The X-Files: Goblins
by Charles Grant
The translation of an idea intended for the strictly visual medium of television to the literary medium of the printed page is always difficult and often unsuccessful. In many ways, Charles Grant has succeeded in interpreting Chris Carter’s “The X- Files” into book form (“The X-Files: Goblins”, HarperPrism, 1994, $4.99). Agents Mulder and Scully are assigned by their new boss, a newcomer named Douglas, to investigate two murders in a town near Ft. Dix, New Jersey. The MOs suggest a serial killer known to his victims, who prefers a slashing bayonet for that up close and personal touch. An eyewitness to one murder claims the assailant was a tree. Another claims to have seen the murderer emerge from a solid brick wall. Assisting Mulder and Scully are two other rather bumbling FBI agents, the likable Hank Webber and a blonde agent named Licia Andrews. All the ingredients are on hand.
Author Charles Grant has faithfully included our favorite elements of the show: Mulder and Scully must battle not only the bad guys “out there” but the forces working against them within their own team. The skies are appropriately dark, the alleys are properly endowed with an air of menace, there is the right sense of ambiguity and concealed menace. Mysterious informants pop up in unexpected places to whisper cryptic comments in Mulder’s ear. Not everyone is who he seems to be. There’s plenty of paranoia and suspense to go around.
(You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) It is plain Grant’s heart is not in his work in “Goblins”. Although he has done a manful job of capturing the basic components of “The X-Files”, there’s a sense he’s doing it all by the numbers. So many informants, so many eccentric characters, so many grisly murders, so many attacks on Mulder, so many jokes per chapter. The body walks, but the soul is missing. Take a look at this: “Dana Scully stood amid the clutter of Mulder’s office and flapped her arms hopelessly.” This sentence sums up everything that is wrong with the novel. “Flapped her arms” is just plain clumsy writing. Scully was shrugging her shoulders, or raising her arms helplessly, but she was not attempting take-off. Throughout the book, these awkward phrasings jolt us out of the flow of the story. Her fit of pique is petty and bad-tempered, not traits we associate with the cool, reserved Agent Scully.
Continuity errors abound: during one crucial conversation that takes place during the absence of one of the key players, the “absent” character suddenly turns around and speaks. How did she get there? Obviously, because she was left over from an earlier draft and the revision was incomplete. The result is total confusion. This is an amateur’s blunder that blew me completely out of the story. Motivations are muddled: in one scene the conniving Major Tonero vows to get the killer of his sister’s fiance, but later actively blocks the FBI’s investigation. Carl Barelli, Mulder’s friend, pleads with Mulder for help and then gets in his way when Mulder investigates.
But worst of all, there is absolutely no motivation for the early murders. Like Mulder and Scully, we are baffled by motiveless crimes until the murderer begins cleaning up “loose ends”: only then are we able to connect the later victims and draw conclusions. Merely ascribing the murders to “psychosis” is inadequate. Psychotics are compulsive, acting out obscure but discoverable agendas, as Special Agent Fox Mulder could have told us.
Grant does a serviceable job of fleshing out Fox Mulder. Our first sight of Mulder, sitting on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial eating lunch on a spring afternoon, is wonderful: I wanted to sit down and break out the tuna fish sandwiches. His flirtatious relationship with a waitress in his favorite neighborhood bar, his sardonic tolerance of his eager-beaver junior partner Webber, his interest in sports, made him real and present and human many times. His interior dialogue is believable, and we get some memorable Mulderisms. Even the obligatory dream sequence, rehashing yet again the disappearance of his sister, is well- handled. Mulder doesn’t break character once.
Dana Scully, however, is a shrew. Even her teasing of Mulder is spiteful. Throughout the book, Scully functions as an irritant, not as an equal partner. She is constantly nagging, obstructing, nay-saying. Rarely does she contribute anything to the advancement of the plot. The one “insight” she is given, which is supposed to make her the one who discovers the key to the mystery, is set up in advance so obviously my three year old could have spotted it. I don’t think this is sexism from Charles Grant, I thinks it marks a bewildered inability to get inside Dana Scully’s head.
“Goblins” shows all the earmarks of a novel written hastily to specifications. It is competently done and a fair read, but the seams show. If this were an episode of “The X-Files”, I would give it two sunflower seeds out of five.
© Copyright 1995 by Sarah Stegall