Friday, January 7, 2011

Pulp Fiction Friday: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

In this week's focus on the great pulp fiction era, I switch gears away from sword and sorcery and into the realm of horror.  Certainly most are familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, primarily his stories of the Cthulhu mythos.  Lovecraft has become a legendary figure among the geek crowd and gaming circles over the past twenty years or so, and with good reason.  His style of writing is reminiscent of the days of classic literature.  His ability to construct a sentence in such a way that it springs the experience of terror right off the page and into the reader's mind makes him a notable contributor to American letters.

"The Colour out of Space" was written and published in Amazing Stories magazine in 1927.  Lovecraft would go on to regard it as one of his favorite stories.  While the story has no mention of Cthulhu, or any of the other entities associated with the mythos, it still possesses all the elements of cosmic terror and alien horror.

The story is told through the perspective of an unnamed surveyor.  He has come to the small New England hamlet just outside the town of Arkham to survey the area for a reservoir development.  While walking through the hills and forests of the area, he gets the sense that the area is haunted.  Eventually he stumbles upon a large spot of gray ashen earth adjacent to the remains of an old house and a well.  Curious about what happened to cause such a thing, he begins questioning the people of Arkham, who speak little about those "strange days."

Eventually our narrator finds a man named Ammi Pierce, the only remaining settler in the area.  Ammi recounts the tale of a fallen meteorite on the farmland that is now called the "blasted heath" and how it affected and slowly destroyed Nahum Gardner and his family.

The story, while a bit slow to develop, builds up to a fantastic and terrorizing conclusion.  What I liked most about this tale was the way Lovecraft handled the monster, if you can call it any such thing.  Rather than describe the alien as humanoid, he continuously asserts how indescribable and incomprehensible the thing actually is.  It is apparently devoid of any actual physical appearance that can be described to the human eye.  Rather, it takes form in the shape of a vast array of colors of which are not in our own earthly spectrum of understanding. 

Lovecraft is a true master of the genre of horror and this tale is easily my favorite of his that I've read.  The full text is available for free, along with a lot of his other works, at  So, download and dig in for a classic story sure to send chills down your spine and get the wheels of your mind turning.


  1. I agree - The Colour Out of Space is probably Lovecraft's single bleakest story, and does more to establish the tone of cosmic indifference and dread than any other tale. (And as such, it tends to be the least inspirational to gamers...)

  2. Yes, I've read several of his stories and I agree that Colour out of Space was far more bleak than a lot of others. I also loved how this alien essentially lived off the earth and the Gardners over such a long stretch of time driving them into madness. Thinking of how Nahum dealt with watching his family slip away from him slowly as his friends abandoned him to the farm was truly terrorizing to me.

  3. I don't remember how explicit this was in the story - the reason they didn't leave the farm - but I've seen in later game materials how the Colour creates apathy and malaise, effectively removing the will to leave while it feeds off surrounding life. That is really gruesome (and could be ported into a game well as a non-combat death-trap style challenge...)

  4. It was a factor, I think. It mentions them sitting around staring off into space blankly. It specifically talks of one of the children, Zenas, having this problem.