The Colour Out of Space


H. P. Lovecraft

Review by John Kosmic

     One of Lovecraft's most famous stories; it's about a meteor that crashes in a valley and the effect it has on some of the characters and their environment. Sad to say but the characters are two dimensional at best except for the narrator who is more realistic but not by much. One of the problems with Lovecraft's characterization is that the characters' reactions to the meteor crash make no sense. After they notice the soil, plants and animals are poisoned they don't move out. While it may be true nobody knew anything about radioactivity in those days, 1880's, these characters did notice its effects. This logical inconsistency renders the story unbelievable. In fact they should have left, at the very least, right after the scientists finished their scientific tests. But they remain which is really just a contrived plot device. But this is a pulp story and an old one at that, so you would expect illogical plot twists.

   The theme Lovecraft uses is repeated throughout the Cthulhu cycle namely that strange and malevolent forces are at work in the universe that can't be explained. And that knowledge of them will drive people mad or lead to their destruction and or possession of such knowledge even in the smallest amount is deadly.

     The valley in which these events take place is pretty much like most other rural places apart from the meteor crash. Otherwise there is nothing remarkable about it. It is presented in a tedious and boring manner.

     The story is told in a matter of fact style as if it were a report. There's some suspense, but for the most part the story has no highs or lows, just a lot of flat narration and exposition told in the first person point of view.

     The story has a climax but it's presented in a melodramatic manner sprinkled with incomprehensible adjective phrases such as "mad cosmic frenzy" and or "unrecognizable chromaticism." That lost quote brings up another problem. Throughout the story Lovecraft tells us that the effect of the meteor has on the color of plants, some of the people or parts of the meteor is indescribable. But if there's no words to describe it then how would he do that in the first place? And yet describe it he does! This inconsistency damages the credibility of the story rendering it laughable.

     Despite all this why are so many writers and critics enamored with this story? What are they talking about? It seems only they know the answer for sure but I can speculate.

     Another problem with this story is the allusion it makes to different groups of people and their lack of success in the valley with the implication that it's in part, because of the meteor. But it's obvious that Lovecraft doesn't like these groups. Apparently Lovecraft doesn't like any group except New Engenders and then only some of them.

     As for why so many writers and critics like Lovecraft's stories it seems to be the case they belong to a writers' clique that was created by Lovecraft. He encouraged it and nurtured it even going so far as to rewrite some of their stories for publication for which he was paid a pittance.

     Then there's Lovecraft's endless use of obscure words such as "neofandous" and "frore." This may have delighted his fans. But what about everybody else? Who wants to run to an unabridged dictionary while in the middle of reading a story? That obstructs the mood if used excessively and these stories are definitely mood pieces, they don't re-lie on plot or characterization. But when it comes to the mood Lovecraft does an inadequate job and doesn't capture much of the emotion you would expect from such a disaster.

     While it is true that the story is imaginative and creative Lovecraft's writing doesn't do it justice. It's over wrought, exaggerate and parody like in some places. Sometimes he seems to be doing a parody of himself.

     This story, like most of Lovecraft's work, belongs to a sub genera of horror literature, usually referred to as Cosmic Doom. It's the type of story in which the out come is always negative and is caused by forces of nature beyond human control.

     My general overall impression of Lovecraft is that he was well read, knowledgeable and highly intelligent but he's not a very good writer. But as a writer he was creative and imaginative. His writing seems to be a type of literary folk art that suffers from numerous defects and that the bad writing was obscured by his use of obscure words, scientific terminology,  references to ancient religions and their gods, or his made up pantheon. True, there is some new ground but for whatever reason he was unable to make much use of it beyond the threadbare treatment he gave it.

     There is also the problem with Lovecraft's voice. He doesn't seem to have one. It's as if he were copying some other writer's voice.

      I would recommend this story but mostly because of its historical importance. Judged by its literary merits the story has too many defects but is still passable as pulp fiction. Summing up I can say that I didn't like it and no it didn't scare me but it does have some entertainment and historical value.