Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” by King Ov Rats (www.deviantart.com)
The impact the Colour had on Terran life will be discussed in three separate articles, to be posted over the following week. This article will review and discuss the ecological impacts of the Colour. The second article will focus on the direct impact the Colour had on the Gardner family. The third article will focus more on the un-Earthly glow of the Colour and its associated impacts.
There are two types of radiation in our universe – non-ionizing and ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation is essentially any type of electromagnetic (EM) radiation that does not carry enough energy to completely remove an electron off an atom or molecule. Thus, non-ionizing radiation includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared and visible light. These are low frequency, long wavelength types of EM radiation. In contrast, ionizing radiation, which has higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths, does have enough energy to strip electrons off atoms or molecules and can even break chemical bonds. Thus, it is the ionizing radiation, which includes UV light, x-rays and gamma rays that can produce the health hazards associated with radiation, such as genetic damage, cancer and radiation sickness.
Non-ionizing and ionizing radiation (www.wikipedia.org)
In HPL’s “The Colour Out of Space” after an evening thunderstorm, where lightning struck in the immediate area where of the meteorite, nothing was left of it and its associated strange color. This event occurred in late spring (June), followed by a particularly hot summer. However, a few weeks after the meteorite disappeared Nahum already began to feel that…”labor tired him more than it had in other years, and he felt that age was beginning to tell on him.” Was this the initial signs of some type of radiation poisoning?
As summer moved into fall and harvest time began, the fruit on the Gardner farm grew to “phenomenal size and unwonted gloss.” In addition, there was such an abundance of fruit Nahum ordered extra barrels. However, while the fruit were big and beautiful, none of it was fit to eat. It had a very bitter taste that resulted in producing a feeling of disgust. All of Nahum’s fruits and vegetable that were grown in soil immediately adjacent and downgradient to where the meteorite fell were poisoned in a similar manner. Based on these observations, it is hypothesized that the Colour somehow got into the groundwater and was assimilated by the resident vegetation and crops. The fact that the upland cropland appeared to be uncontaminated provides additional support to this hypothesis.
Over the winter the resident wildlife appeared to be affected by the Colour as well. Reports of strange looking red squirrels, white rabbits and foxes were made. These animals appeared to be exhibit strange anatomical abnormalities and even their movements appeared bizarre and erratic. Obviously, whatever was impacting the vegetation was also impacting the animals. Based on the available evidence the Colour may have been directly impacting the animal life the same way it was affecting the vegetation (as a type of radiation exposure) or it may have been transferred through the food web, from the water through the vegetation and into the animals.
Mutated rabbit by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)
Mutated fox by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)
In the spring the snow appeared to melt faster at the Gardner farm, the vegetation emerged prematurely and had strange shapes and colors. HPL has an amusing note regarding skunk cabbage, saying “The plants were certainly odd, but all skunk-cabbages are more or less odd in shape and odour and hue.” Skunk cabbage is one of the earliest annual plants and it is a strange looking plant; holds up to its common name. In any event, both the native vegetation and the orchard trees grew in bizarre growth patterns and had blossomed in strange colors. HPL referred to this as “chromatic perversion.”
The flower of Skunk Cabbage (Sympiocarpus foetidus; from http://www.nps.gov)
Nahum did not farm the impacted fields and instead focused on the uplands, hoping the contaminated soil would purge itself of the strange contaminant. In May the insects came and looked as abnormal and bizarre as the wildlife. In addition, the boughs of the trees actually appeared to move or sway, in spite of the absence of wind. The vegetation also started to emit a kind of phosphorescence in the evening hours.
The swaying, phosphorescent trees in “The Colour Out of Space (from http://www.interestingimages.blogspot.com)
These impacts were not limited to the local wildlife and vegetation. By the end of May the milk of the Gardner cows went bad, which appeared to be linked to the phosphorescence of the grass beginning earlier in the month. By the summer all of the local vegetation was slowly dying, becoming grey and brittle. This included the strange colored flowers around the house. The horses bolted one night from the barn and were completely unmanageable, refusing to go back to the farm; they had to be put down. The bizarre puffy insects started to die off as well and the honeybees left their hives.
By September all of the vegetation was crumbling to a greyish powder. Nahum’s livestock went bad as well. The chickens turned grey and quickly died, while the hogs became unusually fat and exhibited strange anatomical aberrations, similar to the wildlife, before they died as well. It should be noted that the hogs were not fed any of the contaminated vegetation, which indicates that the transfer of the Colour was not from plant to animal but more than likely through the water supply. The cows suffered a similar fate as the hogs, exhibiting strange anatomical transformations but eventually succumbing to the greying and brittling process, which Nahum attributed to some type of disease. The farm’s dogs and cats ran away.
As everything living was slowly turning grey and brittle, the trees continued to twitch and spasm like large morbid hands reaching for the sky. When everything was said and done, a total of five acres were completely destroyed. Nothing remained on the site except for a grey dust that was never blown away by the wind. As HPL noted, it’s as if the entire site was sprayed with a strong acid. This is why it’s called “the blasted heath.”
An illustration of the blasted heath by H.P. Lovecraft (from http://www.sffaudio.com)
Based on the information we have on the environmental impacts of the Colour, it’s very difficult to categorize it relative to human experiences. Initially the Colour appeared to operate as a mutagen (radioactive or chemical), with the final outcome resembling the devastation of a nuclear blast. While the final environmental impacts appear to be long lasting with the establishment of the blasted heath, this impact seems to be isolated to the Gardner farm. What’s even stranger is how the Colour progressed over time.
The meteorite fell to Earth in June; the Colour migrated into the groundwater. By fall there was an overabundance of large, healthy-looking fruits and vegetables that tasted horrible. From fall through spring the local wildlife exhibited mutations and in the following spring the deciduous vegetation displayed aberrant growth patterns and began to phosphorescently glow. Following this the insects and livestock displayed additional aberrations through the spring. By the following June, approximately one year after the meteorite fell, everything on the farm started to turn grey and brittle and die. So over the course of one year, the Gardner farm ecosystem was infected, mutated and eliminated in a way that no other chemical, agent or pathogen is known to function on Earth.
Based on these results it’s almost as if the Colour was studying or harvesting the Gardner farm as a sample of an Earth-bound ecosystem. However, this idea assumes the Colour is some type of sentient entity, at least how we humans define sentience. Maybe it was a probe sent to Earth from another world or dimension, maybe it was some type of message, greeting or warning, or maybe it was simply a natural phenomenon that originates from a very unnatural corner of the universe. We may never know. However, an analysis of how the Colour affected the Gardner family itself may provide additional clues and that is what we will cover in the next discussion.
Finally, I do want to mention that Steve Maschuck and I have a Kickstarter underway to put together a formal Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 1 as well as another periodical – The Biology of the Elder Things. Both digital and hard copies will be available and the material will include an expansion of some of the discussions on this blog site (but in much greater detail) as well as some illustrations never before shown. If you are interested then please check out the Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-1. Thank you – Fred.
The Colour Out of Space by Pixx 73 (www.deviantart.com)