Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Music of Erich Zann by H.P. Lovecraft

The Music of Erich Zann
by H.P. Lovecraft

Our pre-requisite Nameless Narrator is this time a college student whose lack of financial stability has forced him to take up residence in the only place he could afford: a very strange house in a very strange neighborhood. Lovecraft's description of the area conjures up images of subtly nightmarish gothic architecture that would feel right at home in a fever dream.  
"I have never seen another street as narrow and steep as the Rue d’Auseil. It was almost a cliff, closed to all vehicles, consisting in several places of flights of steps, and ending at the top in a lofty ivied wall. Its paving was irregular, sometimes stone slabs, sometimes cobblestones, and sometimes bare earth with struggling greenish-grey vegetation. The houses were tall, peaked-roofed, incredibly old, and crazily leaning backward, forward, and sidewise. Occasionally an opposite pair, both leaning forward, almost met across the street like an arch; and certainly they kept most of the light from the ground below."
 One of the very few other residents living in the house is Erich Zann, a mute German musician that rents a room above our narrator. At night, while he is trying to sleep, he can hear Zann's music coming from upstairs, a bizarre and otherworldy tune vastly unlike anything ever heard before. Entranced, our narrator makes an effort to befriend the old musician and witness a performance first hand.

It takes some time to gain the confidence of Zann, but when he does our narrator learns that Zann's room comes with a view and that view comes with a terrible price. Most of all, he learns that Zann's music has a purpose (although to give away that purpose here would be a crime).

This short story is beautifully written, and is a sterling example of Unglimpsed Horror. Lovecraft was reportedly very happy with the way it turned out, as it was free of the grusomeness and overwriting of some of his earlier works. It's written with such subtlety, in fact, that to offer any information about the threat that our characters face would give away too much--even the author refused to tell us!

Coming hot on the heels of the glorious excess of "Herbert West: Reanimator", the change in style almost makes you reel.  Which isn't to say it's a bad thing. In fact, despite their drastic differences--and they are drastic; an uninformed reader could easily mistake them for the work of two separate authors--both tales are among my favorites of Lovecraft's far.

Stay tuned.

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