Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Music of Erich Zahnn by H.P. Lovecraft

At the beginning of the story, we know that something supernatural has taken place. We have a narrator who has lived in a house of the Rue de’Auseil, yet in trying to locate it again, he finds that no such street exists. The narrator is not described and we don’t know much about his past. Lovecraft seems to be fond of using narrators who stumble upon “the weird thing.”

As in many of his other stories, he gives the setting an inherent evil. “It was always shadowy along that river, as if the smoke of neighboring factories shut out the sun perpetually. The river was odorous with evil stenches...” The houses “crazily leaning backward, forward and sidewise.” The inhabitants are all very old. The descriptions of the town and house are superb for setting a creepy mood.

He sets up the fact that the music he heard from Zahnn is other-wordly. “…they held vibrations suggesting nothing on this globe of earth…”

Lovecraft’s descriptions of Zahnn are vivid and picturesque, especially during the night that he intrudes on Zahnn playing like a madman. “Louder and louder, wilder and wilder, mounted the shrieking and whining of that desperate viol. The player was dripping with perspiration and twisted like a monkey, always looking frantically at the curtained window… I could almost see shadowy satyrs and bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely through seething abysses of clouds and smoke and lightening.”

When the narrator gets a look at the place where Zahnn has been glancing fearfully, where the lights of a town should be, he sees “only the blackness of space illimitable, unimagined space, alive with motion and music, having no semblance of anything on earth.”

When the narrator brushes by Zahnn, he feels an “…ice cold, stiffened, unbreathing face whose glass eyes bulged uselessly into the void.”

And of course, the explanation Zahnn had been writing about his horrible predicament blew out the window never to be seen again. It’s kind of similar to “Pickman’s Model.” The evidence is gone.

It kind of makes me feel let down at not knowing the reason. I would suspect that Zahnn was holding off some kind of evil aliens who were repelled by the music Zahnn was playing. When he finally died, they were able to come in and make the whole street disappear into another dimension.

In On Writing, Stephen King tells us to keep that door closed as long as possible, because when you reveal the monster, it completely loses its power. Well, in this story Lovecraft keeps the door shut forever.

I feel ambivalent about open endings. In one way I like them because they let us use our imagination. In another way, I like to have things wrapped up. It’s just too easy for an author to tell us, “This is what happened, and there was this horrible thing, but I have absolutely no idea what it was or what caused it. Reader, fill in the blanks and do my work for me.”

I think that this story has a great, original plot and it got me in the mood for creepiness, but it ultimately let me down.

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