“West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.”-H.P. Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space
These are the opening lines to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space. It is said to be the author’s personal favourite out of all his stories.
Set in 1870, the story begins with the reporting of a meteorite that “fell out of the sky and bedded itself in the ground beside the well at the Nahum Gardner place.” Miskatonic University sends three professors to investigate the fallen rock. When they arrive at Gardner’s place, he insists that the rock has shrunk overnight, a claim which the learned men laugh off as impossible.
They take a small fragment back to the university to investigate. This piece of the meteorite produces some strange effects in the laboratory where we learn “it displayed shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum”. These “bizarre optical properties” provoke much excitement among the “men of science” as they speculate about possible new elements and discoveries.
That night, a violent thunderstorm erupts over the Gardner place and the remains of the meteorite appear to be destroyed by lightning. All that is left of the fallen rock is “a ragged pit by the ancient well-sweep, half-choked with caved-in earth.”
Nahum Gardner becomes a local celebrity as the papers cover the story extensively. But the news eventually dies down and life appears to return to normal.
In the autumn of that year, Gardner is delighted by the abundant yield of his harvest. But his joy quickly turns to disappointment after he tastes the produce: “Into the fine flavour of the pears and apples had crept a stealthy bitterness and sickishness, so that even the smallest of bites induced a lasting disgust.”
From here, you can get a good idea of the direction in which the story is going. I enjoyed the way Lovecraft describes the gradual changes that take place after the meteorite hits. The effects and influence it has on the area surrounding Gardner’s home, as well as the people who live close by. The biggest impact, of course, is on the members of the Gardner family: Nahum, his wife and their three sons. I won’t spoil the rest of the story, as it’s really worth reading to discover what happens to them.
The Colour Out of Space is a fine example of Lovecraft’s best work. It’s an atmospheric mystery of cosmic-themed horror–more “weird fiction” than traditional horror story, although there are some horrifying scenes in here. It’s a slow burn, as Lovecraft carefully builds the tension and fear. I was pleased to see a reduction in the author’s infamous “purple prose”, which can often lessen the impact of his tales. The descriptions are well-written and truly help to create a feeling of unease in the reader:
“The night had been dark and the buggy-lamps faint, but around a farm in the valley which everyone knew from the account must be Nahum’s the darkness had been less thick. A dim though distinct luminosity seemed to inhere in all the vegetation, grass, leaves, and blossoms alike, while at one moment a detached piece of the phosphorescence appeared to stir furtively in the yard near the barn.”– H.P. Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space
Thanks for reading!