Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Music of Erich Zann"

Spooky Synopsis: The unnamed narrator of "The Music of Erich Zann" knows that Paris must contain the Rue d’Auseil somewhere among its myriad streets. While studying metaphysics at university, he himself lived on it in a decrepit, five-story boarding house. But he cannot find it, try as he might -- although he has reasons to not search too hard. When he dwelt there, he made the acquaintance of one Erich Zann, a mute German who occupied the highest, most distant room in the house so he could play his viol through the night. And the music that came from that instrument! To call it wild and weird would hardly do it justice. It was perhaps the strangest music ever heard in this world -- or any other.

Lovecraftian Language: "Those haunting notes I had remembered, and had often hummed and whistled inaccurately to myself; so when the player at length laid down his bow I asked him if he would render some of them. As I began my request the wrinkled satyr-like face lost the bored placidity it had possessed during the playing, and seemed to shew the same curious mixture of anger and fright which I had noticed when first I accosted the old man. For a moment I was inclined to use persuasion, regarding rather lightly the whims of senility; and even tried to awaken my host’s weirder mood by whistling a few of the strains to which I had listened the night before. But I did not pursue this course for more than a moment; for when the dumb musician recognized the whistled air his face grew suddenly distorted with an expression wholly beyond analysis, and his long, cold, and bony right hand reached out to stop my mouth and silence the crude imitation."

Eerie Evaluation: "The Music of Erich Zann" is everything that Lovecraft’s lesser tales aren’t. Spare. Focused. Realy, truly creepy. Readers realize pretty fast that there’s more to Zann’s playing than a little late-night composing or practicing some experimental piece for "a cheap theatre orchestra." Why won’t Zann let the narrator lift the curtain to the window in his room? Why can’t the old man stand to hear his strains mimicked, however inexpertly? Why does he urge the narrator to take a room on a lower floor (where he almost certainly couldn’t hear the viol) and personally defray the difference in rent? Something foul is afoot. But the story stumbles when it comes to revealing the exact nature of that disturbance. Though genuinely frightening, the climax of "The Music of Erich Zann" is almost too oblique, requiring a reading or two to discern what Lovecraft was driving at. The only flaw in an otherwise stellar tale.

Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):

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To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft’s work), please click here.

2 comments:

Nathaniel Lee said...

This one is a five-shoggoth, in my opinion. The image of that impossibly steep street and the window looking out over the wrong wall is just gold, all by itself, and I love how offbeat the ending is.

Loren Eaton said...

I struggled over this one. It's so close to being a five-shoggoth story for me, but the conclusion is just a little too indirect for my taste.

By the way, readers, there's a good reading of this one over at The Drabblecast. It also happens to be free.