Book Review: Monsters of the Week – The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files by Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff (HB)

While it’s not unusual for books that are a companion or guide to a TV series to be full of useful, insightful information, plus that extra bit of fan love – which is especially great when it’s your favourite show – and Abrams Chronicle’s Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files goes further and deeper than anything I’ve ever encountered before, and in a enormously impressive, insightful and in-depth way.

Created and written by Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff, these two have developed a book that is surely the ultimate guide to all things The X-Files. It’s astonishing to think that this year is the 25th Anniversary of the show, and also how beloved it’s become, and in Zack and Todd’s 488-page book they unpack and explore every element of what’s made it so unique, how it’s inspired other shows and pretty much the type of television we watch today. Personally, I can’t understate how much a show like The X-Files changed the level of television that we see today, alongside an era that includes the likes of David Lynch’s superb Twin Peaks, and both authors discuss this in their individual introductions to what the entire book is about.

Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files opens with a Foreword from The X-Files creator Chris Carter and it’s clear that his love for the show goes beyond just its success and scope, but also how the cast and crew took each other in like a, quite beautiful, dysfunctional family that just worked perfectly together. It’s also interesting to read about Carter’s memories about how the early episodes of The X-Files came together, how they feel in love with Canada and it’s dark forests – Trust me, I’ve visited British Columbia and Vancouver a few times myself to experience some X-Files/Canadian goodness – and how it launched David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson out into the world forever more, I mean, no-one else could surely ever be Mulder and Scully, they’re iconic and rightfully cult legends in the genre.

Of course, the book isn’t just intros and overall thoughts, between Todd and Zack they’ve watched over 154 hours of The X-Files and each part from every series, and the two films, are covered here and in handy chapters. Each individual episode has a small breakdown that includes analysis and a reminder of how television format series’ work. In Zack’s intro, he helpfully reminds us that each review is broken down into where it fits in the mythology of the show, the Monster of the Week (MOTW), how the cold opening has gone and the structure of it all. While this might initially complex, it’s really interesting to go back to favourite episodes and see what they think and where it sits in your mind as well.

So, this might seem like a lot to consider but you can take this book as a casual read after you’ve watched an episode but it’s also one of those you could embed yourself into if you’re a fan of everything X-Files but, let’s make one thing clear, the time and commitment given to the production of this book over the years gone by is huge. That’s what makes this book so distinctive, you can take from it what you want and it can help you focus lingering thoughts around certain episodes, or just back up your own opinions.

One last thought, and a continuation of the positive, Chris Carter mentions that it’s the committed, loving fan-base that keeps The X-Files alive, and I feel this is so true. Without those elements, the series wouldn’t have returned for one final fling and I’m so glad it had the chance to, more or less, say good and ‘than you.’ – The show was always inventive, scary, iconic, self-aware and full of dark humour and will live on for years. The best thing about this book is how it’ll take your hand and guide you back into magnificent, eerie X-Files forest whether you’re an old school fan or have just discovered the show, it’s an absolute masterclass of a companion guide.

Monsters of the Week – The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files in Hardback is available from 5 November.

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