Great and dreadful Cthulhu is without doubt Lovecraft’s most recognized creation, and many who are only casually aware of his work may think he’s the end-all and be-all of his work. I’d even personally go so far as to say that Cthulhu in the present day is overexposed, his shadow obscuring many of H.P.’s other fascinating creatures and stories. So on this Throwback Thursday, I’m casting a light on one of his lesser know creations before they… or I… scurry off into the darkness.
It all began, old Ammi said, with the meteorite. Before that time there had been no wild legends at all since the witch trials, and even then these western woods were not feared half so much as the small island in the Miskatonic where the devil held court beside a curious stone altar older than the Indians. These were not haunted woods, and their fantastic dusk was never terrible till the strange days. Then there had come that white noontide cloud, that string of explosions in the air, and that pillar of smoke from the valley far in the wood. And by night all Arkham had heard of the great rock that fell out of the sky and bedded itself in the ground beside the well at the Nahum Gardner place. That was the house which had stood where the blasted heath was to come—the trim white Nahum Gardner house amidst its fertile gardens and orchards.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space.
The Colour Out of Space was written in the early spring of 1927 and was first published in September of that year by the groundbreaking science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. It’s widely acclaimed as one of Lovecraft’s best stories, and in addition to being popular it was also the author’s personal favorite among all his writings.
Lovecraft strove to create something truly alien in this story, and he succeeds.
His motif of an indescribable color adds to the unknowable nature of whatever the “Colour Out of Space” is. His use of the term “colour” is analogous, as the eponymous color is seemingly foreign to any other comparison that is humanly known. HP makes no attempt to describe it, which places the gap of the unknown front and center in the story and leaves much to the reader’s imagination. I feel this strengthens the tale and is a wise and intentional move on the author’s part.
As you can tell from the extract above, “The Colour” fell to earth in the form of a meteorite that lands beside the well at the Nahum Gardner farm. The story is told in first person from the perspective of an unnamed surveyor piecing together the events of the “strange days” that followed over forty years ago after its arrival in 1882.
Initially, the meteorite is examined as a fantastic but benign scientific curiosity. Besides its indescribable color (found only via analysis and within globules inside the meteorite), it has many unusual physical properties such as continually emitting heat and slowly shrinking. Ultimately, the meteorite diminishes away to nothingness in only a few days… And with nothing left to examine and with no questions answered, the scientists and professors of Miskatonic University accept the loss and leave empty handed.
But that, of course is only the beginning. A feeling of unease begins to settle over the Gardner farm, and in the spring of the next year strange things begin to grow and flower. Flora and fauna become twisted, and the area glows faintly at night as things get ever worse for the Gardner family and their now cursed homestead and lands.
What “The Colour” is, specifically, is debatable. Lovecraft certainly didn’t go out of his way to answer the question, as its mystery is the key to its fear. There are augments that it’s a chemical reaction or toxin, or a form of energy that came “from beyond, whar things ain’t like they be here”.
It’s quite obvious through the events of the story that its presence has many detrimental effects on earthly life, but I side with most in saying that “The Colour” seems to be a form of life. Very alien life, and life following rules that aren’t the same as we find in our world. However, even knowing that, its motives and intents —if it even has any— are a complete mystery.
Is it malevolent? Or is it lost and marooned, seeking to escape a world it finds as bizarre and unknowable as we find it? Does it even comprehend that we and the living other things around it are “alive”, in its perception of the term?
There is no answer. There is only the tragedy it leaves in its wake.