Monday, February 1, 2010

The Music of Erich Zann

Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft

This unnamed narrator used to live on the Rue d'Auseil but now can't find it no matter how hard he looks. Fun not-in-the-story tidbit: Rue d'Auseil probably derives from "Rue au seuil", meaning "street on the threshold". Anyway, the narrator tried to befriend an elderly, brilliant musician named Erich Zann who lived in the apartment above him. At night he could hear Zann playing music unlike anything he'd ever heard. When asked, Zann will play music, but never like what he plays alone at night, and he seems nervous about even hearing it whistled. Our narrator is never able to figure out what's going on, but the story comes to a climax where all sorts of unexplained scary things happen, and the only hope of understanding goes right out the window, along with the narrator's ability to even find his old apartment, or the street it was on.

I really like the imagery of Zann frantically playing his viol in what I read as an attempt to save himself from ... whatever it is that's out there. This is sort of a horror-story-once-removed in that the real horror story is happening to the poor old mute musician and our character just gets to see the unexplained happenings in an even more unexplained way. We are presented with the strangeness/magicalness of the street vanishing at the very beginning, which prepares the reader for those sorts of happenings later in the story and keeps the possibility of such things in mind. It makes us less likely to assume Zann's secret is something mundane. This one is more subtle than seems typical of Lovecraft, and I really like it. Another one in the Things Happen Which The Human Mind Cannot Comprehend theme, but it's more implied this time. 4 out of 5.

Dear Internet, viols are NOT violins. Although it doesn't really matter what sort of instrument Zann was playing, the word viol appears many times. It is a real instrument. It is not another word for violin. Look it up.

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