PUBLISHER Applause Theatre & Cinema Books WRITER John Kenneth Muir AVAILABLE Now

The X-Files FAQThe X-Files FAQ is an indispensable tome not only for new fans of the series, but for established aficionados and anyone considering revisiting the series; a much less daunting prospect with John Kenneth Muir as your guide. Vast in its scope and ambition, Muir’s book highlights the richness of the series and goes some way to explaining its continuing cult appeal.

Consistently entertaining and revelatory, it boasts a dizzying wealth of information and a love for the show, and for its creators, abounds from page to page. Muir opines that the strength of The X-Files lay in its ‘willingness to experiment with something new, even if that something new goes against preconceived notions of appropriateness or expectation’. Throughout, he reiterates how socially relevant the show was by linking the development of real-life scientific explorations and initiatives to certain plot strands and storylines. Also present is detailed clarification of the show’s roots in the Gothic tradition; the spectre of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and its call for caution in exploring the realms of science and technology is ominously prevalent.

Muir delves into each season, dissecting key episodes to demonstrate the innovative nature of the show, and deftly explores the sprawling ‘myth-arc’ plot lines. The early chapters take an in-depth look at key individuals involved in the series, and Muir suggests that because the likes of Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz, to name but two, cut their teeth on The X-Files, the series became a fertile breeding ground for future creators of exemplary and groundbreaking television; by giving these individuals such creative freedom to move ‘outside the rubric of strictly defined, inelastic format parameters’, he claims The X-Files enabled them to explore the limits of their imagination, subsequently resulting in some of TV’s most striking and experimental moments.

Interestingly, Muir also discusses the sociopolitical landscape of America in the early 90s, a time of ‘social, economic, technological change and progress’ which he suggests helped to establish the success of the series and ensure its enduring appeal throughout that decade. He ponders how the vanquishing of certain external enemies after the events of the Cold War forced the US to turn inward and pinpoints various events such as the sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco, the rise of domestic right-wing terrorism and the Clinton sex scandal, as factors which contributed to a rise in conspiracy theories and a deep mistrust of the US government. It’s fascinating reading.

Later chapters address landmark episodes and predominant themes and concerns; Muir cuts no corners and no theme is left unexplored, as he considers everything from the place of religion and American culture in the series, to the representation of technology, teenagers and serial killers. In his consideration of the popular ‘Monster of the Week’ episodes, Muir discusses how Chris Carter and co. re-appropriated various Gothic horror types and tropes, such as vampires, werewolves and zombies, for an increasingly savvy 90s TV audience, as well as addressed more prevalent concerns as they strove to convey menace lurking behind the white-picket fences of the too-perfect American Dream. Elsewhere the book explores the show’s myriad influences, its spin-offs (The Lone Gunmen, Millennium), feature films and continuing legacy in graphic novels, comics and merchandise.

While slightly marred by the presence of various typos, The X-Files FAQ is nonetheless an immensely enriching and accessible exploration of one of television’s most imaginative and popular shows, and is very much recommended.   

Posted by James Gracey

James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (Devil’s Advocates). He contributes to Diabolique, and has also written for Paracinema, Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.