An inversion of the supernatural horror

Firestarter - Stephen King

This book is a good example of why I like a lot of Stephen King's earlier books; while it deals with horror-like themes we are not dealing with hordes of zombies or vampires plotting to take over the world but rather with an extra-ordinary girl who is on the run from the government. Most of the horror movies that I have seen, or the ones that like to have the moniker of horror, deal with a supernatural creature who pursues the mundane, however King turns this concept on its head by having the supernatural creature running from the mundane. It is not so much supernatural abilities that create power, but rather the unknown and the mysterious. This is similar to what we have seen previously in [book:Carrie], that is that the mundane is powerful and the supernatural is powerless. It is a shame that in some of his later books (such as [book:Dreamcatcher]) he returns to the old school big bad monster chasing poor innocent humans.

The story revolves around a girl and her father and the girl has the power of pyrokenisis: being able to set fire to things with her mind. The government agency that she is on the run from is an organisation created by King called The Shop, but could easily be any one of the multitude of government agencies in existance. The Shop plays a major role in this book as the antagonist, however they are also briefly mentioned in 'The Lawnmower Man' though they tend to stay in the background (the Lawnmower Man also runs on a similar theme, though the protagonist becomes the antagonist at the end of the film). The particular interest that the Shop has is in people with supernatural powers and they have a desire to catch these people so that they can study them and to put their supernatural powers to their own use, obviously to advance the interests not only of the government but their own agenda as well.

I guess the horror of this story involves the fear of being alone in a hostile world. Because this hostility permeates everywhere there is really nowhere to run and nowhere to hide because sooner or later your pursuers are going to catch up with you. This is something that comes out in a lot of fantasy and adventure novels (and movies) that I have read, however King turns theme from being an adventure to being a horror. Many of us really don't know what it is like to be pursued, not because you have done something wrong, the antagonists in this book are innocent, but because you have something that they want and they will not give up until they are in possession of it.

I can't remember how this story ends, though with Stephen King you can never be sure. Carrie did not end well for Carrie, but then again by the end of the book she had lost control and was destroying everything in sight. I don't think [book:Christine] ended well for Archie either because by the end of the book he had become so dominated and controlled by the car that he was little more than a shadow of his former self. In both of those books we are dealing with teenagers coming to grips with adulthood, and failing, but in Firestarter the protagonists are on the run. There is no community and they have no friends that have built around them. They have only each other and their pursuers. I don't think the story ends well for them, but one thing that I do know is that it didn't end well for The Shop either.

I guess the other idea is that the protagonists never came to be able to use their power in a positive sense. Carrie didn't because she ended up destroying her home town. Charlie (the Firestarter in this book) begins as a child, and as we learn, is setting things on fire whenever she doesn't get her own way. As it turns out her parents know about the ability, and the main reason is because they have powers themselves, but these powers are not natural, they were came about through experiments with drugs that they were paid a measly $200.00 to participate. A sense of greed and power seems to permeate through this story, with the shop experimenting on ignorant people hungry for a little extra money in their pocket, and in doing so ruining the life of an innocent girl. I say ruin because she had no choice to become a pyrokenetic, and in doing so she is now hunted by the people who initially experimented on her father. Further, because the experiment worked on Charlie and her father, they have in pretty much given up their freedom. They are on the run from an organisation who seek to use them for their own nefarious purposes.