A long time back, possibly when life was still crawling out of the ocean and the Elder Things still thought Shogoths were a good alternative to bulldozers, I first saw the entry in the Call of Cthulhu RPG entry for Cthonians and Shudde M’ell. Now, I finally have read The Burrowers Beneath by Brian Lumley.
I’m honestly not sure Lumley is obscure or not as far as Mythos writers are concerned. I couldn’t find any of his books until digital publishing brought them back. But I have seen his short stories in different anthologies. He was writing before the Mythos went mainstream so he kept the fire going.
Lumley is allegedly controversial because he fully embraced the Lovecraft Lite style. That is basically defined as ‘humans can win’. So actual Lovecraft works like The Dunwich Horror count. I also think of it as the normalization of the Mythos. Not necessarily ‘the ghouls are stealing the wifi’ normal but the Mythos being a regular part of the world, not something that drives you insane.
Okay, spoiler time:
Titus Crow, paranormal Sherlock Holmes, and his Watson Henri de Marigny figure out the existence of the burrow horrors the Cthonians and their blasphemous god Shudde M’ell. Their attempts to thwart the Cthonians put them extreme danger until they meet the Wilmarth Foundation. That’s an organization devoted to the extermination of Myrhos stuff. Our heroes help them make some major victories but the book ends on a cliffhanger.
But since there are five or six more books, I am sure Crow and de Marigny are okay.
Next, some thoughts about the work.
On the one hand, I have to give Lumley full props on creating a whole new Mythos element with Shudde M’ell and the Cthonians. On the other hand, with a detailed life cycle, the Cthonians stop being a cosmic horror and just an alien life form that is comprehensible. Water being a huge weakness also makes them one of the vulnerable Mythos creatures, giving humanity a fighting chance.
Speaking of which, the Wilmarth Foundation, with its global network, psychics, and the ability to create unlimited elder signs, are what Delta Green wishes it could be. That said, Crow and and Marigny’s induction into the foundation really reminds me of my college group’s transition from a traditional Call of Cthulhu game to a Delta Green One. Down to the GM being the only one who knew it was happening.
I also liked how the Wilmarth Foundatiions aren’t small bands of pulp adventurers on commando missions. No, they are massive works of civil engineering, using drilling rigs to drop elder signs and bombs deep in the earth. Killing Mythos is a major endeavor.
I also have to note that, as Lovecraft Lite as the book may be, there are some horrific elements. The physical prowess of the Cthonians is not as dangerous or insidious as their psychic powers.
And the fate of the explorer Amery Wendy-Smith, his brain placed in what sounds like a Shogoth to be tortured for decades, makes the Migo’s brain canisters seem quaint.
(I also have to note that the early part of the book is full of references to not just Lovecraft works but also works by other Mythos authors like Derleth and Campbell. Back when those weren’t as widely punished as they would be just ten years after Burrowers Beneath was published)
I had fun. I’ll hunt down more Lumley.
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