‘The Colour Out Of Space’ by H.P. Lovecraft


The Colour Out Of Space by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927

The magic trick:

Pushing the usual horror-mystery template into extreme violence 

In many ways, this story is the template for mystery horror fiction. It goes like this:

Something weird is going on. It seems supernatural, certainly sinister. Harm is done. People are in peril. The tension peaks. The weirdness shows itself or is identified. The curtain falls. The mystery is wrapped up, or, in this case, it lingers into an uncertain future.

OK, but we really shouldn’t call “Colour Out Of Space” the template. Many writers before Lovecraft established this formula – Poe, Hawthorne, Wilkie Collins, Stevenson, Doyle to name just a few. And, crucially, this story veers distinctly from that template in one way.

There is a darkness to this story that is truly unsettling. The violence of the horror here is extreme. People are dying. It’s intense – particularly for its time. And that’s quite a trick on Lovecraft’s part.

The selection:

When they looked back toward the valley and the distant Gardner place at the bottom they saw a fearsome sight. All the farm was shining with the hideous unknown blend of colour; trees, buildings, and even such grass and herbage as had not been wholly changed to lethal grey brittleness. The boughs were all straining skyward, tipped with tongues of foul flame, and lambent tricklings of the same monstrous fire were creeping about the ridgepoles of the house, barn, and sheds. It was a scene from a vision of Fuseli, and over all the rest reigned that riot of luminous amorphousness, that alien and undimensioned rainbow of cryptic poison from the well—seething, feeling, lapping, reaching, scintillating, straining, and malignly bubbling in its cosmic and unrecognisable chromaticism.


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