“The Colour Out of Space” preceded “The Call of Cthulhu” in print by six months. “Colour” appeared in the September 1927 issue of Amazing Stories. S. T. Joshi states that Lovecraft wrote “The Colour Out of Space” in March 1927.
Amazing Stories was a relatively new magazine as its first issue was in April 1926. Hugo Gernsback was editor and publisher. The contents were mostly reprint including lots of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Poe. By the time of Lovecraft’s story, the magazine was transitioning to new fiction.
Other fiction in the issue included Otis Adelbert Kline’s “The Radio Ghost,” “The Stone Cat” by Mile J. Breuer, M.D., and part two of a reprint of H. G. Well’s “War of the Worlds.”
“The Colour Out of Space” was the very first Lovecraft story I ever read 34 years ago. I have not read it since.
The story itself starts out with:
“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 with out 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 less of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath the low gambrel roofs.”
The opening is more Nathaniel Hawthorne than H. G. Wells. For all of Lovecraft’s lecturing on the “cosmic,” he was addicted to New England Gothic for setting and mood. For whatever reason, Lovecraft liked gambrel roofs.
The narrator describes an abandoned, desolate region known as the “blasted heath.” The blasted heath is comprised of five acres of “grey” wasteland.
“There was no vegetation of any kind on that broad expanse, but only a fine grey dust or ash which no wind seemed to ever blow about. The trees near it were sickly and stunted, and many dead trunks stood or lay rotting at the rim.”
The narrator asking about the blasted heath was directed to an old man, Ammi Pierce who describes what happened. A meteorite fell in 1882 on the farm of Nahum Gardner.
The meteorite itself is described as:
“The colour, which resembled some of the bands in the meteor’s strange spectrum, was almost impossible to describe; and upon tapping it appeared to promise both brittleness and hollowness.”
A short time later, a thunderstorm had “drawn the lightning” and the meteorite was gone.
Things begin to happen, the apples harvested are inedible. All the harvest is lost in turn. There are psychological effects and poor health with the Gardner family. Local fauna such as woodchucks and rabbits are altered. The following spring, skunk cabbage grows to a size never seen with strange colors. At night, the trees are swaying with no wind.
Mrs. Gardner loses her mind and in time glows in the dark. The plants turn gray and then crumble into powder. One of the boys goes insane raving about moving colors down in the well. Family members distort and die, same with the livestock.
Ammi Pierce travels to the Gardner farm to find a disintegrating Nahum give one last statement on the vampiric entity in the well.
A party consisting of police, coroner, and others travel by wagon to the Gardner farm. In the well, they find the bones of two of the Gardner boys, deer, and a dog along with bones of smaller animals.
A light emits from the well where Lovecraft engages in some overwriting:
“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 at the moonlit clouds; scratching impotently in the noxious air as if jerked by some alien and bodiless line of linkage with subterrene horrors writhing and struggling below the black roots.”
Don’t try this at home. The “hideous thing” shoots from the well though the clouds and is gone.
“The Colour Out of Space” is an effective tale of the insertion of the otherworldly with isolation, paranoia, and decay. Nathaniel Hawthorne with astronomy and radiation. Joshi states Hugo Gernsback paid Lovecraft only $25.00 for the story ($345.59 in today’s money). I thought Gernsback paid Lovecraft nothing if I remember correctly from de Camp’s Lovecraft biography. Lovecraft never wrote for Hugo Gernsback again.
This story was made into a so-so movie “Die, Monster, Die” with Boris Karloff in the 1960s.
There was a story collection called The Colour Out of Space and Others. It was a Lancer paperback. You never hear about the Lovecraft Lancer paperbacks. It must have sold well as there were five printings from 1964-1972. Then there was a Zebra paperback edition in 1975 (with a generic cover) and a Jove paperback edition in 1978 with a great Rowena cover.
Is this story “Mythos?” I will leave that for others to argue.