Recently, in response to the prayers of fanatical fans (“X-philes”, if you will), the classic supernatural conspiracy series The X-Files was resurrected for a new TV series. There was a period of years, however, when no episodes were being produced, and fans of Mulder and Scully seeking new and exciting adventures were forced instead to turn to licensed novels. Books such as Goblins, by Charles Grant.
Opening the X-Files…
Meet Mulder and Scully, FBI. The agency maverick and the female agent assigned to keep him in line.
Their job: investigate the eeriest unsolved mysteries in modern America, from pyro-psychics to death row demonics, from rampaging Sasquatches to alien invasions. The cases the Bureau wants handled quietly, but quickly, before the public finds out what’s really out there. And panics. The cases filed under “X.”
Something out there is killing people, remaining invisible and unseen by human eyes until it strikes with deadly force…
This book’s title is a lie. Based on the title and synopsis, you would expect it to be a story about Mulder and Scully investigating killings performed by supernatural monsters. In fact, there is only one “goblin”. And it’s a human, not a goblin at all.
When it comes down to it, there’s an inherent problem in writing an X-Files story; namely, that the audience already knows how it’s going to end. Mulder and Scully are going to survive, but without any concrete evidence; the immediate evil plot will be foiled, but the greater conspiracy will continue. Faced with that, the most an X-Files novel can attempt to do is at least make us enjoy the ride – provide us with plenty of thrills and twists along the way to the inevitable conclusion. Unfortunately, Goblins fails at that.
The book seems to want us to treat it as a mystery. Once it becomes clear that the goblin is not a magical monster but in fact a person, a super-soldier produced by and working for the Special Projects Office, the natural inclination is to try and guess who it might be. Could Aaron Noel, owner of the local tavern and last person to speak to the victims, have secretly stalked them after they left his bar? Could Todd Hawks, the police chief who can shift smoothly between acting like a dumb hick and a smart cop, hiding his true murderous personality? Is Elly, the old woman who sees goblins everywhere, unable to see that the real monster is within herself? Nope! It’s a character so minor that she only appeared in a single paragraph earlier in the book, during which she spoke two sentences and was never referred to by name.
Ladies and gentlemen, every single line spoken by the goblin up until her reveal:
“Guys are on the road. Rush hour, you know?”
– Chapter 8
“I’ll tell him. Watch your back.”
– Chapter 20
…And that’s it. Not exactly a revelation on par with the identity of Keyser Soze, is it?
Given the extremely minor presence of the goblin’s human identity in the story, how then does Mulder ultimately uncovers it? By carefully piecing the clues together, or by setting a clever trap to tick the killer into exposing herself? Of course not. It’s because the goblin speaks to him and he recognizes her voice. Best of luck to you, the reader playing along at home, in recognizing the goblin by the sound of its voice from the printed text.
In terms of plot, the book is similar to the episode “Sleepless”. Both deal with a soldier, enhanced by a secret government program in order to have superhuman abilities, who subsequently goes insane and starts murdering people. Unfortunately, any comparison reveals Goblins to be a shallow imitation, devoid of anything that made the episode interesting. For one thing, the motivation for the murders. In the episode, Augustus “Preacher” Cole underwent surgery which removed his need for sleep; years of being tormented by the memories of atrocities committed by his squad in Vietnam, without the release of sleep to process the trauma, understandably resulted in him becoming unbalanced to the point he became murderous and suicidal. In Goblins, however, whatever process was used to give Madeline “Maddy” Vincent chameleon skin-changing powers just happened to coincidentally also make her homicidal, for plot-convenience reasons. Then there’s the selection of the victims. In “Sleepless”, Preacher targets people he views as guilty due to their involvement in the project: his fellow super-soldiers who committed war crimes, and the doctors who performed the surgery to make them that way. In Goblins, however, Maddy just hangs out in a bar and kills men at random, for no adequately explained reason. And finally, there’s the method of the murders. Preacher kills in strange and interesting ways using insomnia-induced psychic mind-control powers. Maddy… stabs people with a knife.
Finally, you might notice that I haven’t said anything about the subplot of Mulder and Scully being teamed up with two younger apprentice agents – Webber and Anderson, or “Sculder and Mully” if you will. That’s because they, and indeed their whole plot, are boring and irrelevant. As the show itself learned when it tried to bring in Doggett and Reyes, we’re in the story for Mulder and Scully, not any other random FBI agents..
Overall, Goblins is nothing but a monster-of-the-week story, and a poor one at that. The truth may be out there, but my advice is to go looking for it in a different novel.
Final Rating: 2/5