Literature / The Colour Out of Space

A story from 1927 by H.P. 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. Strange as it may seem, elements of this short story surface in the video game Maniac Mansion.

It has inspired some films:

The story can be read here.

Provides Examples Of

  • Animalistic Abomination: Gardner's animals turn into twisted abominations before dying.
  • Body Horror: The fate of the Colour's victims.
  • Came from the Sky: That's no normal meteor.
  • The Corruption: On people, plants, buildings and the landscape alike. It even causes affected people to lose their minds.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The ultimate fate of the Colour's prey. Affected organisms, including animals and people, turn gray and brittle, and ultimately crumble to dust, alive and conscious until the very end.
  • 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-à-vis Ammi's tale and the nature of the heath itself. It simply crashed on the property one day and anything else is pure speculation.
  • 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. Assuming its alive at all.
  • 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.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Humans last longer than most creatures affected by the Colour but instead turn into... things that are definitely not human anymore.
  • Light Is Not Good: Everything that gets corrupted eventually starts glowing. A brightly glowing... something that may or may not have been from one of the globules in the meteorite also rises up out of the well and launches itself into the sky, and there's another one still there.
  • 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.
  • Magic Meteor: Except that instead of granting powers, it spreads The Corruption.
  • 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.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. Before the Corruption sets in, the plants and fruit that grows on the property looks unusually healthy and ripe but are toxic and inedible.
  • No Name Given: The name of the property investigator is not revealed.
  • 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.
  • Scenery Porn: Deep dark woods are described in excruciating detail.
  • Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: The mysterious meteorite.
  • 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. He took it Up to Eleven too, as the end result is something closer to a bacteria infection, slime mold, or non-living nuclear radiation than anything else.
  • There Is Another: Actually played for horror. Pierce notices that when the Colour leaves Earth, a part of it breaks off, try to follow the rest, only to fail and return to the well. The Colour has left some offspring on Earth, which in all probability is the reason for the Blasted Heath.
  • 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.