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Sunday 14 February 2016

Some old X-Files

I don’t usually hoard old magazines (except Fortean Times), but I kept these three issues of Cinefantastique because between them they contain complete episode guides to the first four seasons of The X-Files. I was prompted to dig them out last week – not because of the “reboot” currently showing on Channel 5, or from any general sense of nostalgia, but because I needed to do some research for a new book I’m working on. In looking through them, I was struck by how highbrow some of the X-Files episode titles were. Here are a few of the more Fortean examples – two from each of those first four seasons (just focusing on the titles, not the storylines).

The Jersey Devil (Season 1, Episode 5). One of America’s lesser known cryptids, this one dates back to those pre-Darwin days when mysterious creatures weren’t required to conform to the logic of evolutionary genetics. According to Wikipedia it’s “a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a goat, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, cloven hooves and a forked tail”. Wings AND arms AND hooves… they don’t make them like that any more.

Ghost in the Machine (Season 1, Episode 7). This cool-sounding phrase was coined by the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle in 1949, as a disparaging description of the dualistic theory of human nature (i.e. a spiritual soul inhabiting a material body).

Little Green Men (Season 2, Episode 1). A facetious term for extraterrestrials, which was already well established when Mack Reynolds wrote The Case of the Little Green Men in 1951 – a Fortean-themed detective novel I wrote about in a blog post last year.

Fearful Symmetry (Season 2, Episode 18). This phrase comes from William Blake’s famous poem “Tiger, Tiger, burning bright”. The poem isn’t very Fortean, but its author was – as I explained in A 19th Century Contactee. One of the strangest spiritual creatures Blake claimed to have encountered was “The Ghost of a Flea” – his painting of which I happened to see in the Tate Gallery last year (see photo at the bottom of this post).

Paper Clip (Season 3, Episode 2). This is a reference to Operation Paperclip, a real world “conspiracy” that brought hundreds of German scientists – many of them war criminals – to the United States in the aftermath of WW2, giving them clean new records and salaried positions working for the U.S. government. It may be no coincidence that “Nasa” sounds a bit like “Nazi”.

Talitha Cumi (Season 3, Episode 24). This is one of several X-Files titles derived from a foreign language. In this case it’s Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. It’s a quote from the New Testament, which of course is full of Jesus quotes, but most of them only appear in translation. This example (from Mark 5:41) is one of only about a dozen that are given in the original Aramaic first (I’d be interested to know why they were singled out in this way). From the King James version: “And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.”

Tunguska (Season 4, Episode 8). This, of course, was the site of a mysterious explosion that flattened two thousand square kilometres of Siberian forest in 1908. It was probably caused by a meteor impact, although several odd things about it have led to various alternative explanations (e.g. an exploding UFO). As mentioned in my post about Ian Watson last year, his novel Chekhov’s Journey offers a particularly weird interpretation of the Tunguska event.

Terma (Season 4, Episode 9). This has to be one of the most obscure X-Files titles of all. It’s a technical term from Tantric Buddhism, referring to secret teachings carefully handed down among the inner circle of adepts. Such as, for example, that Tantric classic “Sex Secrets of the Ancient Masters” (which I really must get round to writing one of these days).


TwoHeadedBoy said...

Only ever saw a couple of episodes when it was originally on (being too young at the time, that's probably the reason why), but fifteen years of reading FT and a lifetime of interests in all things odd compelled me to finally watch them - did all nine series, plus both films and the Lone Gunmen spin-off over three months last year, and I'm glad I did!

I got the full run of FT from 1996 this Xmas, and issues 85 and 86 feature synopses of all the episodes from series 1 and 2 condensed into four pages. Handy!

Andrew May said...

Thanks THB! Strangely I didn't watch the first two seasons of the X-Files when they first aired, even though (sad to say) I was "old enough" and very much interested in the subject. I just assumed it was standard TV rubbish. It was only when I saw it in FT (possibly those two issues you mention) that I decided to start watching. So I started with Season 3, and caught up with the first two when they were repeated.