The Colour Out of Space
The Colour Out of Space
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"Something was taken away -- she was being drained of something -- something was fastening itself on her that ought not be -- something must make it keep off -- nothing was ever still in the night -- the walls and windows shifted."

"There was something of a stolid resignation about them all, as if they walked half in another world between lines of nameless guards to a certain and familiar doom."

Rating: Five shoggoths out of five

Nutshell: A meteorite strikes in the yard of a rural family's farm, and soon after bizarre colors begin filtering into the vegetation and poisoning the land.

Setting: Arkham

Commentary: This is often considered to be one of Lovecraft's finest works, and is an excellent sampling of his best themes. The "monster" of the story is one of his best, as it is something that is absolutely indescribable and intangible. The slow descent into insanity is eerie, to say the least. And his heavily descriptive prose works well in what is almost more of a tone poem than a story. This tale is a must-read for anyone who is interested in Lovecraft.

History, Esoterica, and Factoids: "The Colour Out of Space" was written in 1927, published in the September 1927 issue of Amazing Stories. Lovecraft received $25 for his efforts.

Lovecraft considered this tale to be one of his favorites.

Contains many biblical references, particularly to the story of Lot. The name "Ammi" probably refers to Ben-Ammi, the son that was the product of incest between Lot and his daughters. "Nahum" was the seventh of the minor prophets in the Old Testament. "Zenas" was the name of a lawyer mentioned in Titus. Lovecraft further references the tale of Lot when he wrote "It must all be a judgment of some sort..." and caps off the end of the tale, with Ammi looking back at the farm, echoing the actions of Lot's wife, who turns to a pillar of salt when she looks back. (The "looking back" reference also surfaces in "At the Mountains of Madness".)

The reservoir in the story is probably based on the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts, and on the Scituate Reservoir in Rhode Island. Lovecraft had driven through both valleys before their destruction and remarked in at least one letter that he was disappointed to see them go. The Quabbin Reservoir swallowed up entire towns when it was made.

The paintings of Salvator Rosa (Italian, 1615-1673) can be found at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where Lovecraft probably saw them as well.

The "blasted heath" is a possibly a reference to the use of the same phrase in both Shakespeare's Macbeth and Milton's Paradise Lost.

Lovecraft loved chemistry, which is evidenced in the rather intricate description of the "men of science" picking apart the samples of the meteorite.

Author Ambrose Bierce also referred to an oddly colored entity in "The Damned Thing".

The concept of the wife being locked in the attic can also be found in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's superb tale of insanity, "The Yellow Wall Paper" (1892). (I think almost every American kid winds up reading "The Yellow Wall Paper" in high school at least once, but if you haven't, definitely do so.)

The scene where Ammi breaks into the attic of Nahum's home is very similar to a scene in Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder" (part of Three Impostors).

Painter Henri Fuseli (Swiss, 1741-1825) is renowned in the field of weird art, and is also referenced in "Pickman's Model". A very famous example can be seen at the right.

Gaseous entities also appear in Lovecraft's "Celephais" and in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath".

Film: "The Colour Out of Space" was the basis for two films. The first was Die, Monster, Die! (1965), which starred Boris Karloff. The second was The Curse (1987), which starred Wil Wheaton. Both are generally considered to be dreadful movies, and neither are very true to the original story.

Availability: "The Colour Out of Space" can be found both in The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi, ed.) and in Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. The Annotated Lovecraft provides full footnotes, but Bloodcurdling Tales contains more stories.

Dream of Aeneas, Savator Rosa

The Dream of Aenas
Salvator Rosa (Italian, 1615-1673)
Oil on canvas, 2x1.2m (77x47 in.)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

The Nightmare, Henri Fuseli

The Nightmare, 1781
Henri Fuseli (Swiss, 1741-1825)
Oil on canvas, 1x1.3 m (40x50 in)
Detroit Institute of Arts

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