Reading H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” once (really twice) again I gain much of the sense that goes in to telling a gripping tale. Only an 8 page story, it is a testament to the power of words and how that which is not said may be the most important participant in the making of a story. There isn’t much at all in the way of plot in “The Music of Erich Zann,” but that doesn’t matter to the reader of weird fiction. Though the components of this weird fiction are minuscule, the impression it makes after reading it can not be utterly discounted. Lovecraft, and his predecessor in weird fiction, E. A. Poe, craft stories that do more than tell a tale: they induce great imagination and excitement. The mystery aspect of Lovecraft’s tales plays a most important role in their importance as great works of fiction. Lovecraft’s readers read for the thrill of discovery and discover much about their desires. His stories hook us at the point of our earliest, childhood craving of curiosity. I find his stories so wonderful in that respect. They trick me to desire the fictional knowledge that they hide until completed.
“Bigger is better” is a theme in life that grabs hold of us when we are very young children: “bigger is better” and “who’s got the biggest.” Erich Zann, the enigmatic violinist in this story, supposedly is the big kahuna, creating bewitching, sublime notes in his attic apartment in a home atop a great hill only reached on foot. As the reader, I only want to find out why this guy is so special, and, after 8 pages of building desire, I’m left thrilled and satisfies at the read. Lovecraft creates a total enigma out of the entire story from its beginning, and our aspect is given in the first person perspective. The tale’s teller can’t recall the location of the tall house on the hill on the street of Rue d’Auseil, only that the locale is outside the city proper, across a bridge by warehouses, whose dark river is always shadowy and smelled like no other putrid stench the teller has ever encountered. The setting of the story is unique, dark, secluded, and lost forever, reminding me of Dracula’s castle and my first imagination of a really good story location. All of the ingredients of Erich Zann build increasing desire to find out a secret, right down to its narrator, who we don’t know and don’t really care to know. Lovecraft’s worlds are the places out of sight and out of mind. This is storytelling in essence: creating and fulfilling a reader’s desire to find out the unknown. In Erich Zann, we don’t know who these players are, we don’t know where we are, but we only want to know more about the magic of Erich Zann’s music, and this isn’t about plot, for, if plot was the main game of the story, it would necessitate more ink. The plot is to find out about the mystery of Zann’s music, just simply that, and this bare bones essence of the story makes it a special case in the study of storytelling. I see that the main purpose of the story is to produce curiosity in its readers, to excite readers to learn a secret–powerful in this short story.
The main components of this Lovecraft tale can be counted on one hand: a dark and secluded apartment, an observer, and Erich Zann’s music. Mystery itself is an active, main component as well, for our only desire in reading this story is to learn the secret of Erich Zann. Yes, the language of Lovecraft is very pleasing, but further, his simple creation of desire in the hearts and minds of his readers is second to none (in my opinion). We want our fix as readers, and Lovecraft does his best to tease out the story to its end. All of his work that I’ve read induces me to muse about mystery itself, requiring me to ask, “what is out there.” I feel that mystery, that which is not said, is very crucial in the making of a story, especially a short story, and is something we should keep in mind at all times as writers. Start with first person perspective, insert an interesting mystery, and create conflicts along the way towards getting to the center of the mystery, and you have something to work with in writing a story. If you can give reader’s enough detail to taste and can create a bit of knowledge that readers need to find out by its end, then you’re on your way to writing a good story. Lovecraft’s contribution to my understanding of the craft of tale telling is most important: create knowledge readers must have in reading your tales and tease the information out of concealment. The fictional knowledge that you create in storytelling is indispensable in keeping readers hooked, and, as important as the information you give readers is the information that you conceal and reveal slowly. Cheers! I hope you enjoy reading this story and more of H. P. Lovecraft! Any thoughts?
My copy of the story comes from The Library of America’s edition: Lovecraft: Tales.