As with any blockbuster media success, X-Files tie-ins were thick on the ground (and to an extent remain so to this day), and I don’t intend to cover all of them here. But two books have always stood out to me from the morass of official and unofficial episode guides, interview books, and other paraphernalia. These are the two chunky hardcover volumes of Jane Goldman’s The X-Files Book of the Unexplained, which came out in 1995-1996. The basic concept of these books is that Goldman uses X-Files episodes as jumping-off points for discussions of the real scientific, pseudoscientific, paranormal and esoteric inspirations for the episodes.
Volume One, which came out in 1995, is largely tied to season 1, both in terms of the subject matter of the chapters and the brief episode guide included at the end of the book. This is actually helpful because, what with the first season being fairly scattershot as it tried out a range of ideas, this means a diverse bunch of subjects is available for Goldman to work with, with chapters ranging from well-grounded subject matter like genetic modification and artificial intelligence to more tenuous material like werewolves, reincarnation, faith healing and telepathy. Naturally, there’s a healthy coverage of UFO subjects too.
Though Goldman does mention a few incidents where, if you dig deeper, it turns out there’s really not much of a factual basis to them, by and large she actually does a good job of providing a range of interesting anecdotes and cases, maintaining a suitable level of scepticism where it’s called for whilst avoiding the sort of aggressively dismissive attitude that you often get with this sort of material.
Given her warm words for James Randi, it’s evident that Goldman has a lot of time for the sceptical perspective, but she also has a sound idea of the limits of scientific inquiry, and how phenomena which happen rarely and can’t easily be recaptured under controlled conditions are extremely difficult to study, and where strange events have occurred where a clear explanation genuinely has not been arrived at and so asserting any particular explanation would be arrogant and, in itself, unscientific. At the same time, her capacity to pick out interesting subjects to discuss suggests a genuine interest in and enjoyment of the subject, even if she concludes that a lot of it is probably bunk.
In other words, Goldman has the capacity to act in both a Mulderian and a Scullyesque capacity, which makes her a good choice for writing this book, and she does so very entertainingly. Though she only really addresses the X-Files episodes that inspire the individual chapters briefly, by way of starting her discussion of a subject, she’s got a good way of teasing out what we loved about the early series (and is able to extract a confession from Chris Carter that Space was a terrible episode), and is able to cultivate a similarly enjoyable look at a lot of the subjects in question.Continue reading “Supernatural Souvenirs of Simpler Times”