So What Exactly is the Colour Out of Space?

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Artwork for the H.P. Lovecraft’s Historical Society’s Dark Adventure Radio Theatre presentation of “The Colour Out of Space” (artwork by Darrell Lee Tuchton)

Over the past few weeks we have reviewed some of the physical and chemical properties of the Colour in HPL’s “The Colour Out of Space,” as well as its ecological and health-related impacts but what exactly is the Colour? This article is will conclude this discussion with some proposed hypotheses as to what the Colour may be. As explicitly conveyed by HPL the Colour is so alien and originates from outside of our space-time that attempting to categorize it is extremely difficult. Therefore, three basic hypotheses are proposed for consideration. It is hoped that if in the future humanity encounters the Colour, it can be studied in a controlled environment, or at least observed from a safe distance. However, for now the scant amount of data collected by the professors from Miskatonic University and the documented observations made by Ammi Pierce and others has to suffice.

First Hypothesis – the Colour is some unusual property or natural phenomenon, if not of our space-time than of another. Of the three hypotheses being proposed here, this is the most unlikely giving how the Colour did not behave as a natural property or force. For example, the Colour is frequently compared to an alien form of ionizing radiation; however, ionizing radiation is a property of matter, generating a radiation field that emanates from that material. While this seemed to be the case with the meteorite, after the Colour was released, it quickly dissipated. Thus, the unusual properties appeared to originate primarily from the Colour within the meteorite; once the Colour was released, it entered the groundwater.

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The Colour by LudvikSKP (www.deviantart.com)

As it was revealed toward the end of the tale, the common link to the Colour affecting the local environment, the farm and the Gardner family was water – specifically groundwater. However, the Colour did not behave as a typical groundwater contaminate. While is does appear that the Colour followed the “flow” of groundwater, we have no data to support the idea that it only flowed downgradient of where the meteorite hit, which is what a chemical contaminate would do. More importantly, there is no evidence to support the idea that the “concentration” of the Colour declined over distance as it traveled within the groundwater, which it what you expect from a chemical contaminate. Typically, the point of groundwater contamination has the highest concentration and as it moves through the groundwater as a plume, it declines in concentration and affect. The Colour did not behave like this; its impact was consistent throughout its area of impact. This suggests that it was actually targeting a specific area of impact.

Finally, while the Colour is frequently compared to radioactivity, it certainly did not behave like a ionizing radioactive substance. The impact of radioactivity is similar to the impact of chemical contamination as described above; its impact will decline with distance. Again, the impact to the farm and local environment appeared to be very delineated. More importantly, it should be noted that radioactivity does not glow like the Colour did; ionizing radioactivity is invisible to the human eye. However, some substances will glow once they are exposed to ionizing radioactive material. The Colour Out of Space did not make specific or select material glow; it made everything glow, particularly living organisms and organic matter. Again, this property is very different from known ionizing radioactivity. Based on this information, it is unlikely that the Colour is some type of natural phenomenon from outside of our space-time or reality.

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The Colour Out of Space from a comic by Erik Kriek

Second Hypothesis – the Colour is some type of technology from another alien or extra-dimensional civilization. Maybe the Colour is some type of message, like the gold record on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft; a way for an alien civilization to say “hello” and maybe they are so alien that contact with this “greeting” resulted in the death of our living, organic matter. More so than a message, the Colour may be some type of probe searching our universe for life. The devastating impacts it had on the Gardner Farm and adjacent woodlands may have been a methodical means of sampling alien ecosystems such as ours, harvesting all of its DNA and proteins, leaving alkaline phosphates and carbonates, as cited when the remains of Merwin and Zenas were found at the bottom of the well.

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A copy of the gold record placed on Voyager 1 and 2 (www.smithsonianmag.com)

It is also possible that the Colour is a type of inter-dimensional weapon, designed to clear a world of all of its indigenous organisms and ecosystems. However, there is very little data to support this hypothesis. The impacts of the Colour appeared to be limited to the five acres of the farm and associated woodlands – the blasted heath. However, there is one tantalizing bit of information that may indicate that the Colour was some type of weapon. Toward the end of the story it was noted…”the country notion that the blight is spreading – little by little, perhaps an inch a year.” Thus, the Colour may be slowly digesting or destroying the world at a rate of an inch of year. While this may seem extremely slow, this rate may appear to be a brief period of time relative to the makers of the Colour.

Third Hypothesis – the Colour may be some type of alien or extra-dimensional life. Of the three hypotheses, I believe this is the one that has the highest amount of support. The Colour did not behave like some sort of chemical contaminant; it appeared to impact a very delineated piece of land in a somewhat conscious manner, using the groundwater to move through the associated food webs.   Later, as the Colour impacted the wildlife, farm and Gardner family, it appeared to “feed” as some type of disease, producing strange aberrations and mutations but eventually ending with the same outcome – the dissection of all life and organic matter into dry, brittle, grey ash. While we have no idea if the Colour would be considered sentient, as least how we use the term, it is possible that the Colour can be described as some type of “quantum life.”

Since all matter in our universe is composed of atoms, which are made of more elementary particles such as electrons and quarks, everything including life has a quantum component. However, at our spatial and temporal scales, gravity and electromagnetism are the more important natural forces for the functions of life. However, some biological processes may be explained as a quantum activity. For example, mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of all eukaryotic cells, uses electrons moving through a chain of intermediate molecules of adenosine triphosphate to generate energy. The measured rate of this biochemistry is substantially faster than what is predicted. This discrepancy could be explained through quantum biochemistry. Another example of quantum biology is in photosynthesis where a photon of light can simultaneously flow through every component of the antenna proteins that surround the chlorophyll, which would increase the rate of photosynthesis. These examples provide evidence of how quantum processes can be observed and eventually predict natural biological activities.

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The Colour Out of Space by Virgil Finlay

So what does this have to do with the Colour Out of Space? Well, the Colour may operate on a purely quantum level. In fact, the Colour may be such an extreme form of quantum life that it may be difficult to even obtain consistent observations on it. For example, as the Colour began to leave the well it was noted, “At this point, as the column of unknown colour flared suddenly stronger and began to weave itself into fantastic suggestions of shape which each spectator later described differently…” This may support the idea of the Colour operating and existing completely under quantum forces.

The final suggestion that the Colour may be a strange form of life is based on what Ammi may have seen when he looked back at the farm as he and the others escaped. “And from that stricken, far-away spot he had seen something feebly rise, only to sink down again upon the place from which the great shapeless horror had shot into the sky.” What this the Colour reproducing. Possibly depositing a spore or seed to germinate sometime in the future? Possibly.

We may never know what the Colour was. It may simply be too alien for humans to comprehend. I think the penultimate paragraph of the tale summarizes this:

“What it is, only God knows. In terms of matter I suppose the thing Ammi described would be called a gas, but this gas obeyed laws that are not of our cosmos. This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observations. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem to vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space – a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmic gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes.”

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Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” by Asahi Superdry (www.deviantart.com)

Next time we will review and discuss the biology of the ghoul. Later as we move into spring, we will analyze and discuss “The Dunwich Horror.”

Finally, I do want to thank everyone who contributed to our Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-1). We reached our first threshold and so expanded the periodical “The Biology of the Elder Things” to be “The Biology of the Elder Things and the Shoggoths” for a second threshold and that one was reached. Again, thank you to everyone who has contributed! Fred.

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13 thoughts on “So What Exactly is the Colour Out of Space?

  1. Great analysis. However, if I’m not mistaken the narrator of the story does not only observe that the area influenced by the colour’s remnants is growing but he also speculates that something is binding said remnants thereby providing an explanation for the slow growth. Naturally, this raises the question what this something might be. Sadly, we’ll never know, but if the colour was indeed a weapon then maybe it’s influence was supposed to spread much faster and it’s creators simply didn’t anticipate that something might be capable of slowing it down.

    1. Hey Sandhai – thank you for the comments and input! Reviewing the tale – I only found one reference to expanding of the “blasted heath” and that was the “country notion” quote I cited in the article (but I certainly may have missed others!). Like you said, we many never know what the Colour is (weapon? probe? form of strange life?). Thank you for the comments! Fred

  2. First off: once again I am at a pitiable loss of words to comment on your article, but I think you know what I’d say if I could find the words to express it. 😉

    Second off: DREAMLANDS! FINALLY! Well, Dreamlands-ish, but STILL!

    1. Thank you – yes will be reviewing the biology of ghouls before moving to the Dunwich Horror. Thanks again! Fred

  3. This is a great project, and I enjoy the tone of the writing. Lovecraft’s creations are often considered too irrational to really take seriously, so it’s entertaining to see someone attempt this.

    However, I think the irrationality of the Colour is a key aspect. Madness is a symptom, if you will, of its prescence. As such, any human observation is an unreliable narration. If it is indeed a quantum creature, as best we can understand it, then it is possible that each individual sees another aspect (you touch on this) and is even more unreliable.

    In the end, I think our science is incapable of really describing the Colour in a truly repeatable way. We don’t have the tools, the understanding, or even the language to process what it is. All the theories are as correct as they are wrong.

    1. Thank you for your input – yes I agree – while our science attempts to describe and understand the Colour, we do not have the experience or technology (perhaps even the capacity) to understand exactly what the Colour is.

      Thanks again for your comments! Fred

  4. I always guessed it was some kind of life form, either only partially in our world, or made up of energy or something other than matter than we know it.

    Perhaps even something like what Yog-Sothoth or Azathoth is made of. They became trapped on our planet thanks to gravity or magnetic fields or what ever it is that keeps things here, until the night when the stars aligned and were able to escape again, except for the slow one, he waited just a hair too long, and the stars misaligned, and it fell back into the well.

    1. Good point on how just as “alien” the Colour is relative to other Lovecraftian life forms. Thanks for the comments! Fred.

  5. This is a very interesting read on the subject. However to me it seems very clear that the colour is in fact a creature, what today’s sci-fi usually terms as an “energy being” of at least a rudimentary intelligence and deliberation.

    Its life cycle seems to be about crashing into a planet, leeching nutrition out of the local life forms, and escaping into space again.
    Now, in the story, it is hinted that there were several “globules” of colour in the meteority.

    The one staying behind to me would simply imply it did not absorb enough energy to follow its kind to space, and that the slow growing of the blasted heath is just its attempt at feeding until it is ready to leave.

    Material of dubious canon on the subject, such as the Colour out of Time and the Call of Cthulhu Role play books both confirm the theory of the colour being a life form.
    The RPG books state that the globules are eggs of the colour, which seems sensible.
    The Colour out of Time deals with the remining, weaker specimen, however it attributes a human-level intelligence to the colour-creature around somewhere in the late 20th century, showing an alien predatory life form that grows to a much greater scope than in the original story.

    These both go well with the alien lifeform theory. I know nothing about quantum theory so I’m not touching that subject, but a proposed life cycle of this colour would be something like this:
    -Globule-eggs fall to planet. (As shown in novel)
    -Feeds on life on the planet. (As shown in novel)
    -Gathers power until it can escape into space once more. (As shown in novel)
    -Somehow produces globules and puts them in a meteorite that is sent on its way in space. (A possible theory by me)

    1. Thank you for the comments! Very interesting hypothesis and I tend to favor this or its some type of probe sent by “others” sometime in the distant past.

      Thanks again!

      Fred

  6. What about the Necronomicon supposedly mentioning the colours? I mean, in the end of At the Mountain of Madness, Danforth babbles about a lot of things:

    “He has on rare occasions whispered disjointed and irresponsible things about “the black pit”, “the carven rim”, “the proto-shoggoths”, “the windowless solids with five dimensions”, “the nameless cylinder”, “the elder pharos”, “Yog-Sothoth”, “the primal white jelly”, “the colour out of space”, “the wings”, “the eyes in darkness”, “the moon-ladder”, “the original, the eternal, the undying”, and other bizarre conceptions; but when he is fully himself he repudiates all this and attributes it to his curious and macabre reading of earlier years. Danforth, indeed, is known to be among the few who have ever dared go completely through that worm-riddled copy of the Necronomicon kept under lock and key in the college library.”

    Is THIS colour the same of the short story The Colour of the Space?… If so, maybe they have some connection with shoggoths? At the very least, they are mentioned in the Necronomicon. So probably we had other blasted heaths in the past. Or maybe it’s not the same being, but another entity.

    What do you people think?

  7. Your second hypothesis is the most intriguing to me, because it caused me to think of something that never occurred to me when reading the story before, but makes quite a bit of sense:
    What if the Colour was a method of teraforming?
    The colour feeds off of biological life forms and uses the water table as a method of spreading. It also reacts violently to silicates, but is relatively immune to other chemical processes. Once it spread across the available water table, and transformed the surrounding landscape, it sent some kind of signal while leaving a bit of itself around.
    This all makes a lot of sense in terms of teraforming. The colour was clearly seeking out planets with water, which is its primary avenue of spreading and transforming. It also removes silicate components from an environment as a matter of course. It seems like it was probably looking for planets with carbon-based lifeforms, which it modifies accordingly. Once it has found such a planet, it sends a signal – no doubt with samples – to wherever it came from, leaving “seeds” for future teraforming.
    Doubtless, when the reservoir is complete, it will use the sudden abundance of H2O to accelerate its teraforming process, and its global spread will be exponential.

    The tale becomes a great deal more terrifying if viewed this way, because our narrator, the surveyor, is looking forward to this unholy place being flooded by the reservoir, and forever destroyed – little suspecting that the reservoir will be our planet’s doom.

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