This week’s prompt: 39. Sounds—possibly musical—heard in the night from other worlds or realms of being.
The Resulting Story: The Earth Shakes
Mr. Lovecraft here proposes something like a much older notion: The music of the spheres. The world presented by this notion is not too alien: It is a world guided by rhythms and motions of music. You hear this talk, for instance, when angelic groups are referred to as choirs. The cyclical nature of the world, as observed, makes analogs to music not terribly hard. The Music of the Spheres refers to the music that all of creation makes, including other worlds and realms such as Heaven and Hell.
This concept has a great deal of pull in fantasy works. The grandfather of Fantasy, Tolkien, incorporated music into the creation mythos of Middle Earth. The Valar sing forth the world, and evil comes from the discord produced by a single singer. The communal element of music and a choir is fundamental to the image: there is a notion of participation in a greater whole.
Of course, other works of mythology have used the singer in other ways. Orpheus, the most famous musician of note, was a gifted singer. So gifted that he moved the lord of the dead to cry and show mercy. Such was Orpheus, that he sang even as his head drifted down the river. Orpheus during his life played so well, he drowned the sirens. Orpheus’s rites, carried forward into his mysteries, were universal in tone, dealing again with themes of revival and cosmic connections.
This is the main folklore I will use as the beginning. The other story is that of Krishna, a famed god of India, or demigod, who as a child would engage in the song and dance. Krishna lures the milkmaids of the local village out, and they engage him in a dance that lasts (via Krishna’s manipulation) over a billion years. Krishna’s dance lacks Orpheus’s tragedy and Orpheus’s personal tragedy, but it connects on the level of passion and intimacy among the gods. This power to shape and reshape is key to music.
Fantasy of course is familiar with the notion of magical music in the form of magic harps and bards.
Orpheus’s story begins with not only his marriage, but the death of his wife in his wedding. Notably, she dies fleeing a satyr, a wild man who is filled with lust and passion. In flight she gets bitten by a viper.
Orpheus’s mourning cries move all the nymphs and then world wept with him. The gods directed him to Hades. There he descended and sang to charm the lord of that place and his wife. Such was Orpheus’s singing that the punishment of Tarturus for a moment paused. And all listened mourning. And so Hades sent Eudryice out, on the condition that Orpheus never look at her until they reached the sunlight lands.
But Orpheus looked. And so was doomed.
And such was his second grief that he wandered and gave up all the gods, save his father Apollo. But once while worshiping, he is assailed by Maenads, worshipers of Dionyosous. They slay him for his impeity to the god of revelry, and he sings as he washes away. Women, who he had sworn off, assailed his head with stones and sticks as it drifted. But these would not hurt. So the women descended on him and tore at his flesh, ending his journey.
There is something then of the Apollo versus Dionysous, revelry versus civilization, light versus darkness, cthonic versus celestial to the myth. And that, along with the theme of passion, is of key interest to our story.
The power of music to lure and bend is common to both this story, the story of Krishna, and of course the Pied piper. It’s effect on man and beast alike. It is a power that reaches into minds and souls, that bends even the unbendable.
I would write thus about a musician motivated by passion. I would write about a woman motivated by a lost passion even—but not motivated to recover or resurrect her lost Lenore. That is something done too often, particularly with female villains. No, I have a better aim.
The notion of escaping death is perhaps better. Remember when I mentioned the often refferred to Choir Invisible? The immortal chorus of angels? The place of gods? I think this is where our woman is headed. Not to revive her husband, but rather to raise herself from that terrible fate that befall men and women alike.
A humanities response to the more scientific minded hubris, then.
Further, in the vein of pulp that makes up my blood now, I think she won’t be the main character. Or rather, not the character who’s view we share. Rather, we should examine from a secondary character rooting out what has happened. After all, when toying and perfecting the divine song, strange things are no doubt going to result.
There will be a trail of clues through the years, until at last the confrontation comes. That is when, I think, the Orphean magic must work. The dead then will rise, frightful as they are, to the call of the divine song. Calamity and apocalypse surrounds the final show down.
To keep above pulp, however, we want a harmony of two themes. Our villianness is formed of Gothic works, passion and hubris, loss and despair, pride and madness. Then what of our protagonist?
I think if the one wants power by joining something greater and bending it to her whims, then a protagonist may be one who has suffered in reverse. This is not one to be admired, of course, nor followed. But a person who is purely function who seeks to escape and become an individual perfectly parallels a person who seeks power at the cost of individuality and sanity. We will have to work out the details later.
I would be remiss not to mention where this prompt seems to have gone, in Lovecraft’s own work. The Music of Eric Zann has clear inspirations here.
So check that out, after our story comes out, and tell us about your own! What did you hear, from those distant outer spheres singing into this world?
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