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 also received a manga adaptation by Gou Tanabe alongside some of Lovecraft's other stories.
It has inspired some films:
- Die, Monster, Die!: starring Boris Karloff, it takes some of the ideas of the novel and then follows a completely different plot.
- The Curse: starring Wil Wheaton and directed by David Keith, actually has a plot not so unfaithful to the novel.
- Color From the Dark: Transplants the story from 1890's America to World War II Italy, and the Color comes from deep underground instead of from space. It also changes the Gardner boys into a Composite Character; a mute girl.
- Die Farbe: A German movie filmed in black and whiteexcept, of course, for the eponymous Colourwhich is, sans a few changes, the most faithful adaptation of the original source of the story.
- It was also a major inspiration for the Color of Madness DLC of Darkest Dungeon.
- Annihilation (2018): A 2018 horror movie that while adapted from the book, Annihilation (2014), clearly takes inspiration from and has a near-identical premise and ideas, with a meteor strike containing an alien presence crashing into a lighthouse and emanating a colorful radiation that negatively affects all organisms it comes into contact with, mainly horrific mutations of the animals and humans who travel into it.
- Color Out of Space (2020), a film adaptation directed by Richard Stanley and starring Nicolas Cage, was made in 2019. Note the different spelling of "color" versus Lovecraft's "colour".
The story can be read here.
Provides Examples Of
- Aerith and Bob: Thaddeus and Merwin are relatively normal names compared to Nahum, Nabby, and Zenas.
- Ambiguous Ending: Neither Ammi nor the investigator are sure if drowning the old Gardner farmlands with the reservoir will neutralize the remaining Colour spore or cause it to spread further, but there's little either of them can do about it.
- Animalistic Abomination: Gardner's animals turn into twisted abominations before dying.
- Body Horror: The penultimate 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.
- Downer Ending: Don't expect anything resembling a happy ending for the Gardners; the Colour has long since killed them all, returning to space and leaving behind the lifeless gray wasteland that is all that remains of their farm... Then Ammi reveals that as he witnessed the Colour departing, a small piece broke off and fell back into the Gardners' well. There's a good chance it's still alive down there, which is why Ammi is so paranoid and also very glad the entire place will soon be completely underwater. The narrator decides to never drink any water that comes from the reservoir and briefly ponders if the Colour may have also affected Ammi, since it would explain why he's never left the area.
- 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.
- The End... Or Is It?: One blob of light fails to leave the farm's well, implying it's still down there.
- Energy Being: The Colour is either a living cloud of gas, or this. Assuming it's 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.
- Ignorance Is Bliss: At one point, the narrative points out that if Ammi Pierce had ever stopped to consider the implications of all the strange things occurring on Nahum's lands, he would have gone completely insane.
- 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.
- Kill It with Water: The investigator decides to make the Blasted Heath the site of a new reservoir, and hopes that it will keep the Colour at bay. Though he vows to never drink the water from that reservoir.
- 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.
- Moment of Lucidity: As Nahum is dying after having been attacked by whatever was living in the well, he manages to explain a little bit of the Colour's nature to Ammi. What fell to Earth in the meteor were 'seeds' that somehow induced mutation marked by colour simliar to their own on everything. In turn they were somehow able to 'eat' the colourful mutation, leaving crumbling grey dust behind. They were deliberately building their strength, too...
- No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. In the early stages of the Corruption, the plants and fruit that grow on the property look unusually large and glossy, but are disgusting to the taste and likely toxic.
- No Name Given: The name of the property investigator is not revealed.
- Not Hyperbole: The investigator assumes that people are blowing this "blasted heath" out of proportion until he actually sees it, and realizes the name is actually a bit of an understatement.
- 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: Scientists subject the mysterious meteorite to every test and experiment at their disposal and have nothing to show for it by the end.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When things starts to get bad at Gardner's farm due to the Colour's influece, the family's cats and dogs runs off and don't return.
- 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 (and are, but cool quickly), is a plot point, as it's the first thing that clues the scientists in that there's something not quite right about it. The chemical trials mentioned are real, too.
- The Smurfette Principle: Nabby is the only female Gardner, and by extension the only woman in the whole short story aside from Ammi's unnamed wife.
- 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 bacterial infection, slime mold, or non-living nuclear radiation than anything else. Its motivations, if any, are unknown and possibly unknowable. Is it feeding? Terraforming the planet? Killing for fun? All of the above? None of the above?
- There Is Another: 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. Some of the Colour remains on Earth, which in all probability is the reason for the Blasted Heath.
- Title Drop:"This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observatories. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space. A frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all nature as we know it. From realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black, extracosmic gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes."
- 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. Though the narrator does note that "his head has been a little queer for years", implying that he's at least a little mad.
- 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 to which it can be compared. Or, it could be ultraviolet or infrared (more likely the former), which are colors barely out of the human visible spectrum. Or magenta, which isn't on the spectrum, and is actually the result of red and blue wavelengths combining to produce patterns in cone cells that no singular wavelength could.