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Titus Crow: The Burrowers Beneath and The Transition of Titus Crow
Brian Lumley
Tor Books, 347 pages

Art: Bob Eggleton
Titus Crow: The Burrowers Beneath  and The Transition of Titus Crow
Brian Lumley
Brian Lumley was born in 1937 at Horden, England. He has written horror and fantasy since the late 1960s. Retiring from the British Army in 1980, he became a full-time writer. His work includes the Necroscope series of novels. Lumley's short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies and has often been selected for volumes of The Year's Best Horror. His story, "Fruiting Bodies," won the British Fantasy Award.

Brian Lumley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The House of Doors
SF Site Review: Titus Crow: The Clock of Dreams & Spawn of the Winds
SF Site Review: Singers of Strange Songs: A Celebration of Brian Lumley
The Worlds of Brian Lumley
Brian Lumley Tribute Site
The Starside Cyberstack

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Chris Donner


" if with the approach of some obscene horror I grow more capable of expressing myself in that horror's terms."
This partial line from the Tor trade paperback reprint of Brian Lumley's The Burrowers Beneath provides a good sense of the depth of the occult horror and fantasy that drives his story forward. The excerpt also, I believe, goes a long way in explaining what it is about Lumley's story that has been and will continue to be so interesting to audiences, and in particular to a certain subset of general audiences -- other writers. For Lumley's story and language are of the sort that inspire both enraptured attention in a reader and a healthy admiration in an aspiring writer.

Of course, The Burrowers Beneath was originally written in the mid-70s, and passages of it -- especially the dialogue -- may sound a bit dated and "pulp" to the contemporary ear. There is a certain naïveté about the characters that reminded me of "hip" talk that sounds so stilted in some early science fiction movies that are so much fun to watch again today in reruns. This retro-feel provides some of the story's charm as well, though. And even when considering these stylistic differences between the decades, there is a great deal in Lumley's storytelling that intrigues a writer: vivid storyline, a sense of mystery, the faint but ominous danger of the unknown.

Despite the otherworldliness of the story's topic -- the Cthulhu legend and occult themes in general -- Lumley manages to bring horror down from the stars and up from the seas and position it directly under our feet, where it may strike fatally and with no more than the quirky spasms of a seismograph needle to warn of its coming.

Like Lovecraft, Brian Lumley takes occult legend and writings and makes them fascinatingly real without losing any of the sense of danger and blasphemy that they possess. His characters -- Titus Crow, Henri Laurent de Marigny, Paul Wendy-Smith -- are on one hand, regular people with regular fears, and on the other hand, men with dangerous curiosities, able to see portents of danger long before that danger is visible to the rest of us.

The current Tor trade paperback reprint of The Burrowers Beneath also comes bound with the second novel in Lumley's Titus Crow saga, The Transition of Titus Crow. While I was awestruck by the first novel, I found the second one a bit of a letdown. Its main strength is that it completes -- to some extent anyway, since there are still four more novels in the series -- the story of Titus Crow and de Marigny. However, as a stand-alone story, it doesn't have the artistry or the sense of danger and excitement that is found in The Burrowers Beneath.

In The Transition of Titus Crow, Lumley's propensity for telling the story by looking back -- using journal entries, notes, and transcripts -- becomes a bit tiring and isn't as seamless as it is in The Burrowers Beneath. The characters themselves also lose a bit of depth, and there is less sense of immediate danger, which means many events feel a bit distant, as if the story is being held at arm's length instead of drawing the reader in to share in the experience.

I would recommend the trade paperback reprint version strongly, however. The Burrowers Beneath is well worth the price of purchase, and The Transition of Titus Crow is an enjoyable little romp, if one that doesn't quite live up to its predecessor. The Burrowers Beneath is worth paying special attention to if you are an aspiring (or accomplished) writer too, since there is a mastery of the genre here that is worthy of scrutiny.

Copyright © 1999 by Chris Donner

Chris Donner is a freelance writer and magazine editor living in Manhattan and working in Connecticut. He will read almost anything once, as it makes the train ride go faster. He is currently writing a screenplay, a novel, several short stories, a collection of poems, and a letter to his mother. The letter will probably be done first.

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