Book Review: THE X-FILES: The Official Archives – Cryptids, Biological Anomalies, and Parapsychic Phenomena (Paul Terry)

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Over the years, we have enjoyed a litany of tie-in material for The X-Files, principally across the 1990s but again recently thanks to the return of Chris Carter’s iconic series.

Fans will remember Brian Lowry’s essential episode guide books back when the show aired – basic by today’s standard but a touchstone in the pre-online era of limited investigative or behind the scenes information. Ditto Jane Goldman’s two-volume Book of the Unexplained, much more of an expansive ‘coffee table tome’. Aside from the novelisation tie-ins from writers such as Charles Grant & Kevin J. Anderson, these materials expanded our knowledge and enjoyment of the television series, paving the way for the multimedia onslaught of additional material that would appear around shows and movies to come, and following in the footsteps of mega franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek, who had already been doing it for years.

In the modern 2020s, what can resources such as this offer us? Back in the ‘90s, without access to information or images or contextualisation, such books would inform and enrich our knowledge of the movies and shows we loved. Now, everything in those books is available thanks to a cursory Google search. This forces books such as The Official Archives to be a touch more inventive in how they engage with the property they’re playing with.

Paul Terry is clearly someone who adores The X-Files and knows it well, and such enthusiasm emerges in a book that is part coffee-table resource filled with arcanum and part investigative journal, playfully adding new details and lore to The X-Files mythos.

The Official Archives promises to be a two-volume project, the second no doubt predicated on the financial success of the first, given Terry focuses explicitly on one area of The X-Files specifically: the monsters.

The book is subtitled Cryptids, Biological Anomalies and Parapsychic Phenomena, and journeys through all ten seasons (and one motion picture) as it badges together everything from the iconic liver eating mutant Eugene Victor Tooms through to Guy Mann, aka the Were-Monster, throwing into the pot a range of strange creatures who FBI Agents Mulder & Scully (plus occasionally Agents Doggett & Reyes) faced over the years. This is a smart move, retrospectively.

While X-Files adherents love the so-called ‘alien mythology’ that drove the main narrative of the series, the casual fan in hindsight is much more likely to throw on a random episode and find Pusher, the mind-controlling, playful supervillain (in what for my money is the best episode of the show, bearing the same name) or an ancient ice worm under the Arctic, than one of the labyrinthe stories of Mulder’s quest to expose a global alien conspiracy and find his long-missing sister in the bargain.

Terry’s focus on monsters gives his book an immediate range, given how The X-Files dabbled in all kinds of strange phenomena over its many years of episodes, and allows for a far deeper, expansive variety of images and case notes from all kinds of weird and wonderful paranormal monsters. That’s the main draw here, after all. The Official Archives is primarily a visual experience, with the added bonus of episode ‘recaps’ delivered as case notes from Mulder & Scully for the most part, but the draw is undeniably in the array of reminders as to the scope of the X-Files investigations.

Terry’s approach to recapping the episodes is fun, given how they remove the emotional or personal aspects to the case we witness as viewers and recite them as formal descriptions of what happened, but to any X-Files fan they might seem a little throwaway. Indeed, it might have benefited from less direct episode description and more original ‘writing around’ the case we’ve watched on television itself.

This does happen in my favourite addition to the book – the addendums of FBI Agent Leila Harrison. Terry uses this character as the framing device of the archives themselves, she being a younger agent obsessed with Mulder & Scully’s investigations who appeared in a Season 8 & 9 episode respectively. Harrison is, thanks to regular sympathetic boss Walter Skinner, reconstructing the X-Files after events of original series finale The Truth, and piecing together our dynamic duo’s original work.

In this sense, The Official Archives are part of X-Files continuity, if perhaps not canon, with Harrison picking up on many unsolved cases and giving mysterious updates on the fate of the Flukeman or the aforementioned ice worms etc… and in this you can tell that Carter has been involved in some of the details here, as it appears were original writers and producers Frank Spotnitz & Vince Gilligan. That lends the book an air of detail and authenticity, not to mention new content, for fans of the show that you won’t find anywhere else.

Ultimately, The X-Files: The Official Archives works as a love letter to fans. Paul Terry gets a kick out of putting this together and is backed by a real sense of structure, authenticity and continuity that will give any X-Files fan a real thrill. If you’re a completist, it’s a must have.

The X-Files: The Official Archives: Cryptids, Biological Anomalies and Parapsychic Phenomena is available from Abrams from today.

For an extended conversation with Paul Terry about the book, check out The X-Cast podcast’s newest episode, arriving Wednesday 16th.

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