BRIAN LUMLEY - SOME CTHULHU MYTHOS TALES REVIEWS
I’ve had a Brian Lumley splurge on Amazon. I’ve bought RETURN OF THE DEEP ONES AND OTHER MYTHOS NOVELLAS, which I read from the library as a teenager. I also got two of his story collections, DAGON’S BELL AND OTHER DISCORDS and THE SECOND WISH AND OTHER EXHALATIONS. Lumley is a regular author of short stories, and I’ve enjoyed them in the past. But the main coursed of my Lumley feast was a copy of his [previously a bit impossible to find] MYTHOS OMNIBUS VOLUME ONE containing the first three novels in his six-book-long Titus Crow saga. I’ve had VOLUME TWO on my bookshelf for years but have never read it, not wanting to jump in at Book 4.
Anyway, over the last month or so I’ve read through all 655 pages of it, enjoying it very much. They are horror/fantasy/science-fiction novels, pitting occult investigator Titus Crow and his allies against the very real threat of the Cthulhu Cycle Deities. Anyway, here’s my reviews of the books, if you’re interested. If you’re not, then I’ve put some pretty pictures in to cheer up your day.
Oh, and the prolific Brian Lumley [around 60 novels or collections] was born in Horden, County Durham, England, which to those who are crap at geography is near Sunderland. There aren’t that many famous people from County Durham so you have to big-up every one of them.
THE BURROWERS BENEATH (1974)
I actually read some of Lumleys Cthulhu-mythos fiction [THE RETURN OF THE DEEP ONES, BENEATH THE MOORS] before I discovered and read Lovecrafts original stories. Of these teenage forays into Lumley, my notes record ‘don’t like style’; here lies irony! Anyway, I’ve read quite a few short stories since then, ranging from Ok to Very Good, but since ‘DEEP ONES’ this is my first [and Lumley’s first] novel.
Also it's a bit of a fix-up from previously published stories; “Cement Surroundings” and “The Night Sea-Maid Went Down” were short [good] early Cthulhu Mythos stories. In THE BURROWERS BENEATH, Lumley has linked the stories together and extended their scope, though the novel is largely an expansion of “Cement Surroundings”, concerning the exploits of Shudde-M’ell, a huge octopoid burrowing creature, a Great Old One, and his similar children. When these creatures move around under the surface of the Earth, they produce tremors and earthquakes, and can be tracked with siesomological devices. Lumley’s idea is that these creatures are responsible for many earthquakes and tremors throughout history; originally prisoned by the Elder Gods beneath Africa, they have now broken free and are reproducing and massing.
The main characters here are from some of Lumley’s earlier stories; Titus Crow is a psychic scholar of the Occult, and his friend and coleage, Henri de Marigny. Together, they become more convinced and involved in Shudde-M’ell’s exploits across England, and later are recruited by the Wilmarth Foundation, an organisation emanating from Miskatonic University to identify, track down and destroy [where possible] the wide plethora of Cthulhu Cycle Deities that are still extant and active on Earth. The idea is that these entities [Shudde-M’ell, Cthulhu, Hastur, Azathoth, Ithaqua, etc] and their minions [shoggoths, Deep Ones, Mi-Go, etc] once imprisoned by the Elder Gods, are now breaking free and causing havoc, while the Wilmarth Foundation attempt to hold them at bay and cover-up the whole thing.
Like many writers before him, Lumley has taken the concepts of Lovecrafts Cthulhu Mythos as a centrepiece for his Titus Crow stories, but has taken the ideas in his own, more modern, direction. Lovecrafts protagonists were usually weak, ineffectual, passive, and more likely to faint or ‘not find adequate words to describe the horror’. Lumley’s characters have more of the modern age about them, and fight back; Lovecrafts guys would never have created the Wilmarth Foundation. Lumley’s interpretation of the Mythos is more physical, more real; he has solidified Cthulhu, filled in the jigsaw that Lovecraft, and later Derleth began, and brought a bit of Order to Chaos. Lumley’s interpretation was original and modern but was disliked by many traditional Mythos fans. Personally, I find this new [in the 1970’s] approach to be refreshing; I enjoy very much traditional tales [as does Lumley], but I don’t believe that Lumley should be disparaged because of an innovative approach.
THE BURROWERS BENEATH uses a traditional Lovecraftian device of letters and journals, and though this seems to increase the pace and veracity of the book, there is always a slight detachment to the action, especially in the final chapters which cover an extended period of time in a short space. As a novel, it wobbles a little, it doesn’t seem quite even somehow, but is packed with great ideas and observations on the Mythos [eg, Azathoth is The Big Bang, while Nyarlathotep is telepathy, a close anagram], and is infused with an obvious love for Lovecrafts original stories, many of which he weaves into the narrative. On a more personal note, large parts of the book are set in the North of England, where both Lumley and myself were born, and it’s fun to see local [slightly changed] place names.
Really this novel is the first in a long sequence of six, telling the story of Titus Crow and the Wilmarth Foundation. In addition to that there are a number of short stories telling of more, earlier, exploits of the character. THE BURROWERS BENEATH is a fast, engaging read, ending on a cliffhanger; I look forward to reading more.
NOTE; Though THE BURROWERS BENEATH has never been filmed, I believe that it has been an uncredited inspiration on several films, most notably BEHEMOTH  in which a vast tentacled underground ‘God’ is responsible for tremors and earthquakes, and at the end pops out of the top of a mountain. There are also similarities in the films MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM , THE BURROWERS , and in the popular TREMORS series.
THE TRANSITION OF TITUS CROW (1975)
I usually jump about a lot in my reading matter, flipping from author to author. It’s rare that I will read a series or even a sequel to a book straight after the first one, so it’s a testament to Brian Lumley, that I began THE TRANSITION OF TITUS CROW just days after reading the first in this Cthulhu Mythos series, THE BURROWERS BENEATH.
Where BURROWERS was a monstrous horror story, TRANSITION is very much science-fiction, or perhaps science fantasy. The end of BURROWERS left occult investigator Titus Crow and his companion De Marigny fleeing from monstrous worm creatures in an old grandfather clock that can traverse space and time, from Lovecraft’s story, ‘Through The Gates Of The Silver Key’. TRANSITION begins with de Marigny being found ten years later, but having no memory of the intervening time. During his convalescence, he is [and the reader is] filled in on the activities of the Wilmarth Foundation in keeping at bay the Cthulhu Cycle Deities. Some months later de Marigny is contacted psychically by Crow and is ‘moored in’ through time and space. The rest of the book [3/4 of it] is taken up with Crow’s story of where he has been for ten years; and what a story.
Using the time-space clock [that’s bigger on the inside than the outside!] Crow has hurtled through all time and space, persued by the dreadful Hounds Of Tindalos. He visits black-holes and other universes, strange suns and galaxies, and travels into the far future and the distant past. He finds himself stranded in Cretacious times, fending off hungry pteradons and trying to find his sunken vessel. Then he crashes into a planet at hideous speed where his body is smashed; a helpful robot from the future rebuilds him with artificial components. He races through Earth’s history, the Roman Empire, Atlantis, and the far future of the universe to meet with the Great Race who are chronicling everything in the cosmos. And finally he meets, in a different plane of existence, the Elder God Kthanid, and his future-love Tiania, on the planet of Elysia, to which he is called back at the end of the book, leaving de Marigny with the clock and the option of following him into the universe...
Parts of this book are staggering in scope and imagination; Lumley has taken a diverse pic’n’mix from the tales of Lovecraft and other weird writers and assembled a huge awesome whole. The descriptions of Crow undergoing his actual TRANSITION and popping all over the universe are very good fun, and high in imaginative talent; the pages fly by. If it has any flaws, it is simply its construction; it is more episodic rather than a solid novel, and ends on a quiet but portentous note, leading up to Book Three in the series, THE CLOCK OF DREAMS. Some traditional Lovecraftians may not care for the series because of all the defining of once-mysterious events and entities, and of the familiation of Cthulhu and his brethren; the monsters are real, and are related to each other in complicated ways. But I loved this book, enjoyed the awesomeness of it; much of it was like reading Golden Age Science-Fiction, and I would recommend it to any fan of the fantastic. I look forward eagerly to the next in the series. 8/10
THE CLOCK OF DREAMS (1978)
This is the third volume in Lumley’s Titus Crow sequence, again using Lovecraft’s original stories and themes as a springboard for his own imagination. With THE BURROWERS BENEATH having a horror template, and TRANSITION being more science-fiction, this novel owes its ideas to Lovecrafts fantasy stories, his Dunsanian tales like “Celephais”, “The Doom That Came To Sarnath”, “The Cats Of Ulthar”, and the novel “The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath”, set in the Dreamlands.
At the end of the last book, Titus Crow was called back to Elysia, a far-distant planet; it seems that the entire cosmos is embedded in an aeons-long battle with the Cthulhu Cycle Deities, the Great Old Ones, and now it has become apparent that Cthulhu and his minions are still managing to send out messages in dream, and to exert their influence in the waking world through mesmerised dreamers. Titus, an occult-investigator with a mighty robotic body and a coffin-shaped grandfather clock that can traverse time and space, is sent on a mission to inlfiltrate mankinds Dreamland and to try and stop Cthulhu from completing his nefarious plots. However, Titus, and his alien love, have gone missing in Dreamland, so it’s up to de Marigny, Titus’ friend and companion, to enter into Dreamland, find his allies, and stop Cthulhu.
Thus, this is essentially a fantasy tale, full of grotesque monsters and villainous evil-doers, gugs, ghasts, night-gaunts, flying beaked worm horrors, horned and mysterious pirates, a Fly-The-Light creature and much more. Here are episodic adventures in Dreamland, watched over by a grotesque and thoroughly Lovecraftian eye. The book took me a short while to fully get into [Lovecrafts Dreamland tales are not my particular favourites], but once the pace caught and I got the gist, it was again a compelling, imaginative and exciting read, in the imaginative style of say Moorcock, Fritz Leiber or Robert E Howard; this is Wierd Tales-type fantasy with an action bent, not Lovecrafts often-impotent descriptive phantasies. THE CLOCK OF DREAMS finishes on a better conclusion than the preceding three volumes, even though there are still three to go. All in all, I found CLOCK perhaps the patchiest of the three books, but put together in a large omnibus, these three novels comprise [the first half of] a richly dark and imaginative sci-fi fantasy festival celebrating and updating Lovecraft’s monstrous pantheon of horrors. 7/10
RETURN OF THE DEEP ONES
By Brian Lumley, 1984
[Included in ‘Return Of The Deep Ones And Other Mythos Tales”]
This is another short-ish Cthulhu Mythos novel by the prolific Lumley. Set on England’s North East coast [around Seaham], the story is told in classic Mythos style, as a first person narrative, as by John Vollister, a noted marine biologist. When he receives a strange seashell from America, he starts to investigate its origins and his life suddenly becomes complicated and seemingly threatened. He uncovers that the members of an isolated boat club are in fact denizens of the deep, members of Lovecraft’s submarine race The Deep Ones, and that they have some nefarious and very fishy plans. These amphibious creatures, servants and worsippers of Father Dagon and Great Cthulhu, are a mixture of fully developed Deep Ones, human half-breeds slowly becoming changelings, and many things inbetween. Here, too are the ultimate Lovecraftian horror, the shoggoths, the guardian and muscle of the Deep One race.
Although these days it is fairly standard stuff, RETURN OF THE DEEP ONES, is a well-told and enjoyable story, complete with all the usual oceanic flotsam as well as the well-trodden dreams of monolithic undersea cities, and dubious and mysterious ancestries. I personally liked the idea of a shoggoth, a kind of shapeless hulking mass of blubber and oil, keeping guard at a lonely spot on the North East coast, as well as the chapter dealing with another peripheral character “Haggopian”, who kindles an unhealthy obsession with ocean parasites [this chapter was released as a self-contained short story].
DEEP ONES is an enjoyable yarn, although seasoned readers in the genre may find it occasionally trite. Nevertheless, Lumley has written a fair handful of Deep One stories, and this one, like most of his work, has some evocative moments and, pleasingly, characters who don’t always faint on seeing a cold fish. 6/10
BENEATH THE MOORS
By Brian Lumley
[Included in “Return Of The Deep Ones And Other Mythos Tales”
BENEATH THE MOORS is a short novel in the Cthulhu Mythos style but set, not in Arkham or the Miskatonic Valley of Massachusetts, but in Lumley’s homeground of the North East coast, and the North York Moors of England.
The story, in the first person, though by different narrators, tells of Professor Ewart Masters who, after a car accident, is convalescing by the North East coast [Harden, the fictional town here, is a thin veil for the real Horden, where Lumley was born] when he comes across a mysterious antiquity in a museum, a miniature sculpture of an ancient reptilian god. Masters becomes fascinated by this discovery and sets out on detailed his research into the thing, including a trip to the area of the North York Moors where the thing was found. Most of the rest of the narrative comprises what happens to Masters when he disappears on these moors; he describes, in what he believes to be an elaborate dream, how he finds himself underground in a vast cave system and, befriended by a reptilian creature similar to the sculpture, he discovers amazing evidence of a strange and ancient subterreanean city, having many imaginative adventures within.
There is much more flesh on the story than this bare-bones summary suggests, and the short [120pp] but compelling novel is highly visual and full of imaginative description. While not strictly a work of the Cthulhu Mythos, the story references many things within the mythos and from other wierd fictions, and in detail it has more to do with Lovecraft’s Dunsanian-type fantasies, particularly “The Doom That Came To Sarnath”. This was among Lumley’s first novels, and although the structure is occasionally a little jumpy, and the surprises a bit obvious for a seasoned weird-reader, there is much to like here, and, having been potholing in a few North Yorkshire caves myself, it is easy to imagine the wonderful fantasies that Lumley has created. The novel incorporates Lumley’s story ‘The Sister City’, which works well on its own, but better within the context of the novel.
As a final note, I first read this when I was about sixteen, before reading Lovecraft and lots of other weird writings. I enjoyed it then but missed most of it’s references and the huge history behind it, so while having some reading experience in the genre would undoubtedly add to the book, it would also work as a stand-alone with no previous knowledge of the strange stuff. 7/10
Final Note to self:- Seemingly, despite reading it, and attempting to write it, and typing it at least once a day, I clearly still can't spell wierd.