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Literature / Titus Crow

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The Titus Crow series is a group of seven horror fiction books published throughout the 1970s by Brian Lumley. The books are based on H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.

The titular character is an occult investigator (based loosely on Sherlock Holmes) who, accompanied by Henri-Laurent de Marigny, investigates the Cthulhu Mythos on behalf of the Wilmarth Foundation and later the Elder Gods. The series is notable for switching from Titus Crow as a protagonist fairly early to Henri and later Hank Silberhutte.

In a departure from many Cthulhu Mythos stories, Lumley's characters are not helpless victims of unimaginable forces which can drive humans mad by merely manifesting themselves. Instead, Titus Crow, his friend Henri-Laurent de Marigny, and other Lumley characters confront Cthulhu's minions in a series of increasingly large-scale encounters, in which humans, although outmatched, try to fight back. In a letter to the journal Crypt of Cthulhu, Lumley wrote:

"I have trouble relating to people who faint at the hint of a bad smell. A meep or glibber doesn't cut it with me. (I love meeps and glibbers, don't get me wrong, but I go looking for what made them!) That's the main difference between my stories...and HPL's. My guys fight back. Also, they like to have a laugh along the way."

Crow has been known to survive any number of encounters with monsters, although he may not always be able to defeat the creatures. For instance, he may fall unconscious upon running into a monster that kills anything that moves. Eventually, his series falls to his sidekick Henri-Laurent de Marigny when he Ascends to a Higher Plane of Existence.

     Books in the Titus Crow series 
  • The Burrowers Beneath (1974)
  • The Transition of Titus Crow (1975)
  • The Clock of Dreams (1978)
  • Spawn of the Winds (1978)
  • In the Moons of Borea (1979)
  • The Compleat Crow (1987). Omnibus collection, which collected the various short stories featuring Crow.
    • "An Item of Supporting Evidence" (1970)
    • "Billy's Oak" (1970)
    • "The Caller of the Black" (1971)
    • "De Marigny's Clock" (1971)
    • "The Mirror of Nitocris" (1971)
    • "Darghud's Doll" (1977)
    • "The Viking's Stone" (1977)
    • "Name and Number" (1982)
    • "The Black Recalled" (1983)
    • "Lord of the Worms" (1983)
  • Elysia (1989). Crossover with the Dreamlands and Primal Land, two other series by Lumley.

The series would eventually produce spin-offs in the Dreamlands and Primal Lands series.

The books were released in the 1970s but have recently been re-released in audiobook form as narrated by Simon Vance and produced by Crossroad Press.

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     The series as a whole 
  • Always Chaotic Evil: All of the Cthulhu Cycle Deities. Played with as they all have good counterparts in the Elder Gods, including Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. Played straight in that all of the CCD's descendants are purely evil from birth.
  • Ancient Tradition: Not much of an ancient one but the Wilmarth Foundation was founded after the events of The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
  • Artifact of Doom: Inverted with the Clock of Dreams. It's an Artifact of Doom which turns out to be the heroes' best weapon against the Great Old Ones.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Titus Crow goes to live on Elysia with his bride for all eternity.
    • The Bus Came Back: Elysia is destroyed and Titus joins Henri and their brides on a time-space journey across the Multiverse.
  • Badass Bookworm: Titus and Henri. The entire Wilmarth Foundation. All of them are extremely well-learned occult scholars.
  • Benevolent Precursors: The Elder Gods fulfill this role in this version of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Big Bad: Cthulhu. Notable for the fact that Cthulhu is presented as the Lord of All Great Old Ones rather than just his race.
    • More often, the reigning evil doer in the Titus Crow novels is Ithaqua.
  • Big Good: Kthanid is pretty much the universe's guardian of nobility and justice, being a hyper-friendly Cthulhu. No, seriously.
    • The Wilmarth Foundation's head holds this role before Kthanid's appearance.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Like Derleth, Lumley's Great Old Ones are a great deal more human than Lovecraft intended. They're all malevolent jerkasses opposed by the saintly Elder Gods.
    • Lumley mixes it up a bit by having "good" examples of the Great Old Ones' races too.
  • Captain Ersatz: Early on Titus Crow acquires a time clock just about the size of a coffin (or maybe a police telephone box) that allows him to travel anywhere in time and space, controlled by his thoughts, and is Bigger on the Inside. He crashes it, dies and then is given a new, ageless body by an advanced race of robotic life (you could almost say he regenerated). He returns home in the time clock and tells all of this to a companion. He then goes on to have adventures in time and space, combating evil aliens and gods. Does this remind you of someone?
  • Clarke's Third Law: One of the early things established in the series is that there is no such thing as "magic" and that everything they encounter is the advanced science of the Cthulhu Mythos or the Elder Gods. It's just the latter functions identically to magic with summonings, incantations, and so on.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Titus Crow is actually something of an example of this as he is rapidly replaced by Henri-Lauren de Marigny.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Averted in the short stories. Prior to the events of The Burrowers Beneath, Crow has no direct contact with the Mythos, save for human sorcerers or agents of the Great Old Ones. Played straight in the rest of the books as Titus, Henri, and Hank run rings around the CCD.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Titus Crow and Henri decide that all magic in the world is actually just Psychic Powers and misunderstood Elder God science.
  • Expy: A lot of them, basically it's every Pulp Hero ever made teaming up against the Mythos.
    • Titus Crow himself seems halfway between Abraham Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes, and Doctor Who's Doctor. He even has a Tardis equivalent.
    • Henri-Laurent de Marigny is later the Doctor himself, though he starts off as something equivalent to Watson.
    • Randolph Carter morphs from being a powerful dreamer into John Carter, Warlord of Mars except in the Dreamlands.
      • Hank Silberhutte is a more subdued Expy for John Carter.
    • David Hero and Eldin the Wanderer are Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Sword and Sorcery heroes of the Dreamlands.
  • Good Twin: Kthanid is essentially a good (?!) Cthulhu. Even more than that, he's actually Cthulhu's brother (?!?!?!).
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: A lot of them. One of them is the ultra-hot wind sorceress daughter of a Great Old One (who ISN'T a deformed horror like Lovecraft would state such unions produce but quite the opposite) Amandra.
    • The 'girl goddess' Tiania is another example. She's the niece of Cthulhu.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Very common. Unusually, for a Mythos series, the main ones are extremely attractive.
  • Lighter and Softer: Odd for a Brian Lumley work, but the humans are remarkably well off despite living in the Mythos-run universe.
  • Lovecraft Lite: One of the big examples of this.
  • Mars Needs Women: The Great Old Ones and Elder Gods are mostly male, lonely and they like the way humans look, so they often go looking for human mates to produce offspring that will look human.
  • May–December Romance: How relationships with Dream people go on the humans side, reversed with Elysians.
  • Occult Detective: Titus Crow, being a scholar of the mystical arts. Henri-Laurent de Marigny is another. So is Hank.
  • Planetary Romance: Spawn of the Winds and its follow-up The Moons of Borea.
  • Psychic Powers: Almost all of the protagonists have this.
  • Retcon: Azathoth is the Big Bang and not a monster. Nyarlathotep doesn't exist save as a telepathic network between the Great Old Ones. Shub-Niggurath is just the Great Old Ones ability to have offspring with anything.
  • Shout-Out: Natural for a Mythos work, Lumley includes references to other Mythos tales, including to fellow British Mythos author Ramsey Campbell.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: By The Burrowers Beneath, Crow deduces that the Great Old Ones / Elder Gods are really advanced aliens, and their “magic” simply a higher science.

     The Burrowers Beneath 
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Cthonians and their offspring are treated as this in the story despite later discoveries that the Elder Gods are just the "good" members of the Cthulhu Cycle.
  • And I Must Scream: The Cthonians extract Amery Wendy-Smith's brain and install it in an unkillable "body" of pliable black goo, then spend decades draining him of information about humanity.
  • Apocalyptic Log: A number of these form the basis for the story.
  • Big Bad: Shudde M'ell, the Great Old One Monster Lord of the Cthonians.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The primary method for which the Cthonians attack their enemies. The other method being earthquakes.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: The Wilmarth Foundation's fight takes a heavy toll. By the end of the first novel, Crow and De Marigny almost die when Crow's house is destroyed.
    • One example is five psychics who drive themselves brain-dead soothing Sleeping Cthulhu's mind when he threatens to destroy the world.
    • The Great Old Ones are truly immortal so they can only be imprisoned, not killed. Which the Foundation finds out to its horror when they try to kill Shudde-M'ell
  • Continuity Nod: To The Shadow over Innsmouth in the discussion of the Innsmouth Raid.
  • Continuity Porn: Every single Lovecraft story that Lumley could even vaguely reference was done so here. This includes many obscure works which were done as collaborations as well as the mythology of August Derleth.
  • Gigantic Adults, Tiny Babies: The witness to the hatching of some newborn Cthonians describes them as being the size of a walnut. Adults never stop growing, such that Shudde M'ell, largest and eldest of their species, is a mile long.
  • Hero of Another Story: Peasley and the Wilmarth Foundation have been fighting the Mythos far longer than Titus and Henri.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Titus Crow and Henri have this sort of relationship with no sign of female companionship.
  • Monster Lord: Shudde M'ell is the ruler of the Cthonians, their ancestor, and a gigantic mile-long member of their race.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Noting that Star Stones are ways to block evil spirits (Lovecraftian monsters), a bunch of shamans dug them up in an area of Africa, unwittingly freeing Shudde M'ell and his evil species.
  • No-Sell: The Sea Shoggoth can't harm the heroes as long as they have a star stone.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The majority of the war against the Cthonians is handled via correspondence.
  • Properly Paranoid: Seismographs, daily magic potions, ritual exorcisms, and a houseboat are all methods used against the Chthonians. They're barely enough.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Cthonians are vulnerable to water.
  • Who You Gonna Call?: The Wilmarth Foundation, a secret society devoted to the destruction of the Cthulhu Cycle.

     The Transition of Titus Crow 
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Miskatonic University is destroyed in a flood in revenge for their interference
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: How Elysia appears. It's a place halfway between Fantasia, heaven, and a 70s album cover.
  • Cyborg: A friendly alien robot makes Titus into one of these, which works out well for him since he gains a much prolonged life as a result.
  • Good Counterpart: Kthanid and the other Elder Gods turn out to be these for the CCD.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Tiania the Girl Goddess is a descendant of Kthanid.
  • Killed Off for Real: Peasley meets his end at the hands of the Great Old Ones in retaliation for his role in The Burrowers Beneath.
  • Meaningful Name: Elysia is a physical heaven or Elysium for Titus.
  • Mistaken Identity: In his first attempt to return home after being rebuilt into a cyborg, Titus ends up in Roman era Brittain, where a rich Roman mistakes him for his deceased son, returned to him by the gods. Titus is forced to go along with the ruse until he can find a way to get the clock back.
  • Passing the Torch: Titus Crow gives up the Clock of Dreams and his cloak to Henri in hopes of inspiring him to be an even better hero than himself.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Kthanid is apparently so benevolent that Titus Crow finds him somewhat adorable despite the fact he's the same race as Cthulhu.

     The Clock of Dreams 
  • Badass in Distress: Henri has to go to the Dreamlands in order to rescue Titus Crow and his bride.
  • Big Bad: Nyarlathotep plays the role of the central villain this time around.
  • Dreamland: The majority of the novel takes place in Lovecraft's Dreamlands.
  • Eye Beams: Kthanid can shoot these and they're even more powerful than the weapon on the Time Clock. Kthanid curbstomps Nyarlathotep with them.

     Spawn of the Winds 

     The Moons of Borea 
  • Big Bad: Ithaqua once more remains the central villain of the story, intending to get revenge for the events of Spawn of the Winds.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Ithaqua gets a face-full of the Clock's energy cannon toward the end, forcing him to flee.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Henri's future girlfriend Moreen.
  • Space Jews: The moons are populated by a combination of Space Vikings and a bunch of ancient corpse monsters.
  • Technobabble: Combined with Rule of Cool as to explain why our heroes can fly up with a magic cape to the moons over the planet in a strictly scientific series.
  • Wife Husbandry: Ithaqua had been kidnapping humans and making them reproduce so that eventually there'll be a girl beautiful enough for him to take and mate with. One time he did that he got a tribe of beautiful idiots from too much selective inbreeding. The next time he lucked out and got some new people to start breeding, resulting in his latest would-be mate, Moreen.

  • Affably Evil: Exior the Sorcerer is an awful-awful human being but never anything but friendly to our heroes.
  • Big Bad: Cthulhu comes to the forefront as the central villain of the story.
  • Big "NO!": Cthulhu can only scream out "Nooo!!!" three times, once he realizes that Elysia is a trap and that he and the other Cthulhu Cycle Deities are going to be lobotomized by the Azathoth spawn that powers Elysia and is now going supernova and then transforming into a black hole.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Elysia is destroyed and the Elder Gods missing but the Great Old Ones are bound for another cycle which will probably last millions if not billions of years. And a new Elysia will be made on Arcturus.
  • Do-Anything Robot: The Curator was made in Elysia and has several different types of Eye Beams to do whatever he wishes - including Disintegrator Ray, Frickin' Laser Beams, Tractor Beam, Agony Beam etc.
  • Enemy Mine: Henri works with Hero and Eldin's enemies: Zura of Zura, the Princess of Death and the eidolon Lathi of Thalarion to save Hero and Eldin from the moonbeast, Gudge the pirate. It helps that King Kuranes gave Zura and Lathi an ultimatum backed by force and Gudge had double-crossed both villainesses.
  • Fetch Quest: Kthanid gives one to Henri before he can go to Elysia. He has to rescue various individuals, each giving a hint towards finding the next person.
  • The Fog of Ages: The reason why the Elder Gods needed Titus Crow. The Great Old Ones are coming back, but the Elder Gods forgot what they did the first time they defeated the Great Old Ones on account of the war happening so long ago.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: "Henri, I am your father's father many times over". The sorceror Exior K'mool made a deal with Cthulhu himself for immortality. Exior got ripped off, because Cthulhu pronounced that the only true immortality is continuing one's bloodline. So Cthulhu gave Exior some really dominant genes - so much that Henri, who's a descendant millions of years down the line, is a dead-ringer for Exior and even has Exior's talent for magic, as does Henri's own father.
  • Oddly Overtrained Security: The Curator has mighty Eye Beams and it can sense the slightest desire to steal an item from its Museum. The characters wonder why such a powerful being is guarding the museum. After discovering how to communicate with the alien Curator, it turns out it prevents the inhabitants of Dreamland from stealing into the museum and ruining the precious and unique dreams inside, while simultaneously preventing dangerous nightmares in the museum from escaping into Dreamland.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Exior is one horny sorcerer and he uses his magic to make himself a harem of lamia and succubi who are constantly Mooning him or rubbing their breasts against him. When he discovers that Henri is a descendant of his, Exior exclaims that it looks like the lamia and succubi were good for something after all.
  • Special Guest: Hero of Dreams and Eldin the Wanderer from Lumley's Dream Cycle appear and have an important role in the story.
  • Starfish Robot: The Curator is described as a robot that's vaguely man-like, but it's got many different arms and likes to spend its days hanging upside down from the bridge to the Museum of Dreams. It's tall and spiky yet oddly lumpen as well. It has multi-faceted crystal eyes. All this combined, reminds Henri of a metallic insect.