Saturday, November 20, 2010

Colour Out Of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

Colour Out Of Space
by H.P. Lovecraft

Our Unnamed Narrator is sent to Arkham to survey an area outside of town that is scheduled to be turned into a resevoir. He discovers a large patch of land that supports no life and fills him with an inexplicable sense of dread. Curious, and not just professionally so, he seeks out answers to this phenomenon, which come in the form of homespun rumors and second-hand accounts.

Some years ago, a meteorite landed on that patch of land, bringing with it some mysterious form of alien life. The alien manifested itself as a shimmering color (excuse me, colour) outside of our known spectrum. Its presence destroyed all the crops in the area and even drove people into the depths of madness.

It seems to me that this was Lovecraft's truest expession of "cosmic" horror to date. His description of extraterrestrial lifeforms is interesting in that he stays away from the tried and true sci-fi staples. This is not a humanoid alien, or a monstrous beast, but rather a barely definable creature. In fact, we don't know for sure if the blight it brings is purposeful, or a mere side effect of its presence, much less if it possesses what we know of as intelligence.  It's also interesting to view this story as an early example of the nuclear paranoia that wouldn't truly grip the nation until the 1950s, some two decades after this story was written.

Lovecraft himself was particularly fond of this tale. While I did enjoy it, it wasn't one of my favorites. Much of the story wasn't concerned with the story, but rather devoted to describing the negative effects the colour had on the area surrounding it--the grass died, the flowers lost their blossoms, leaves fell off the trees, a squirrel developed a migraine and got all foamy at the mouth, etc. Which may make for great embellishments to a tale, but you can't make a tale out of embellishments.



  1. Colour was one of Lovecraft's best, and easily one of his finest examples of alien life (in a career basically defined by examples of alien life).

    Most of his entities really didn't fall into the same trappings as other writers, as few had any personality to speak of, and fewer still had any direct interest in humans, rather than the typical "green humanoid out to get us" formula.

    The idea of the entity in The Colour Out of Space having such an effect simply by existing is a great trope for the story, and really is the main thrust as the creature itself - if it really is a creature and not just the after effects of something alien - never does come across as malevolent, or even sentient for all that.

    Amazing the movie adaptation was so poor when it had so much to work with.

    - Aaron

  2. Maybe I'm asking a dumb obvious question here, but have you seen the Karloff flick DIE MONSTER DIE!, J-Rod? it's the AIP-produced adaptation of this flick, the one I think previous commentor Aaron is referring to. Kinda slow, but not terrible. Couple good moments, available on the MGM Midnite Movies collection/label.

  3. There are no dumb questions, J. Well, except for "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"--that is pretty dumb. And, believe it or not, I never haveseen DIE MONSTER DIE! If I ever complete my chronological journey of Lovecraft's work, I plan on checking out the film adaptations that I may have missed.


  4. I was referring to Die Monster, Die! in my earlier comment (I guess I should have been clearer).

    I suppose the movie appears worse in comparison to the story it was based on, though the same could be said for most movies based on Lovecraft's stories.

    I remember a scene in particular with a strange garden of (I believe) sentient plants that really kind of ruined the movie for me. Karloff was alright, but beyond that the movie was wretched.

    - Aaron


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