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The Cthulhu Mythos as a Monster Movie
on 8 October 2013
This was Lumley's first novel, but also 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 seismological devices. Lumley's idea is that these creatures are responsible for many earthquakes and tremors throughout history; originally imprisoned 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 colleague, 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 monster-movie than cosmic horror; he has solidified Cthulhu, filled in the jigsaw that Lovecraft began, and later Derleth joined up, 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 his 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], 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 being visited by the horrific creatures.
Really this novel is the first in a long sequence of six, telling the story of Titus Crow and the Wilmarth Foundation. In addition,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 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.