Low Res Scan: The Legacy of Erich Zann and Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Brian Stableford, 2010, 2012.
In this “Introduction”, Stableford says a couple of things about his recent burst of writing in the Cthulhu Mythos. “The Legacy of Erich Zann” was written to fill out a collection that had it and Stableford’s short novel The Womb of Time. He liked the result so much he undertook to write a series of stories with Auguste Dupin which include elements of the Cthulhu Mythos and “an even vaster metaphysical system” of which the Mythos is a small part.
Stableford disputes the idea that the Cthulhu Mythos, in its true philosophical form and with its cosmic horror, has really been popularized. He makes the interesting observation that cosmic horror is defiantly esoteric, that it isn’t as easy to evoke horror in that sort of story unlike one with serial killers or ghosts. Cosmic horror requires more imaginative effort on the part of the reader. It is more abstract. It appreciates the vast space and time surrounding life in the universe. He says cosmic horror plays,
sometimes delicately and cleverly, but always with a reserve of sheer brutality, with our inability to deal with the fact mentally, and our perverse insistence that, even if it is so, it is irrelevant.
The strength of the Mythos for a writer of cosmic horror is that it has a ready-made vocabulary of symbols. Like writers of mainstream fiction who don’t have to invent a world for their stories, Lovecraft’s Mythos provides a sort of pre-fab set of places and ideas that can be used and are quickly recognized by readers. It can be more useful for a writer than trying to invent a more elegant mythology from scratch for cosmic horror. Interestingly, he sees Nyarlathotep as the most basic figure in the Mythos which may be why he used him for “The Legacy of Erich Zann”.
It’s the first installment in Stableford Auguste Dupin series which uses Edgar Allan Poe’s famous detective. Stableford nails down the setting of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” to the early 1800s in Paris and gives Zann an extensive back story.
The narrator, unnamed, is correspondent of Edgar Allan Poe and is the source of Poe’s Dupin stories.
The story starts out with the narrator telling Dupin of a new musical melodrama he saw the preceding night, The Devil’s Cantata which is loosely based on Giuseppe Tartini’s Il Trillo del Diavolo which, in turn, was based on a dream. It’s a pact-with-the-devil story and features a violin piece played while an angelic looking Devil sings. In the piece, the violin seems to subtly go out of tune matching the increasingly sinister piece the Devil sings.
Dupin, a one-time violin player himself, recognizes the technique of unorthodox violin tuning as scordatura, and he wonders if it was Paganini playing. The play also features mesmerism, a common motif in the series, with the Devil inducing somnaloquistism (sleep talking) to convey a vision of higher realms.
Dupin objects to this use of mesmerism. He is firmly in the physiologists’ camp regarding mesmerism, not the spiritualist camp. For him, mesmerism may be useful in treating the mind and body. It is not a pathway to occult knowledge. Dupin also says he once knew a violinist who could do scordatura while playing.
Monsieur le Préfet, the prefect of Parisian police and Dupin’s friend, shows up asking him to investigate the murder of one Bernard Clamart, a notary. The news greatly disturbs Dupin – who, of course, doesn’t explain everything until the end. Erich Zann’s grave has recently been looted. We also hear that Paganini has been asking about a deposition of Zann’s. And the life of one Palaiseau, a violinist, may be in danger thinks Dupin.
We hear about Zann’s back story before he came to Paris. It’s a background with membership in a secret society, a mysterious violin, and a heretic monk who wrote Harmonies de l’Enfer (a homage to one of Stableford’s favorite authors, Clark Ashton Smith).
Of course, the story climaxes in Zann’s old apartment on the Rue d’Auseuil with mysterious forces lurking outside the window.
As with most of Stableford’s Dupin stories, this is a complicated tale with a lot of elements, not only music but neo-Pythagorean philosophy, other dimensions, and, the horror of the sublime.
While I liked “The Legacy of Erich Zann” a lot, I liked “The Seeds from the Mountains of Madness” even more. It’s original to this volume.
This is a superb story linking Stableford’s biological knowledge, dreams, the aftermath of World War One, and, of course, H. P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness”.
One day in his garden, Lord Andersley, our narrator, is very surprised to see his old friend, a fellow student at Eton, and a fellow officer in the Boer War: Titus Oates. Surprised because Oats is supposed to have died, died a very famous death as a hero of the Empire. It was Oates who, crippled and starved, stepped out of a tent of Scott’s doomed Antarctic expedition with the famous words “I am going to step outside. I might be gone some time.” And then he vanished into a storm.
The time seems to be 1919 or 1920. Oates still limps, still has blackened, frost-bitten toes. He reveals he never uttered those famous words when he left the tent. His actual words were not as coherent and he swore at Scott. (Which is probably true. Scott spent his last hours on Earth editing his journals for maximum effect.)
Oates claims he somehow walked from the Antarctic, and this is not his first trip back in the world.
Sometimes, in a rambling way, Oates speaks of an Other Antarctica, an Antarctic lacking ice and with a history of advancing ice and warring extraterrestrial races. Andersley, a botanist, adds speculation of his own to the background of Lovecraft’s tale.
Somehow Oates came in contact with the Old Ones. Somehow they preserved him and enabled him to travel. Oates has come to Andersley because he needs some seeds to be grown, seeds that require blood.
There is a great deal of somberness in the story (and somber puns). Andersley accepts the incredible return of his friend. The war was such a mad place for officers like him as well as enlisted men that he can accept one more wonder and jokingly says it must now the be Day of Judgement because the dead are returning. Andersley views Oates (and his face that, at times, becomes indistinct) as a kin to all those who returned from the war, changed men, the past man dead.
Andersley will help him grow those seeds. However, the more he hears from Oates, the more his concerns grow. But he won’t stop. Botany is a pursuit that allows him to forget the war, the war that desensitized him, he knows, to ordinary emotions and makes him a bit of a pain to be around for his daughter Mercy and wife Helen. And Helen must weigh the loyalty of her beloved husband to an old friend and the therapeutic value of his botanical pursuits against the growing danger she senses.
The ending is genuinely surprising (and echoes an element of the climax of “The Legacy of Erich Zann”).
The only other author I can think of who approaches Stableford in mixing history, literature, and science into his take on the Cthulhu Mythos is David Hambling, and both are among my very favorite expanders of Lovecraftian themes.