Literature: The Colour Out of Space

A story by HP Lovecraft inspired by Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder" (from the novel The Three Imposters). The story is first told from the perspective of a property investigator visiting the town of Arkham who is surveying prospective sites for a new reservoir. Eventually he starts asking about the mysterious "blasted heath" which the people had been trying to avoid talking about for the entire time. Eventually he finds Ammi, an old man living near the heath, who is willing to explain what happened there and why absolutely nothing can live on that burgeoning plot of land...

The story then shifts perspective to Ammi who tells about how the Gardner family found a meteor that had crashed to earth one night and the horrific things that arose because of that.

The story is one of several of Lovecraft's that received an audio drama adaptation from the Atlanta Radio Theater Company.

And yes, it was an inspiration for Maniac Mansion.

Can be read here.

Provides Examples Of

  • Body Horror: The fate of the Colour's victims.
  • The Corruption
  • Driven to Suicide: At least one of the Gardner children killed himself rather than suffer the fate that befell their mother.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The titular Colour is a particularly creepy example because its nature is never discerned—only its effects, vis-a-vis Ammi's tale and the nature of the heath itself.
  • Eldritch Location: The Blasted Heath is a slowly, inexorably expanding area that is completely and totally dead. Nothing lives there—nothing, not even germs or mold. It is a place of rock, dust, and ash.
  • Energy Being: The Colour is either a living cloud of gas, or this.
  • Epileptic Trees: Literally: the trees around the Gardner farmhouse are described as swaying epileptically:
    And yet amid that tense, godless calm the high bare boughs of all the trees in the yard were moving. They were twitching morbidly and spasmodically, clawing in convulsive and epileptic madness.
  • Fictional Colour: Goes without saying.
  • Fisher Kingdom: A meteorite containing a substance of a color and an element unknown to man has landed in the well of a farmhouse. The soil around the well begins to change and a malaise radiates outward, in which all animal, plant, and human life begins to deform and mutate, taking on the color of the meteorite and eventually turning gray and crumbling into dust. And Nahum's story implies that people can't bring themselves to leave the area, even after they grasp that something horrible is happening.
  • Lovecraft Country: One of the Lovecraft stories set in the fictional Arkham county, Massachusetts.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: When Nahum's wife goes mad, Nahum locks her up in the attic. When his son Thaddeus goes insane too, he is treated the same way.
  • Mercy Kill: It is strongly implied, though not explicitly stated, that Ammi Pierce kills Mrs. Gardner when he finds her in her mutated state.
    Ammi would give me no added particulars of this scene, but the shape in the corner does not reappear in his tale as a moving object. There are things which cannot be mentioned, and what is done in common humanity is sometimes cruelly judged by the law.
    • One scene later, Ammi is holding a heavy stick, which "he had picked up in the attic for some purpose".
  • Pillar of Light: A huge stream of light was coming out of the well just before the Colour departs.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: A romantic subplot is introduced in the radio version between Ammi Pierce and Mrs. Gardner. According to this version they were briefly involved before she got married and she later tries to seduce him again so he'll take her away from Nahum Gardner's irradiated lands before she succumbs to the effects of The Colour.
  • Reality Subtext: Lovecraft's grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, had lost the family fortune, and eventually his life as a result of the stress, investing in a failed dam project. This no doubt had something to do with the inclusion of the Framing Device about the reservoir surveyor.
  • Shown Their Work: Lovecraft wanted to pursue a career in astronomy but was forced to abandon it when he dropped out of school due to health problems. A lot of things he learned about meteorites make it into the story. For instance, the fact that the Colour's meteorite is still hot to the touch after crashing, like most people think real meteorites would be, is a plot point, as it's the first thing that clues the scientists in that there's something not quite right about it.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Colour. This was Invoked by Lovecraft, who didn't like how human-like aliens were in other works of his time.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Ammi is a rather unlikely protagonist for a Lovecraft story. Not only did he keep visiting the Gardener farm long after everyone else was shunning it, he even stayed in his home at the edge of that forest after the whole thing went down, and remained there for the rest of his life.
  • Vampiric Draining: The Colour seems to drain Life Energy from its victims until they're nothing but grey ash.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: The titular "colour" is unlike any color in the normal spectrum, which under conventional logic would suggest it simply being invisible. Maybe it isn't even a colour, as it's only said a colour is the closest thing it can be compared to.

Alternative Title(s):

The Colour Out Of Space