The Colour out of Space
This article uses material from the The Colour out of Space article on the Lovecraft wiki at Fandom and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.
Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
for the fictional being related to this article Colour Out of Space
Written in the first-person perspective of an unnamed surveyor from Boston, "The Colour Out of Space" tells the story of the narrator's attempts to uncover the secrets behind a shunned place referred to by the locals of Arkham as the "blasted heath". Unable to garner any information from the townspeople, the protagonist seeks out an old and allegedly crazy man by the name of Ammi Pierce who relates his personal experiences with a farmer who used to live on the cursed property, Nahum Gardner. Pierce claims that the troubles began when a meteorite crashed into Gardner's lands in June 1882.
The meteorite never cools, but begins shrinking and local scientists are unable to discern its origins. As the stone shrinks, it leaves behind globules of colour that are referred to as such "only by analogy", as they do not fall within the range of anything known in the visible spectrum. These remains eventually disappear but, the following season, Gardner's crops come in unnaturally large and abundantly. When he discovers that, despite their appearance, they are inedible, he accuses the meteorite of having poisoned the soil. Over the following year, the problem begins spreading to the surrounding vegetation and local animals, warping them in unusual ways. The plant life around the farmhouse becomes "slightly luminous in the dark", and Gardner's wife eventually goes mad, forcing him to lock her in the attic. During this time, Gardner begins to isolate his family from the rest of the town and Pierce slowly becomes his only contact with the outside world.
Soon after Gardner's wife becomes mad, the vegetation begins eroding into a grey powder and the water from the well becomes tainted. One of Gardner's sons, Thaddeus, goes insane like his mother and is similarly locked in a different room in the attic. The livestock begins turning grey and dying and, like the crops, their meat is tasteless and inedible. Thaddeus eventually dies and Merwin, another of Gardner's sons, goes missing during an excursion to retrieve water from the well. After two weeks of silence from Gardner, Pierce visits the farmstead and witnesses the tale's eponymous horror for the first time in the attic. Gardner's final son, Zenas, has disappeared and the "colour" has infected Nahum's wife, whom Pierce puts out of her misery. He then flees the decaying house as the horror destroys the last surviving resident, Nahum.
Pierce returns to the farmstead shortly after with six other men, including a doctor, who begin examining Nahum's remains. They discover Merwin and Zenas' eroding skeletons at the bottom of the well, as well as remnants of several other creatures. As they reflect upon their discoveries in the house, a light begins to emit from the well that eventually transforms into the "colour" and begins pouring out, spreading over everything nearby. The men flee the house just as the horror blights the land and then shoots toward the sky. Pierce alone turns back after the "colour" has gone and witnesses a small part of it try to follow the rest, only to fail and return to the well. The knowledge that part of the alien still resides on earth is sufficient to alter his mental state. When some of the men return the following day, there is nothing remaining but a dead horse and acres of grey dust, and the surrounding area is quickly abandoned by all of its remaining residents.
Lovecraft began writing "The Colour Out of Space" in March 1927, immediately after completing The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. As he wrote the tale, however, he was also typing the final draft of his horror fiction essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. Although the author himself claimed that his inspiration was the newly constructed Scituate Reservoir in Rhode Island, Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi believes that the planned Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts must have influenced him as well. American writer and pulp fiction enthusiast Will Murray cites paranormal investigator Charles Fort, and the "thunderstones" (lightning-drawing rocks that may have fallen from the sky) he describes in The Book of the Damned, as possible inspirations for the behavior of the meteorite.
Lovecraft was dismayed at the all-too human depiction of "aliens" in other works of fiction, and his goal for "Colour" was to create an entity that was truly alien. In doing so, he drew inspiration from a number of sources describing colors outside of the visible spectrum. Most notably, Joshi points to Hugh Elliott's Modern Science and Materialism, a 1919 nonfiction book that mentions the "extremely limited" senses of humans, such that of the many "aethereal waves" striking the eyes, "the majority cannot be perceived by the retina at all". This concept had previously been used in Lovecraft's 1920 short story "From Beyond". Completed by the end of March, "The Colour Out of Space" was first published in Hugo Gernsback's science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in September 1927.
"The Colour Out of Space" became the only work from Amazing Stories to make Edward O'Brien's anthology of The Best American Short Stories, appearing in the 1928 "Roll of Honor". Gernsback paid Lovecraft only $25 (approximately $Template:Inflation in present day terms) and was late in doing so, leading Lovecraft to refer to the publisher as "Hugo the Rat". He never again submitted anything to the publication. Lovecraft did not write another major short story until the following year, when he crafted "The Dunwich Horror", although he did pen "History of the Necronomicon" and "Ibid" as minor works in-between, as well as an account of a Halloween night's dream that he called "The Very Old Folk".
In addition to its being his personal favourite of all of his short stories, critics have considered "The Colour Out of Space" to be one of Lovecraft's best works, as well as the first to establish his trademark blending of science fiction and horror. Lovecraft scholar Donald R. Burleson referred to the tale as "one of his stylistically and conceptually finest short stories". Joshi praises the work as one of Lovecraft's best and most frightening, particularly for the vagueness of the description of the story's eponymous horror. He also lauded the work as Lovecraft's most successful attempt to create something entirely outside of the human experience, as the creature's motive (if any) is unknown and it is impossible to discern whether or not the "colour" is emotional, moral, or even conscious. His only criticism is that it is "just a little too long". The text of "The Colour Out of Space", like many of Lovecraft's works, has fallen into public domain and can be accessed in several compilations of the author's work as well as on the Internet. It also had a strong influence on Brian Aldiss's "The Saliva Tree", which has been seen as a rewriting of Lovecraft's tale. In 1984, the novel The Color Out of Time by Michael Shea was published as a sequel to the original novelette.