Just Read: “The Music of Erich Zann” by H.P Lovecraft

Horror, MFA, Reading, SHU


“The Music of Erich Zann” is the second Lovecraft story I’ve read. It’s about a young man who discovers an old musician up in the uppermost floor of his rooming house. This musician plays darkly. The narrator is drawn to try to befriend him in order to hear more of the music. When in the uppermost room, the narrator is drawn to look out the window but does not until the end of the story, wherein he sees not rooftops, as he should, but nothing.

There are a number of similarities between “Zann” and the previous story I read. Both are centered around an artist who is, in some way, tortured. Pickman seems a willing victim, though still a victim, while Zann is most definitely unwilling. Zann is tormented by what’s out the window. He’s frightened, terrified. Demons or nothingness. These are what await humankind.

Like “Pickman’s Model,” the setting is a key character. It’s really this device which sets up the horror of the piece. I think it could be equated to the ominous music in a scary movie. The settings in Lovecraft’s stories set the tone and the ambiance; they lure the reader into a dark place where we’re drawn by the danger which lurks just past our field of vision. It’s really the anticipation which is most effective. I almost don’t want to know the ending, because that will mean that all the things my imagination is dredging up aren’t really what’s going on. I think, ultimately, this is the brilliance of Lovecraft’s writing. To a modern reader, the endings aren’t even remotely surprising… but what our imaginations can slip into the dark corners that Lovecraft paints – well, there’s the real horror, sport.

This brings us neatly to another similarity. In both “Pickman” and “Zann” the frightening thing is what’s not seen. In “Pickman,” the narrator doesn’t see the demon which is the painter’s model, but sees a photo and interprets its existence. In “Zann,” the narrator literally sees nothing and that is what is terrifying. The nothingness calls to him. It’s the dark corners, again, which are the frightening places. It’s what we don’t know – or what we didn’t know, but know now. It’s almost like a warning, that old proverb: Be careful what you wish for. Don’t look down the rabbit hole. You don’t want to know how deep it goes.

Both narrators escape the horror, but yet are still drawn to it in one way or another. For the “Pickman” narrator, he relives it in the retelling to Eliot and one suspects he relives it more often than that. In “Zann,” the narrator relives the terror by trying to find the original street where the rooming house was located. And he cannot find it. Yet he searches.

That’s what we humans do. We ride rollercoasters; we go to haunted houses; we skydive; we race cars; we rubberneck at accident sites; we watch scary movies. We search and we’re drawn to what ultimately terrifies us.

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  • Reply
    February 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    The great similarity between Pickman and Zann is the great similiarity in all of Lovecraft’s work. Most all his stories have the same premise about the unknown being this horrific thing that we never get to see, or if we do see it, it will drive us crazy.

  • Reply
    Scott A. Johnson
    February 10, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    I think part of his writing style was his obsession with writing "weird fiction," as he called it. He seemed to think it resounded more if it was told from a witness’ point of view. While some find it offputting, I kind of like it. Having said that, I fully acknowledge that Lovecraft isn’t for everyone, and your opinions on it are well thought out and very welcome indeed.

  • Reply
    February 11, 2010 at 7:46 am

    I hadn’t considered the similarities of the tortured artist as primary characters in the last two stories. Hmmm. Why is it us writers like to torture our fellow artists? Is it one of those, "write what you know" situations?

    I tend to think it is. So many horror stories (ahem, Mr. King) tend to rotate around frustrated artists (in various genres). We are personally horrified by writer’s block and the like, and like Scott’s discussion question this week, are thus able to portray a very personal fear and make it real for a reader. Hmmm.


  • Reply
    February 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more; in fact my post towards Lovecraft’s piece was kind of similar. In fact, I even linked it to the Phantom of the Opera as well. I liked how you depicted that while the endings are some what obvious, that they still show the element of horror because of what is not seen in the story.

    I also have to say though, that I wanted to like this story a lot more than I did though. I wish that we would have got to see more imagery or description in the music that he heard, and I would have liked a little description of what Erich was trying to keep away with his music…maybe not as much as the picture that was in Pickman’s Model, but a least something to further scare me psychologically. The more I read Lovecraft though, the more I appreciate his style!

  • Reply
    April 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Hello Venessa,

    I’ve read your first two blogs on Lovecraft (Pickman and Zann) and thoroughly enjoyed them. As you rightly point out, what is not seen is the scary part.

    Believe it or not I wrote a poem about Pickman and based a short story blog on Erich Zann; the world is full of coincidences or is it, more eerily, supernatural?

    Looking forward to reading more of your reviews as I am a bit of a gothic horror aficionado myself. Lovecraft is a decent writer, although, the works of Algernon Blackwood are better, in my opinion. Of course, I could be wrong.

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