go home and commit suicide so the Shop doesn't know. He's repelled by the thought, and decides not to risk pushing Pynchot further. However Pynchot kills himself anyway, due to his own neurosis interacting with the effects of the push.
    • Downplayed in the climax, where Andy "pushes" Rainbird to jump off the loft in the stable, to break a Mexican Standoff after he was momentarily distracted by Cap's screaming. While he only got a broken leg out of the deal, this was followed quickly by Charlie vaporizing him (and Cap, blowing open an entire wall of the stable, and killing most of the people on the other side).
  • Psychic Nosebleed / Deadly Nosebleed: In the film, Andy gets one of these whenever he uses his power; in the book, he has terrible headaches, scleral hemorrhages that turns the whites of his eyes red, and eventually small strokes which leave part of his face numb.
  • 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. There's still some crossover from her pyrokinesis, as the phones give off some smoke after she makes them release their change.
    • Playing with Fire: Charlie, of course. She's able to set anything on fire just by thinking about it. Her powers do not seem to have any limits.
    • 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. It could also be mild precognition, as she knows the Shop agents are coming to the Manders' farm.
    • Mindlink Mates: Andy and Vicky's telepathy seems to still be working slightly after the experiment, and is even subtly hinted that this link is the reason they don't go insane like most of the rest of the experimentees. Their connection is also the only reason Vicky is able to eventually make love to Andy, as she was abused when she was young, and very scared of sex.
  • 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. He uses the rest to finance his information gathering on the Shop itself, first for protection, later to blackmail Hollister into letting him get close to Charlie.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Dr. Pynchot who grins too much and gets Andy hooked on Thorazine. He also suggests torturing Andy with electric shocks in front of Charlie to convince her to start lighting fires.
    • Dr. Hockstetter averts this somewhat in that he's under constant pressure to get results (more so than Pynchot, his subordinate) which causes him to be more manic when he does see Charlie's power in action. The guy's an asshole but definitely not psychotic...and very fearful of Rainbird to boot.
  • 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.
    • Played with in the "sequel" as a now-adult Charlie unwittingly generates fires when she's sexually aroused.
  • Race Lift: Rainbird in the novel is Native American. In the movie, he's played by George C. Scott.
    In the "sequel", he's played by Malcolm McDowell (who seemingly made zero effort to hide his distinctly non-Native American accent.)
  • Retcon: In the "sequel", it is revealed that Rainbird is still alive.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Charlie burns down every building belonging to the Shop, and kills Rainbird, Cap, and pretty much every other agent in her line of sight after her father dies.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Rainbird plays that role for Charlie: he pretends that he has a paralyzing fear of the dark, because the Vietcong imprisoned him in a dark cave. (He really is a Vietnam War vet, and he saw plenty of disturbing things, but they don't seem to affect him much and he was never captured).
    • The "firing line" that attempts to stop Charlie is made of Vietnam vets, who lose it when the fireworks start.
  • Shooting Superman: In the film's climax, the Shop agents can't seem to get it through their heads that Charlie is visibly vaporizing every round that gets near her.
  • Shout-Out: A subtle one: Charlie's full name is Charlene Roberta McGee. Her father calls her Bobbi, a short version of her middle name, as an alias, making her full name "Bobbi McGee". Joplin died in 1970, shortly before Charlie was born. It's hard to imagine that Andy (or King, a shameless rock-and-roller) would not have had this in mind.
  • Single Substance Manipulation: Due to a government experiment her parents took part in, Charlie McGee is born pyrokinetic, causing spontaneous combustion and manipulating fire. As her father tries to teach her to control her power, a government organization called the Shop is interested in making her a living weapon.
  • The So-Called Coward: The Shop continually underestimates Andy, regarding him as an outclassed English professor. English professor, yes. Outclassed, not so much.
  • Spotting the Thread: When Cap starts making baffling executive decisions that cause obstacles to the shop research, Rainbird realized Andy has been playing possum regarding his powers and manipulating Cap without anyone's knowledge.
  • Stern Chase: About half the book.
  • Stupid Evil: It's noted a few times that the majority of the Shop's agents really suck at their jobs, having ended up there because no reputable place would hire them. The team monitoring Andy and Vicky showed their hand and attacked the house because they missed that Charlie was having a sleepover and figured her not coming home that night was because the family was on to them.
  • Superior Successor: The biggest reason The Shop's modus operandi changes from "reacquire the McGees" to "nab Charlie" - despite her age, Charlie has all of the benefits of her parents with none of the side effects that plague them. She has her own pyrokinetic abilities with a bit of her parents' power on top of that, with her only real problem being a bit of Power Incontinence... and it's implied that she'll eventually grow out of that.
  • Super Soldiers: One of the goals of The Shop's experiments on parapsychology is creating people who might be useful as weapons.
  • Take a Third Option: After his duplicity has been revealed, Rainbird manages to take Charlie out of the fight by pointing out that she'll kill the horses in the barn if she starts burning everything. While this does succeed at first, Charlie eventually realizes, during a second standoff that comes later, that she can simply melt the hinges off the stall doors so the horses can run out on their own.
  • Techno Babble: There are fairly detailed explanations of how Lot Six manages to create psychic powers in those who take it. King himself later pointed to Firestarter as one of the only books where he provided such explanations, and admitted that they didn't really work.
  • Tested on Humans: The Lot Six experiment.
  • Test Subject for Hire: Andy and Vicki. Andy very explicitly signs up for the Lot Six experiment because he needs the money.
  • Tomboyish Name: Charlene's nickname "Charlie". Also her alias "Bobbi" (Roberta is her middle name) used by the kind-hearted farmer Irv Manders.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Like with many horror stories, lots of examples from the heroes and villains alike.
    • 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 were 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."
    • Actually averted at the end with the Shop agents. Once they figure out Charlie's impenetrable from the front (and lose several agents horribly in the process), they try going at her from the back, sniping her, using heavier and heavier firepower, and finally just line up to be fried, to give as many civilians time to escape as possible.
    • There's a heroic example too: after Andy watches his daughter get shot (with a tranq dart) by Rainbird, does he grab her and run for cover? Nope, just kneels right out there in the open holding her (unconscious) body until another agent shoots him too. However, this is an understandable reaction as he was in shock.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Charlie starts the story giving people hotfoots when she loses her temper. By the end, she's creating high-explosive plasma projectiles and rapid-firing them into everything in the vicinity.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Norma Manders is suspicious of Andy and Charlie when her husband Irv arrives with them, at one point even calling the latter a monster when she sees Charlie's powers on display. She does soften to the little girl quite a bit though fears getting involved since the Shop shot her husband (non-fatally). When Charlie returns alone after the death of her father physically ill and emotionally drained, Norma doesn't hesitate in nursing her back to health with medicine and chicken broth.
  • Transvestite: Dr. Pynchot returns to being one of these in the book, as a side effect of being "pushed" by Andy.
  • Tyke Bomb: Literally what Charlie is. The Shop wants to make her their Tyke Bomb, which is why she and her father are on the run in the beginning of the story. They succeed in training her how to use her powers, and then they discover that she doesn't belong to them after all.
  • Undercover When Alone: Rainbird takes his assumed role as a janitor very seriously. He stays in character even if Charlie is not around, exchanges his luxurious car for a more humble one, and always uses the employee changeroom to get into his work uniform. His motivation for doing so is that he wants to fool not just Charlie, but also all Shop employees working directly with her, because he fears that otherwise rumors that he is not who he claims to be will eventually reach Charlie.
  • The 'Verse: The Shop has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies throughout the Kingiverse (The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Golden Years, etc.).
  • Viewers Are Morons: When Rainbird tells Charlie his war story to gain her trust, the reader is told twice on the same page that he's making it up.
  • Villain Has a Point: While the Shop's methods are wrong (and wrong-headed, to boot), they are perfectly correct to view Charlie and Andy as hideously dangerous threats. And if any other country knew of their powers, they would be in constant danger of abduction.
  • 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.
    • The one mook during Charlie's rampage, he thought he had a clear shot but the bullet exploded before it could hit Charlie. When Charlie faces him, he already knows he's screwed and helplessly begs for his life. Of course Charlie's in no mood to take prisoners. Fwoosh.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Rainbird's home has entire rooms full of shoes that he collects during his travels.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Andy believes that the media will expose the Shop's corruption and save him and Charlie if only he can contact a reputable newspaper. His letters to The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post are intercepted by Shop agents, but Charlie makes it to the offices of Rolling Stone at the end of the novel.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: At the very end, Charlie starts to realize this, and goes back to the Manders to blow the story open.

Alternative Title(s): Firestarter 2 Rekindled