The Colour Out of Space – H.P. Lovecraft

3 out of 5

A surveyor for an impending reservoir walks a parched bit of land locally referred to as ‘the blasted heath’ and is indirectly pointed to a man living relatively nearby – Ammi – as a potential source of its history. Ammi is, indeed, forthcoming, and our narrator is told a decades-old tale of the meteor that crashed upon the spot, and the blight that was visited upon landowner Nahum’s stock, animals, and family.

‘The Colour Out of Space,’ while taking an essentially similar structure as The Rats in the Walls – we’re hearing about something astounding, after the fact – doesn’t quite work for me as well as that story does. This could be because its particular exploration of Lovecraftian unknowns is a bit more framed by relative knowns – the meteor from outer space might have brought some separate alien force / being with it, that is undetectable to our human senses beyond its otherworldly, glowing hue, but we can still anchor this “being” to an established concept of bogeymen from the stars – but I also think the tale-telling here, being a couple of steps removed from the reader, dramatically lessens the impact. We are hearing the story second-hand – Ammi telling the narrator, the narrator telling us – and it’s also understood that it occurred quite some time ago. Lovecraft ends some “and it’s still out there…!”-type lines at the end, to try to project the threat forward, but it’s still too distant seeming to really have much impact, at least to me. There’s also not much to discover past the initial exploration of the meteor, when its odd color-emmitances are noted, and some scientists immediately realize its odd composition. When nearby cattle fall ill and the plants stop growing, it’s like a foregone conclusion: yup, it’s that dang meteor.

That doesn’t mean the story is without interest, surely, as Nahum cannot just pull up stakes and move away, and so we get details on how the effects spread, and the extent to which they destroy, leading to some haunting passages when Ammi visits Nahum, and the man is quite deranged. And the final “confrontation” with the meteor (or rather the well in which it’s suspected its contents have taken residence) is interesting, as it touches on what I think, conceptually, Lovecraft wanted to explore – this concept of something living that’s beyond our conceptions, but more scientifically bound than the old gods of his Cthulhu works – but even this still has the slightly underwhelming taint of just being told a story within a story about something that happened long ago…