The Brain is a Muscle That Can Move the World

(Firestarter)

Well, we’re almost up to where I’m at in the re-read – I’m currently still reading Roadwork, which comes after this in the list I’m working off of. Which means I have to decide pretty soon if I’m just writing to myself in a Word Doc, or whether I’m going to publish this and start keeping more detailed notes going forward. Given that I’ve written over 10,000 words in just a couple of days about books that I’ve already gone through – and I don’t even feel like I wrote that much – I’m leaning toward putting it out there. I don’t expect anyone much will care, but possibly, if I’m lucky, some other obsessive Stephen King fans will locate me and maybe we can share thoughts. Or maybe it will just sit out there. Either way.

Firestarter is a better book than I think it gets credit for. I know it has problems – for one thing, the source of the psi powers evidenced by the family McGee is sketchy. I bet there are a lot of people out there who wish they could get psi powers from an acid trip, but that’s not really a thing. For another thing, Charlie in particular suffers from a problem that a lot of King’s small children have – she’s much too precocious for her age. Danny Torrance had that problem too, but I think it’s even more pronounced here.

Nevertheless, I like both Charlie McGee and her father Andy, even if my brain sort of automatically ages Charlie up a bit. I actually think Andy’s powers are more interesting than Charlie’s. You can light fires with things other than your mind – I understand why being able to do it mentally is scary, and I get that they’ve hinted that fires might be the tip of the iceberg that is Charlie’s power, but come on – mental domination? Is that even a thing? Where is the book about that? Because I will read it! On the other hand, if a character had Andy’s power of mental domination and Charlie’s ability to use it without apparently self-harming, that character might be too powerful to write a believable conflict around.

Once again, we have a couple of characters with powers that are basically supernatural (but we’re given a pseudo-scientific explanation) but they are not the monsters of the book. And the actual monsters, again, are just men. Well, men and institutions, maybe. We even have a character call it out – Vera Manders calls Charlie a monster, then regrets it. Because Charlie isn’t a monster. She’s a little girl, who can’t help having been born the way that she is.

The Shop is a good idea, but not the most well fleshed out. It recurs in some more of Stephen King’s works, but I think he eventually gives it up – or subsumes it into something else. I have an idea that the Low Men, the men who recruit or kidnap beam breakers, are sort of a fantasy iteration of The Shop and the people who work for it.

I feel like Charlie’s universe is on a different level of the tower than ours, and different from whichever level is the “real” or keystone level. I’m actually a bit surprised she never returns in the wider multiverse – we know that people with psi powers are kidnapped and forced to be Breakers, and Charlie is perhaps the strongest psi powered person in the canon. It’s repeatedly implied that she may have the power to crack the world in two. Of course, the characters in Firestarter don’t know this for a fact – maybe Charlie hit puberty and fizzled instead of becoming more powerful. But that seems unlikely.

The Shop may be an interesting idea, but The Shop employees don’t thrill me. Rainbird has much too much of that whole “mystical, inscrutable Native American” thing going on and I don’t like it. It feels weird and tokenizing and an outdated way of talking about someone. It probably wasn’t so outdated then, but damn, Stephen, do better.

Rainbird at least has interesting things to do, though. Everyone else is mostly concerned with secrets for the sake of secrecy, information for the sake of information, power for the sake of power. It’s stated that Charlie could be used for as a weapon against foreign powers or for “national security” or used against them as a weapon were she kidnapped by a foreign power, but how that might happen or why is not really expanded on. The agents of The Shop might be more interesting if they had definite ideas about what to do with her that went beyond “study, then kill.”

Nevertheless, the story is engaging. Stephen King’s ability to spin a story that you want to hear the end of is on full display here. The only other complaint I have is that you don’t actually hear the end. Assuming that she displayed her power for the Rolling Stone reporter she spoke to – I assume she would have had to – that would be a story that would at least metaphorically crack the planet in two. I’d love to hear the aftermath of it, but we never do. That’s why I assume it doesn’t happen in the same universe as our other stories – or if it does, it happens in the universe of The Stand, right before the superflu breaks out. Because Captain Tripps is the only thing I can really think of that would overshadow Charlie McGee. And if she wasn’t immune, well, mystery solved.

And of course, there’s a Firestarter movie. The 1984 movie starred Drew Barrymore as Charlie, Heather Locklear as Vicky, and Martin Sheen as Cap. This is another one that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen, but I don’t really remember it. My impression is that it was OK, and Drew Barrymore was good in it, although really, with that lineup, it ought to be great. I kind of don’t think it was, though? I don’t know – I’ll have to find it and watch it to know for sure.

There was also apparently a TV series in 2002, which I’d never heard of before, so I have no real opinion on it – except, again, why this one for a series? I can think of several better options. Also, there’s apparently a remake in the works. It was announced in 2017 and still hasn’t been made, which makes me skeptical, but Wikipedia claims that actors were being cast in the role this year, including one to play Charlie in June. I guess we’ll see.

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