Friday, 9 March 2012

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

You are going to be seeing an awful lot of short stories on the blog this year… I hope you don’t mind although there’s not an awful lot I can do about it if you do! Things being as they are at the moment (you know, the whole job hunting thing and so on…) reading time is at a real premium so shorter reads are inevitable. I also thought that focusing on a few short stories, here and there, would be a nice little way to give a little nod to all those anthologies that end up on my shelves and never seem to be picked up. Collections like ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ for instance.

The plan was to run a much larger post that talked about the book as a whole but as I was reading through I couldn’t help but feel that Lovecraft was basically telling the same story over and over again. You boil things down and each story is essentially saying that man isn’t physically or mentally capable of handling the fact that the world is a lot larger than he ever realised. It’s a cruel and uncaring world beyond the limits of what is familiar… I think that’s fair enough to a degree, writing to a formula is pretty much a must if you’ve discovered a way to sell your stories to the pulp magazines. Saying the same thing about each story though… Well, that wouldn’t make for a particularly interesting review really so I thought I’d pick one story out of the book and write about that instead. I will continue to read ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ but probably along those same lines; I think it’s a book that needs to be tackled in bite sized chunks rather than read in one sitting.

Anyway, the story I chose was (of course) ‘The Colour Out Of Space’; purely for the sense of intriguing weirdness that nestles within the title. A Colour from Out Of Space? What’s that all about…? There’s only one way to find out and I found it all too easy to get reading. ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ is a slow-burner but ultimately proves to be worth the initial effort required.

The narrator has been sent to the area west of Arkham to carry out survey work for a new reservoir that is to be built. The stories he hears though makes him glad that the area will soon be underwater and also makes him promise himself that he will never drink that water. There something lurking in the countryside that is not of this world…

I’m not going to lie, Lovecraft almost lost me here before the tale even got going and precisely because the tale takes its own sweet time getting going. What’s odd here is Lovecraft takes very little time in painting a dark and sinister picture of countryside tainted by… something. It’s a great hook that had me wanting to find out more straight away but Lovecraft went wrong (as far as I was concerned) was in telling the reader exactly what was going on and in no small detail. These pages drag and told me more than I wanted to know about scientific experiments on the meteorite etc. The weirdness is dispelled (albeit temporarily) by the cold light of science which lays things bare a little too well. What’s even more odd is that Lovecraft manages to cram all that unwanted detail into about three pages, three incredibly stodgy and dry pages that did their level best to put me off reading any further. Nice work there Mr Lovecraft…

I kept reading though and am glad I did. Lovecraft shows the reader that there is a lot more weirdness to this downed meteorite than at first meets the eye. ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ soon becomes a tale of inexorable doom being visited on a farmer and his family, drawn out with lots of little (and not so little) hints that things are horribly wrong.

For a writer who sought to redefine horror by moving his tales away from the realm of ghosts and witches, Lovecraft seems quite happy to dress ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ in the clothes that made those tales so scary in the first place. We’re talking unexplained lights and trees moving when they shouldn’t; we’re also talking about of the gradual descent into insanity for the family that this is all visited on.
Having said that though, Lovecraft does add his own touch of weirdness as well and the overall affect makes for a deeply unsettling yet compelling read. I couldn’t get enough of it anyway, rooting for the poor family of Nahum Gardner but knowing that their fate was already sealed.

Lovecraft ekes things out gradually and the gradual release of detail proves to be a great way of making the reader want to stay around to get the full picture. And what a picture it proves to be, a family and an entire region blighted by an alien presence that seems to be barely aware of anything else other than itself, except when it’s hungry. That lack of motivation (or acknowledgement of its surroundings) makes the ‘Colour’ somehow seem even worse than your regular vampire, or whatever, that has some dreams of power at least. The ‘Colour’ just exists to, well… exist really. It’s the repercussions for this existence that are horrifying.

Lovecraft leaves us with the knowledge that we are less than a thought to the other life forms of the universe that pass by our planet. The passing of such life forms will always leave a mark though and the repercussions of this will echo long after the ‘Colour’ gets to wherever it was going in the first place.
‘The Colour Out Of Space’ hasn’t left me wanting to avoid drinking the water from my local reservoir but is an unsettling read nonetheless. If it had got into gear a little quicker then maybe I’d be thinking twice about turning the tap on.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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