Last year, I read The Burrowers Beneath and The Taint and Other Novellas by Brian Lumley. I decided it was time to go back to him and read the second Titus Crow book, The Transition of Titus Crow.
Lumley, like Ramsey Campbell, is one of the authors who helped keep the Cthulhu Mythos alive before it became a pop culture phenomenon. He has a reputation for writing Lovecraft Lite, meaning that humans can win. To be fair, it’s not like Lovecraft himself didn’t write some stories like that. That said, some of what I had read definitely veered away from cosmic horror, embracing the idea that humanity could understand all the eldritch stuff out there.
Then I read The Transition of Titus Crow. Ooooh boy. Not what I expected.
Seriously, I’m going to talk about the entire book here.
At the end of the Burrowers Beneath, Titus and his best buddy Henri de Marigny just barely escape death and worse at the hands of the Great Old Ones via an artifact called the Time Clock, which is a space-time ship that is intelligent and bigger on the inside and Lumley has sworn is in no way based on the TARDIS.
de Marigney falls off and Titus goes off of his own to have his own crazy adventures while de Marigney recovers ten years in his own future.
And those adventures feel like they came out of a Victorian work. Obviously the Time Machine by Wells is a clear influence. In fact, the first chunk of Crow’s part of the narrative feels like a pastiche of the Time Machine.
But the book gets weirder and cozier with less and less of any trace of cosmic horror. While Crow has adventures with dinosaurs and ancient Romans and gets changed into a cyborg by a helpful robot (that’s the transition in the title), he is also dealing with the Hounds of Tindalos (who are far more escapable than in Frank Belknap Long’s story)
This culminates in a confrontation with Yog-Sothoth. Where Crow realizes he can use the power of the Time Clock to terrify Yog-Sothoth into submission and that it can fire energy beams that will will drive the elder god off. Crow then goes to a magical fairy tale paradise ruled by Cthulhu’s friendly older brother to live with a magic girlfriend.
What did I just read?
We’ve gone from ‘humans can win’ to ‘Great Old Ones are wimps’ Instead of cosmic horror, this is twee escapism. Even if you interpret it as Titis Crow actually died and went to Heaven, that’s still a far cry from cosmic horror.
The epilogue, after both Crow and de Marigney have gone to Elysia, brings us full circle though. We learn that Cthulhu has brought down natural disasters on New England and Miskatonic University has been completely destroyed.
So, the adventure continues and there is still the promise of horror to come.
All the same, that was one weird read.