Pyrokinesis: Wikis


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Pyrokinesis, derived from the Greek words πυρ (pûr, meaning "fire, lightning") and κίνησις (kínesis, meaning "motion"), was the name, coined by horror novelist Stephen King for the ability to create or to control fire with the mind that he gave to the protagonist Charlie McGee in Firestarter. Critic S.T. Joshi describes it as a "singularly unfortunate coinage".[1]

Pyrokinesis is popular in fiction, with numerous examples in films, books, and television series. These include the episode "Fire" from The X-Files, the Beyond Reality episode "Enemy in Our Midst", the One Step Beyond episode "The Burning Girl" and the Fringe episode "The Road Not Taken". Several such works, such as "The Burning Girl" pre-date Firestarter, and have direct parallels with King's work. (King himself wrote that "Firestarter has numerous science fiction antecedents".) It is King, however, that first named the idea "pyrokinesis", this name not occurring in prior works.[2][3]

Several works of fiction explain pyrokinetic powers as being the ability to excite an object's atoms, increasing their thermal energy until they ignite. In The Science of Stephen King, authors Gresh and Weinberg argue that this is "vaguely possible", but characterize it as "generally the stuff of comic books", such as Marvel Comics' Human Torch and Pyro. Without some form of electromechanical device, such as a device to release several of the compounds that do spontaneously ignite upon contact with the oxygen in air (such as silane, a pyrophoric gas, or rubidium), or some form of triggering device located at the source of the fire, there is no scientifically known method for the brain to trigger explosions and fires at a distance.[4]

Pyrokinesis is also explored in the video game Psychonauts. In this game a boy called Raz develops a psionic power that enables him to make objects ignite.

In the Sonic the Hedgehog mythos, Blaze the Cat has pyrokinetic abilities.[5]

In the case of A.W. Underwood, a 19th-century African-American who achieved minor celebrity with the purported ability to set items ablaze, scientists suggested concealed pieces of phosphorus may have instead been responsible. White phosphorus ignites in air at about 30°C; as this is slightly below body temperature, the phosphorus could be readily ignited by breath or rubbing.[6]

A.W. Underwood - Supernatural Fire-Breather

In 1882, in Paw Paw, Michigan, a remarkable human enigma was brought to the attention of Dr L. C. Woodman. The 24 year-old man, named A.W. Underwood, had to take great care whenever he breathed, apparently to avoid causing fires. At first the doctor thought the stories were mere exaggerations, but one day there was a knock on his door, and in walked A.W. Underwood himself, looking for help.

Dr. Woodman was persuaded to make tests in the presence of himself and some of his colleagues, and to their amazement Underwood performed incredible feats which they could not explain. Doctor Woodman told the Michigan Medical News (n.17; September 11, 1882):

'He will take anybody's handkerchief and hold it to his mouth rub it vigorously with his hands while breathing on it and immediately it bursts into flames and burns until consumed. He will strip and rinse out his mouth thoroughly, wash his hands and submit to the most rigid examination to preclude the possibility of any humbug, and then by his breath blown upon any paper or cloth envelop it in flame. He will, while out gunning and without matches desirous of a fire lie down after collecting dry leaves and by breathing on them start the fire...'

Dr. Woodman stated publicly that he was sure that Underwood's phenomena were authentic.

The doctor also noticed that Underwood would hold the cloth or other material against his mouth so that he could force his breath through it, thus condensing whatever strange process it was. The doctors washed Underwood's mouth out with various mixtures, and obliged him to wear surgeon's rubber gloves - but it made no difference - the phenomenon carried on as normal.

This is an exceptional case, especially as the subject allowed himself to be tested and investigated for months, and, although the report was published in the Michigan Medical News and other similar journals, no one ever came forward with an explanation for Underwood's bizarre fire-breathing talents.

A similar case was reported In 1927, when Vice President of the U.S., Charles Dawes, personally investigated the case of a car mechanic in Memphis, Tennessee, who supposedly had the mysterious ability to set inflammable material alight merely by breathing on it. The man took General Dawes' handkerchief, breathed on it, and it caught fire. Dawes and his colleagues decided that it was no trick, and since no reasonable explanation could be found, it was left unexplained.


  1. ^ S. T. Joshi (2001). The Modern Weird Tale. McFarland. pp. 75. ISBN 078640986X. 
  2. ^ John Kenneth Muir (2001). An Analytical Guide to Television's One Step Beyond, 1959–1961. McFarland. pp. 77–78. ISBN 078640969X. 
  3. ^ John Anthony McCrossan (2000). "Stephen King". Books and Reading in the Lives of Notable Americans. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 144. ISBN 0313303762. 
  4. ^ Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg (2007). The Science of Stephen King. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 38–39. ISBN 0471782475. 
  5. ^ "Sonic Rush Adventure". Characters: Blaze. Sega. Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  6. ^ Thomas, R. (January 1883). "Spontaneous Combustion". The Medical Age 1: 86. 

See also

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