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What can we say about the chronology and genealogy of Erich Zann?

Here are the facts I have gathered as being potentially relevant:

  • The Music of Erich Zann [Music] was written in 1921 by Lovecraft and first published in 1922. Lovecraft was around 31 at the time.
  • It takes place in an unknown part of Paris.
  • The landlord, Blandot, describes Erich Zann as an "old German". The narrator describes Zann as "small, lean, bent" with a "nearly bald head" and as an "old man" with "the labored French of a foreigner". Zann describes himself as "old, lonely".
  • The narrator calls himself a university student in the last months of his studies during the time of the story.
  • A sequel, The Silence of Erika Zann [Silence] was written by James Wade and published first in 1976. I haven't learned anything about James Wade himself or any of his other work. The version of the story that I have is from the second revised edition of The Disciples of Cthulhu published in 1996.
  • It takes place in San Francisco.
  • Erika says she was "born in Europe right after the war", so around 1946. Her parents were "refugees and got to the States a few years later."
  • Her father is dead at the time of the story.
  • "Grandpa Erich Zann left his family in the 1920s and settled in Paris."
  • "After Dad died I found a box of letters from his father, Erich Zann, addressed to my grandmother and dated Paris, mostly 1924 and 1925. [...] But I found another letter in the box, a report from the Paris police saying that Erich Zann had disappeared and could not be located. It must have been an answer to a missing-persons inquiry Grandma Zann sent from Stuttgart."

The narrator of Music is presumably young, likely in his twenties, so he could be slightly biased in his assessment of what's "old", but I think there's enough evidence to suggest that Erich Zann is no younger than 50 at the time of Music, even with the likely effect of loneliness and terror on his health and appearance.

Unless Erich did not perish at the end of Music, as the narrator assumes, but continued for a few more years, we can conclude from Erika's account of the letters that Music takes place around 1925-26, oddly a few years after the story was written.

Silence probably takes place in the mid-1970s when the story was published, though I don't know when it was written so this is a guess. That would make Erika around 30 at the time, which seems right.

So Erich leaves for Paris in the early 1920s when he is in his late forties or early fifties. I'm sticking with what I assume is the lower bound for his age, to make the chronology of his family as un-exceptional as possible (if he's 70 and just fathered a son, that's unusual, if not impossible).

He has a wife and at least one male child back in Stuttgart. This son grows up to have a daughter, Erika, around 1946. It's hard to say when he himself was born, though it can't have been later than 9 months after Erich left for Paris unless Erich went back to visit. Placing his birth just around 1920 or a few years earlier seems plausible. That makes him somewhere between late 20s and early 30s when he has Erika.

Is there anything else we can say or infer from these two stories? Any facts I've missed? Or any other sources, such as letters by Lovecraft, with any other details about Zann and his family?

  • 1
    Charles Stross adds some history as a backstory of a certain violin. – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder May 30 '17 at 14:43
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    How much of the necessary answer was authored by H P Lovecraft, and how much by other authors in the same mythos? Consider retagging, perhaps? – can-ned_food May 30 '17 at 17:21
  • @can-ned_food What tags would be more appropriate? The question is about Lovecraft's mythos, and I would put more weight on a letter from Lovecraft himself than a story by another author in case of conflicting information. I also have no way of knowing whether Lovecraft or some other author has provided more relevant info to the question. – adcoon May 30 '17 at 21:22
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    You mention a story written by James Wade concerning Erich's apparent granddaughter, so I suggested the broader cthulhu-mythos also. If you want to limit yourself to H P L, I would recommend clearing reference to James Wade and Erika Zann — and be prepared for a dearth of answers; I don't think Lovecraft wrote much else concerning Erich or the street on which he once lived. Of course, H P L was more concerned with what lay outside that high tower than what was inside. – can-ned_food May 31 '17 at 3:42
  • @can-ned_food Thanks. The cthulhu-mythos tag didn't occur to me (d'oh), but it's a good fit. – adcoon May 31 '17 at 7:34
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Paris is not mentioned in "The Music of Erich Zann" as far as I remember. Since Paris is the largest French city it seems the most logical city to have a street and a neighborhood the narrator could not find again.

Actually I don't remember if there was any indication whether the events in "The Music of Erich Zann" happened shortly before the story was published or decades earlier. The narrator could have been an old man remembering events from his youth.

  • 1870 or earlier: Erich Zann is born.

  • 1920 (?): Erich Zann leaves his family in Stuttgart and moves to Paris. Erich's son is born (?). Or maybe he was already an adult with a job and could take care of his mother and/or siblings?

  • 1920-1925: "The Music of Erich Zann" happens sometime during this period. The letters in 1924 and 1925 might have been written and sent by Erich Zann or by someone or something else.

  • 1945-1947 (?): Erich Zann's son, surviving the war, marries. Erika Zann is born.

  • 1945-1950 (?): The Zann family moves to USA.

  • Events of "The Silence of Erika Zann" as dated by info in the story.

If it happens in or by 1976 it would be unlikely that Erika's father already died unless he was born significantly before 1920.

And I don't know if you can find enough info make a more precise chronology.

  • Good point about the city. I couldn't find Paris mentioned in Music either, so based on Lovecraft's story alone it could in fact be any French city with a university, or even possibly a Canadian city? Erika does mention Paris, however. Your outline appears correct, based on those two stories. Her father could have died in an accident, or just died young. – adcoon May 31 '17 at 20:11
1

When no one else steps up there's only one way, so I read the Laundry series and the Irish story myself, paying attention to any references to Erich Zann. These are my findings.

The Laundry Series by Charles Stross

This series of books feature a violin designed by Erich Zann.

1. The Atrocity Archives

No mention of either violin or Erich Zann.

2. The Jennifer Morgue

The violin is mentioned and described as an Erich Zann model, but no details are given.

3. The Fuller Memorandum

The history and origin of the violin is briefly sketched, but there's nothing new about Erich Zann himself.

Chapter 6, "Red Orchestra", last section

He's read about its like before. Their design is attributed to a deaf-mute German violinist in Paris in the early 1920s, but nobody actually built one until the ghastly Dr. Mabuse commisssioned an entire string section from a certain Berlin instrument maker in 1931. (It should be no surprise that the instrument maker prospered under the subsequent regime, but was excecuted after a summary trial by SMERSH investigators in 1946.) This particular instrument made its way to the West in the luggage of a returning GI, was retrofitted with electric pickups during the 1950s, and after a spectacular run of accidents was acquired by a reclusive collector in 1962 -- believed by some to be a front for a British government department who, as a matter of state policy, did not like to see such instruments in the wrong hands.

It's not entirely clear who this "certain Berlin instrument maker in 1931" is, since Lovecraft's original story implies that Erich Zann died in the early 20s (at least the narrator was convinced of this), but book #6 (The Annihilation Score) makes it clear that it is indeed Erich Zann being referenced here.

Here, then, Zann is associated with Berlin.

Interestingly, I don't believe Erich Zann was described as deaf in Lovecraft's story, only mute. If I recall, he could hear the narrator just fine but had to write his replies.

4. The Apocalypse Codex

The violin is mentioned and described as an Erich Zann, but no new details.

5. The Rhesus Chart

The violin is mentioned and described as an Erich Zann. Mo gives it the name "Lecter", which seems to be her personal name for it, not its "true" name. No details about Erich Zann.

6. The Annihilation Score

The violin features prominently. A little more is learned of its origin, though not that much about Erich Zann himself. Still, it's the most details we get, at least until more books are written in the series.

Chapter 2, "Morning After", p. 19 in my edition

He means the orchestra of his victims, the musicians he has twisted and killed over the decades since his grisly genesis in Erich Zann's workshop in 1931. He was created at the behest of one Professor [sic] Doktor Mabuse. Mabuse the Gambler was a monster, and Zann his enabler—but Lecter has outlasted and surpassed both of them.

Chapter 15, "Fresh Meat", p. 294 in my edition

Your sidekick Mr. Grenade stops being your friend the moment you pull his pin out: just so with the violins Erich Zann created at the behest of Dr. Mabuse.

Chapter 19, "The King in Yellow", p. 378 in my edition

[...] The King in Yellow was converted to an opera but never performed in full; Franz Kafka prepared the libretto and a score was subsequently written by his collaborator, the violinist Erich Zann, for performance on specially adapted instruments of his own devising, but the rise of fascism put an end to all attempts to perform it until after the war. [...]

"Until now, that is. With the recovery of the original score we are delighted to present, for the first time, the extraordinary violin sonata from the second act that marked the zenith of Erich Zann's career. [...]

p. 380 in my edition

The violin in my hands feels alive by proxy. As the piece moves back to the major theme, I feel him, warm and pulsing with stolen life, all the lives he's drunk down over the years and decades since the mad luthier of Munich bound a summoned demon into an instrument carved from the still-raw bones of human sacrifices: [...]

So in Stross' universe, Erich Zann didn't die at the end of Lovecraft's story, but lived into the thirties and forties where he fashioned the white violins for Dr. Mabuse.

Stross also associates Erich Zann with Munich here (in The Fuller Memorandum it was Berlin), whereas The Silence of Erica Zann implies that he came from Stuttgart (at least by the time he moved to Paris).

Kafka died in 1924, at least in the real world.

7. The Nightmare Stacks

No mention of either violin or Erich Zann.

8. The Delirium Brief

The violin is mentioned a few times, but no details, and no mention of Erich Zann.

Paappana, or Erkki Santanen's Music

I can't read the original Irish, but I managed to find an English edition of the book (The Book of Poison) from 2014, translated by Colin Parmar.

Aside from the theme, and the possible allusion in the name Erkki Santanen, this story seems to have nothing to do with Erich Zann or his instruments. There are no references in it to Lovecraft's story.

It was first published (in Irish) in 2010, and the story appears to take place in modern times (in Finland, curiously enough given its original language.) It could be that Erkki Santanen, like Erika Zann, is somehow related to Erich Zann, but there's really nothing in there to support such speculation.

Conclusion

If we take Stross' books as part of canon, Erich Zann (or at least something masquerading as Erich Zann) survived into the thirties and forties in order to create his violins for Dr. Mabuse. This actually matches with the letters dated 1924-25 in Silence, so I'm going to accept it as true.

Either way, the Laundry series and Paappana give us no new insight into Erich Zann's life before the events of Music or of his family, meaning the timeline from my original question and M. A. Golding's answer is likely the closest we can come, as I am not aware of any other potential sources.

This is my own revised timeline:

  • 1870 or earlier: Erich Zann is born.
  • 1910s: Erich Zann has one or more children, at least one of which is a son. Being most likely no younger than 40, it may not be his first marriage.
  • 1920-22: Erich Zann leaves his family, then living in Stuttgart, and moves to Paris. Here the events of Music take place and he is presumed dead by the narrator. Erich, or something masquerading as Erich, does indeed survive.
  • 1924-5: Still in Paris, Erich sends letters to his family, then becomes incommunicado. Police in Paris declare him missing.
  • 1931: Erich Zann, possibly now living in Munich, creates his infamous violins for Dr. Mabuse. He may relocate to Berlin, it's not entirely clear.
  • 1946: Erich Zann is supposedly executed.
  • 1945-1947: Erich Zann's son, probably 30-35 years old, has a daughter: Erika Zann. She may have siblings, we can't say. The family seeks refuge post-war in the USA.
  • 1976: Events of Silence. Erika Zann, around 30 years old, perishes. She likely leaves no children of her own.

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