Friday, August 16, 2013

The Music of Erich Zann

H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937)
From H. P. Lovecraft: Tales

“The Music of Erich Zann.” Illustration by Andrew Brosnatch, drawn for the reprint of the story in the May 1925 issue of Weird Tales. Image from Robert Weinberg’s online collection of fantasy and science-fiction art.
On the last day of August 1931, H. P. Lovecraft excitedly mentioned some news in a letter he sent from “The Antient River Bank — Unchang’d since the Golden Nineties” to a longtime friend in Wisconsin:
Did I tell you that Little Belknap and his Grandpa are both to be represented in the coming weird anthology—Creeps by Night—edited by Dashiell Hammett and publishing by the John Day Co.? Sonney’s story will be A Visitor from Egypt, and mine will be The Music of Erich Zann—a favorite of my own, by the way. We got only twenty-five bucks apiece, but the prestige may be helpful in dealings with editors. . . .
“Little Belknap” was the horror fiction writer Frank Belknap Long—one of several men who formed the loose circle of New York writers known as the Kalem Club and one of the first of Lovecraft’s young acolytes. Coincidentally, shortly after writing “Erich Zann” a decade earlier, Lovecraft had written to Long (then only twenty years old) about this very story: “It is not, as a whole, a dream, though I have dreamt of steep streets like the Rue d’Auseil.”

It was one of the most reprinted of Lovecraft’s tales during his lifetime, and the author ranked it second only to “The Colour Out of Space” among his own works. The story appeared first in early 1922 in National Amateur, the house organ of the National Amateur Press Association. (A few months later, Lovecraft became the interim president of the organization after its executive apparently “ran off with a chorus girl.”) The story was later picked up by the editors of Weird Tales and appeared in the May 1925 issue. According to literary scholar S. T. Joshi, the Hammett-edited anthology containing Lovecraft’s and Long’s stories was “notably successful”: it was reprinted several times, paperback editions were issued, and the volume appeared in England—which explains why “The Music of Erich Zann” filled an entire page of the London Evening Standard in 1932, earning Lovecraft another $21.61.

Still, “Erich Zann” might seem an unexpected choice for Hammett’s horror anthology since in many ways it is atypical of Lovecraft’s work. Joshi’s appraisal in his biography of Lovecraft highlights some of the differences: “it reveals a restraint in its supernatural manifestations (bordering, for one of the few times in his entire work, on obscurity), a pathos in its depiction of its protagonist, and a general polish in its language that Lovecraft rarely achieved in later years.” The year before he died, Lovecraft acknowledged the story’s uniqueness in a letter: “I like it for what it hasn’t more than for what it has.”

Note: This week’s selection was recommended for Story of the Week by Rachel Broder, from Philadelphia, who remarks, “the tale is not only harrowing, but also incredibly beautiful.”

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I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d’Auseil. These maps have not been modern maps alone, for I know that names change. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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