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Humbug Library Binding – 1 Oct 1999
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Humbug, a juvenile adaptation of The X-Files episode of same name, is the first explicitly comedic installment in the series. Based on of the original shooting script, the story follows FBI Agents Mulder and Scully as they investigate freakish murders in a Florida community, home to retired sideshow performers. Even as Mulder suspects the murderer to be the legendary "Feejee mermaid," a bizarre theory in and of itself, the agents soon find themselves embroidered in an outlandish whodunit adventure set against an unusual tapestry of the performing arts.
Heralded as one of the more popular episodes of the series, Humbug is a gentle though effective spoof. The story is littered with memorable lines and deadpan hilarity from Mulder, Scully, and the ensemble cast of circus freaks. However, author Les Martin, who penned numerous novelizations of the show, has a tendency to dumb down the most hilarious exchanges—a lame attempt at catering to younger readers—to the point where the dialogue is no longer amusing. For instance, Scully's line to Sheriff Hamilton, "Do you recall what Barnum said about suckers?", was amended to something to the effect of "Ever heard of the statistic that made Barnum rich?" Martin's ridiculous and wholly unnecessary modifications are like stinging nettles to diehard fans. Martin commits an even worse offense when he reduces Mr. Nutt's diatribe of Mulder to the point of humorousless absurdity, changing such scathingly funny phrases as "unimaginative necktie design" and "dour demeanor" to "boring necktie" and "unsmiling expression," respectively. And don't get me started on Dr. Blockhead's witty "true price of spirituality" line, which was altogether omitted. Does the author or his editors really believe young readers incapable of grasping such words? Perhaps, I have too much confidence in the intelligence of young readers, and their ability to comprehend greater vocabulary and adult situations.
The eccentric nature of the town's populace makes Humbug an atypical murder mystery. Through the use of irony, the book explores themes of Otherness and difference. From the first chapter, the book challenges the reader's assumptions about being different when what appears to be a scaly monster accosting two young boys in a swimming pool is in fact the boys' father (with a rare skin affliction) playing a joke on them. Moments later, the good-natured father winds up the murder victim. It's an ingenious twist on the traditional X-Files format, a show that regularly trades in horror tropes should be expected to stray from the norm every now and then. As the case progresses, Agents Mulder and Scully are forced to confront their prejudices as these community-abiding, monstrous-looking outsiders is revealed to be the victims rather than the perpetrators. Humbug upends the show's implicit corollary that what is different is inherently wicked. In fact, with their conventional appearance and attractive features, Mulder and Scully are paradoxically the outsiders here.
There's some interesting nuggets to be found in these pages, tidbits that didn't make it to the broadcast episode. The first of which is a humorous diner scene in which Mulder and Scully are served by a hermaphrodite waiter/waitress named Sal (This scene can be found in the Deleted Scenes portion of the DVD). The second scene occurs after our intrepid agents have discovered the identity of the killer, where Scully reveals that she was able to solve the investigation as a result of a dream she had about Lanny, the drunken bellboy with a conjoined twin. She and Mulder share a brief exchange about dreams that I found to be quite interesting.
Despite some minor flaws that would only be noticeable to avid X-Philes, Humbug is a well-paced, well-rounded juvenile story with unique characters, a standout amongst The X-Files canon. I would recommend it to any young readers with an interest in murder mysteries that are less than cozy.