Dean Koontz's Watchers

Dean Koontz /
Dean Koontz /

A novel featuring a hybrid abomination with bulbous yellow eyes, hooked teeth and a predisposition to gouge out victims’ eyeballs is actually a story about two despondent, isolated individuals looking for a companion.  Dean Koontz’ Watchers is such a tale that lingers in the thriller genre yet has at its crux the indefatigable theme of love.  At the outset of Watchers, Koontz creates a gloomy picture of his two main characters, Travis Cornell and Nora Devon.  Travis feels the deaths of his loved ones and military comrades are all somehow indirectly his doing, for he believes he is cursed.  Nora lives in voluntary confinement in the house that her now deceased, oppressive aunt “built”.  She is miserably alone but never learned how to interact with other people, which reinforces her despair.  It is within the relationship that fosters between Travis and Nora that the theme of love and its immense strength are developed.  Einstein, the golden retriever, also plays a role in promoting love through his occupation as a student, capable of learning like a human would, not to mention, providing significant love of his own.  To contrast the power of love, Koontz employs the tenacious and merciless theme of hate, manifested in the Outsider. Again and again throughout the novel, Koontz uses love as the solitary mechanism for change, which gives it a unique emphasis above the other themes, as change is necessary for the development of plot and characters.  

The protagonists are described as characters that need change in their lives, and Koontz uses love as the thematic device that precipitates their changes.  At the beginning of the story, Koontz establishes Travis and Nora as people whose lives are completely devoid of love, the loves of Travis’ past are all physically destroyed and Nora was never given the chance to love or be loved in the first place. They’re similar, but having distinct predicaments provides impetus for their ability to foster their love, and at the conclusion of Part One, they are married.  After Travis teaches Nora “the art of love” while on their way to Las Vegas, Koontz writes, “although the constant shadow of certain death looms over every day, the pleasures and joys of life can be so fine and deeply affecting that the heart is nearly stilled by astonishment” (235). Travis meditates on the power love has of weakening the pervasive fear accompanying them. No matter what adversity or dread awaits them, it is not fear, but love, which is capable of freezing people in their tracks.

Einstein’s change is not nearly as profound as those of Nora or Travis.  While he does grow to love Travis and upon immediately encountering Nora becomes endeared to her as well, his reasons, and in fact, the reason he has reasoning skills at all is a part of his DNA, his instincts as a dog.  His change consists more of education and not love.  Nonetheless, what he does provide for Travis and Nora is yet another outlet in which they can send their love and learn how to love.  For Nora, Einstein’s power of love is that of a protector, she tells the dog, “My guardian. You not only saved me from that awful man—you also saved me from loneliness and terrible despair” (335).  Einstein’s capacity to learn like a human child and, more simply, his instinct for sensing when Nora was in distress, engenders a sense in Nora that she is loveable, something she thought she lacked at the start of the novel.  Though Travis is affected by Einstein’s love in a similar mode as Nora’s love for the dog, the reader catches a glimpse of the effect this has on Travis at the end of the novel, within the final showdown with The Outsider, “All his life he had lost people he loved, and except in Delta Force he’d never had anyone to strike back at because you can’t take vengeance on fate” (375).  Travis’ love for Einstein, and his enragement at what he believes to have killed his dog, provokes him into a rage that completely nullifies his sense of fear.  He rushes into the barn unhesitatingly to finish off The Outsider.  Here it is seen what love is capable of doing to an individual in its most extreme form. His love for his best friend cannot be stripped from him without consequences.  In essence he does not allow fate to control his actions anymore, it is love alone that emboldens him to face The Outsider one final time.

A significant portion of the novel is dedicated to the loving relationships of its three main characters, however, burrowed within this thriller also lies a theme more true to the genre’s cache. That theme is hate.  Hate is used in Watchers not only to provide the antagonist, The Outsider, with motivation, but also serves in contrast to the love theme.  Hate is used to solidify the, albeit clichéd, notion that love is capable of overcoming any obstacle.  At Bordeaux Ridge, where Lem divulges all to his friend Sheriff Walt, Lem states, “the dog is the beloved child…and the Outsider has always known that…The Outsider is the child they would prefer to keep locked securely in a cellar” (199). By characterizing hate as pitiable but unworthy of empathy, it makes the effect of love all the more profound.  Hate keeps the monster stalking Einstein while simultaneously bolstering the trio’s love for each other.  They know that in order to defeat The Outsider they must all keep watch over each other.  The Outsider’s imperative to hate, to kill by this hatred, provides a backdrop that emphasizes Travis and Nora’s love by showing the alternative to the benevolence of love.

So it is through their relationships that Travis, Nora, and Einstein find their capacity for change.  Both Travis and Nora come to realize that if they open their hearts to love, they are capable of overcoming the dread that is The Outsider.  Also cementing this concept is the hate that The Outsider feels.  His quest ends in failure, slightly tragically so, because he is unable to love, he was not engineered for it, and he cannot learn it.  Love is the most powerful tool in Koontz’ tale.  Einstein surely would have fallen victim to his nemesis if not for finding Travis.  Travis probably would have killed himself that day in the Santa Ana Mountains if he had not chanced upon Einstein.  Nora would still be trapped in her aunt’s prison, lingering in despair.  Love is the sole source of the change in all of them.

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Comments 4 comments

CJamesIII profile image

CJamesIII 5 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

Watchers and Midnight are my two favorite novels of all time, in any genre!

Sue826 profile image

Sue826 5 years ago from Albuquerque

Watchers - One of my favorites. Also love The Darkest Evening of the Year because of the dog's role in the book.

wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 4 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!


I voted this essay 'up' for 'useful.' That is a reflection of how well you presented your literary analysis of Dean Koontz's 'Watchers.'

I read this hub because I used to be interested in Koontz's work. I have always had mixed feelings about his novels myself.

First, Dean Koontz, in my opinion, is NOT a gifted prose stylist. It seems to me that his strength as a novelist is in coming up with intriguing and imaginative content, good plots that combine horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and crime drama. I suppose he organizes the material well.

But his prose lacks musicality. Compare his writing to Elmore Leonard (crime), the late Mario Puzo (crime), John Grisham (legal thrillers), the late Philip K. Dick (science fiction).

With these authors, their prose itself is a pleasure to read, so that 'the journey is the destination.' Their books don't feel as long as they are as a result. Though, Mr. Murder, was my favorite Koontz novel (unfortunately it was made into a horrid movie starring Stephen Baldwin).

Second, and this may be unfair, but I sometimes think Koontz tries to hard to be 'literary,' where its not necessary. As part of that, I used to think he was too sentimental as an author. But on the other hand, his villains are soooo bad, so veeeery EVIL, that he must, I suppose, balance it out with an equal measure of sentimentality.

Yes, the watchers was a great story, for its content, in my opinion, not Koontz's delivery. I have yet to find a horror/psychological suspense writer whose prose style I like. :(

Oh well.... good hub.

Take it easy

jambo87 profile image

jambo87 4 years ago from Outer Space / Inner Space Author

He must be doing something right after all these years, but like you said, it's not the prose.

Check out Richard Matheson's vampire classic, I am Legend (way different from the film),

or the parochial and post-apocalyptic, A Canticle for Leibowitz (the author's name eludes me)

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