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Literature / The Fireman

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"It was a pleasure to burn."

The Fireman is a novel written by Joe Hill. A deadly spore called 'Dragonscale' that causes Spontaneous Human Combustion has infected most of the world. Civilization descends into chaos as ruthless 'Cremation Squads' murder those who are afflicted.

When Harper, a pregnant nurse, finds herself infected, she vows to bring her baby to term before dying. She eventually finds refuge with a community of infected people led by the enigmatic Fireman, who knows not only how to survive the fire but to control it against those who would harm them...


The novel provides examples of:

  • Baldness Means Sickness: Variation. Allie Storey sports a shaved head; it's later revealed that she did it after contracting Dragonscale, to embrace her rebellious side.
  • Beneficial Disease: Dragonscale is revealed to be this if one knows how to properly control it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Harper, Allie, Nick, Renée, Don, and baby Ashley manage to escape with the boat. John takes down the remnants of the cremation crew that are targeting refugees heading for Martha Quinn's Island. The group are making plans to head for Ireland. However: John is dead; the boat is unequipped to reach Ireland in terms of durability, food, shelter, and medical supplies for Harper and her minutes-old baby; and the safe haven in Ireland may be as entirely fictional or corrupted as Martha Quinn's Island turned out to be.
    • The "after-credits scene" gives a much more optimistic ending: it suggests that they do manage to reach land somewhere, and that the people they're about to encounter there actually are friendly and have similarly learned to control the Dragonscale. The boat is propelled by a phoenix — either John himself, or one created by Harper after gaining full mastery of her fire ability.
  • Country Matters:
    • The Fireman repeatedly uses the C-word to taunt Jakob.
    • The Marlboro Man also uses the word after being injured by Renée.
  • Cruel Mercy: Rather than kill the Marlboro Man, the Fireman instead infects him with the Dragonscale.
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  • Easter Eggs: Quite a few. Given the apparent similarities to The Stand, Hill renamed the character of a deaf kid to Nick (after Nick Andros) and an antisocial loner to Harold Cross (a portmanteau of Harold Lauder and Nadine Cross). Other mentions include forgetting the face of one's father and a place being nicknamed "Christmasland".
    • Don't forget Nozz-a-la, an off-brand cola enjoyed on many levels of The Dark Tower.
    • There are so many references: an echo of "My life for you", Harper's middle name turning out to be Frances ("May I call you Frannie?" "No."), and even a character called "Father Storey" — get it?
  • Just Before the End: Society is still functioning when the novel takes place, but it's slowly breaking down, with more and more people becoming infected with Dragonscale and the Internet being reduced to a shadow of itself.
  • Karmic Transformation: The Marlboro Man, who lead "Cremation Squads" to murder infected people, becomes infected himself.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Hill lifted the title from the original draft of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Both stories are about firemen who start fires rather than put them out.
  • Meaningful Name: Ashley Rookwood - "Rookwood" because John and Harper had by the end considered themselves married and John to be the baby's real father, "Ashley" because of her baptism in her father's ashes right after birth.
  • Memento MacGuffin: When John leaves his island for the last time, he takes along a bucket of coals from the furnace that houses Sarah's spirit. She later emerges from that bucket to kill Jakob when he tries to murder Harper on the road through Maine.
    • Gender-Blender Name: Perhaps because Harper spent her pregnancy convinced that her baby would be a boy - despite Nick knowingly predicting (correctly) that she would be a girl - she gives her a fairly ambiguous name.
      • As a bit of a possible Genius Bonus (though it's probably unintentional): the name "Ashley" is more popular as a girl's name in the USA, but used more often as a boy's name in the UK, so it's a pretty suitable name for the child of a transatlantic couple whose gender came as a surprise to her mother.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted - quite a few real celebrities are mentioned. Radio host Glenn Beck burns up during a broadcast and J. K. Rowling is mentioned as being gunned down for using her wealth to give refuge to those afflicted with the plague. Martha Quinn (one of the original MTV VJ's) is heard over the Internet as a spokesperson for an island where Dragonscale victims can seek safety and medical treatment. By the time Harper learns about the island, it's been shut down and Martha has been dead for some time.
  • The Phoenix: This is one of the Fireman's favorite things to create.
  • The Plague: Dragonscale manages to infect most of the world by the novel's end.
  • Playing with Fire: It's possible for those affected with Dragonscale to produce and control fire to use as a weapon. The Fireman has become skilled at this, having learned it from Nick, and Harper develops the ability as well.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Marlboro Man is highly racist and sexist, joking that Obama is now even blacker than he already was after he succumbed to Dragonscale and proclaiming that every man has the right to "germ-free titties".
  • Pregnant Badass: Harper reasons that she and her baby have a much better chance of survival if she does everything in her power to actively protect herself; therefore, she's still climbing around and generally doing everything that doesn't physically drop her, even well into her final trimester.
  • Recycled INSPACE: Hill has referred to The Fireman as being "The Stand soaked in gasoline".
  • Shout-Out: One of the items stolen in the camp is a large coffee mug with stars painted on it; it's referred to several times as a "cup of stars"
  • Sir Swearsalot: John has a massive arsenal of colorful swears and employs them with abandon. Harper has no qualms about cursing either.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Though Ash is Jakob's baby, rather than John's, Harper gives her the surname "Rookwood" and allows her (already infected) newborn to inhale the ash from John's phoenix, underscoring the idea that Ash is spiritually John's daughter, if not biologically.
  • Soul Jar: The Fireman's girlfriend is killed in a fire but a part of her still exists in the fire itself - first in John's furnace, then in a bucket of coals that he salvages from it upon leaving his island.
  • The Stinger: Similar to NOS4A2, The Fireman features an "after-credits" scene: a young woman and her son see the survivors' boat approach, accompanied by a phoenix that may be a surviving part of John; the son demonstrates his ability to control his Dragonscale the way John and Nick could, suggesting that the group may have found real refuge at last.
  • Weapon of Choice: In keeping with his "Fireman" persona, John Rookwood carries a Halligan bar as his signature weapon/tool. It comes back to bite him when it's used to frame him for Father Storey's murder.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: A refuge where the infected survivors can receive treatment and be taken care of is spoken of throughout the novel. While it did exist, it turns out to have burned down months before, and is now used as a ruse meant to draw in the infected as a way to kill them.