Saturday, April 27, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Colour Out of Space"

Spooky Synopsis: The surveyor expected the residents near the old New England hill country would express indignation upon learning about reservoir to be built in the area. Instead, the news mostly prompted hushed relief that the waters would bury the memory of the "strange days." Odd. Yet the surveyor extracted no meaningful explanation about that odd period from the close-mouthed populace, at least until he met Ammi Pierce. Shaky and slumped with drooping eyes and a timeworn countenance, Ammi talked at length. The strange days, he said, began when a meteorite fell near Nahum Gardner’s house in the 1880s. A meteorite that shone with a color that no human eye had ever beheld. A meteorite that wrought fearful changes around the farmstead in flora and fauna -- and the Gardners themselves.

Lovecraftian Language: "When I went into the hills and vales to survey for the new reservoir they told me the place was evil. They told me this in Arkham, and because that is a very old town full of witch legends I thought the evil must be something which grandams had whispered to children through centuries. The name ‘blasted heath’ seemed to me very odd and theatrical, and I wondered how it had come into the folklore of a Puritan people. Then I saw that dark westward tangle of glens and slopes for myself, and ceased to wonder at anything besides its own elder mystery."

Eerie Evaluation: If "The Call of Cthulhu" is the first Lovecraft tale to blend the disparate tangs of his early stories into a delectable flavor all its own, then "The Colour Out of Space" has the honor of tossing a pinch of SF into the pot. The result? While not as distinctive as "Cthulhu," it still manages some downright chilling moments, particularly in the middle section where Lovecraft shows his skill at horror pacing and understatement. "Colour" almost recalls the works of M.R. James with its oblique descriptions of something truly terrible scuttling away at the edge of readers’ sight (or, in this case, sinking silently beneath their feet). Unease builds page after page as a mysterious blight slowly swallows the Gardner property. Then at the moment of greatest tension, the moment when Amni makes a shocking discovery in the farmhouse, it shatters spectacularly and not in a good way. Rather than give us a carefully controlled climax, Lovecraft dissipates the horror with an overlong paragraph written entirely in dialect and follows it up with a second, even-lengthier climax that simply feels like a letdown. Unfortunate. All the same, at its best "Colour" works almost too well, and those moments palpably recall the quiet terrors of Minamata and Chernobyl.

Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):

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To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft’s work), please click here.

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