Stephen King’s The Dead Zone centers on Johnny Smith, a man with touch-based psychic powers that probably make his everyday life a living hell.

Stephen King’s The Dead Zone centers on Johnny Smith, a man with touch-based psychic powers that probably make his everyday life a living hell. The Dead Zone was first published in 1979, making it one of King’s earliest books, and also a product of a period in which he could almost do no wrong. Other books from the same period include classics like Salem’s Lot, The Stand, and The Shining. The Dead Zone may not be quite as iconic as those stories, but it’s a terrific novel nonetheless, and very much top shelf King.

The Dead Zone offers a window into the life of Johnny Smith, a mild-mannered high school teacher whose life is altered forever when a horrific car accident lands him in a years-long coma. Johnny awakens to find that he now possesses powerful psychic abilities that enable him to peek into the past or future by touching people or objects, sometimes exposing deep, dark secrets or seeing upcoming tragedies along the way.

Johnny does his best to use his psychic gifts for good, but his powers also bring lots of unwanted attention from others, with people wanting to know for sure if what he does is real. Things get dicey when he meets a politician who he foresees will one day bring about a nuclear holocaust, and has to decide whether to kill him or not. But that’s all big, life or death stuff. On a day to day basis, there are lots of smaller reasons why Johnny is probably miserable.

Dead Zone: Johnny’s Powers Explained (& Why They’re TERRIBLE)

The Dead Zone: Johnny's Powers Explained (& Why They're TERRIBLE)
The Dead Zone: Johnny’s Powers Explained (& Why They’re TERRIBLE)

When Johnny Smith woke up from his coma in The Dead Zone, his doctors were surprised. After all, he had sustained what the doctors thought to be minor brain damage as a result of the accident, and if anything, they doubted he would be mentally intact. Somehow though, the damage to his brain served to awaken a dormant part of his mind, one that activated his touch-based psychic abilities. While Johnny’s visions of the past, present, and future do enable him to do lots of good, they’re basically the worst case scenario for psychic powers.

For starters, Johnny gets visions by touching objects as well as people. Whenever he touches a piece of food, it’s quite possible he sees exactly how that item was prepared, along with any corners that were cut on a hygiene level. Whenever he touches a car, he might see every nasty wreck it’s been in, and so on. Sure, he can try to avoid this by wearing gloves to prevent contact with his skin, but who wants to do that their entire life, and what if the gloves themselves have their own surprising story to tell? Outside of that, there’s more intimate situations in which gloves would be entirely inappropriate.

While he eventually became preoccupied with stopping Greg Stillson, anytime Johnny might have wanted to get romantic with anyone for the remainder of his life would come with the danger of his every touch revealing that person’s past lovers, or perhaps traumatic incidents from their life. Or worse, what if he touched a potential significant other, only to find out they had done something terrible, like kill someone? The Dead Zone TV series tried to make the past lovers scenario funny, but there’s a reason it was only touched on briefly, as it would drive just about anyone insane. Basically, even if Johnny hadn’t have found an apocalypse he’d die trying to avert, his life still would’ve been highly unpleasant.

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