“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.