Tag Archives: radiation

The Ecological Impacts of the Colour Out of Space


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?

The meteor from “The Colour Out of Space by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

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.

An illustration of the impact of the Colour Out of Space from anatomical mutations to greying and brittling disease (www.ldaleback.booklikes.com)

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)


What was Known about Radioactivity in Lovecraft’s Day

The next article will discuss how the Colour out of space impacts life on Earth, resulting in symptoms similar to radiation poisoning. However, this article will focus on what was known about radiation in Lovecraft’s time, specifically from the late 19th to the early 20th century.


The Colour Out of Space by Victoria Dadedra (www.deviantart.com)

In 1895 some strange new electromagnetic rays were discovered by Wilhelm Rontgen who called them X-rays, while in 1896 Antoine Henri Becuquerel discovered that uranium salt produced similar rays that he called “Becuquerel rays” (The Great Scientist: From Euclid to Stephen Hawking; Farndon, 2007). However, it was the pioneering work of Marie Curie who quantified such “emissions” from uranium and other elements that she and husband discovered, calling these emissions radioactivity.

Both of Marie Currie’s parents were teachers and her father instilled in her a love for nature and science in spite of the many limitations society forced on women in the late 19th century. For example, although Marie was frequently top of her class in high school she was not allowed to attend college in her native land of Poland. Thus, she attended college in Paris and graduated with a degree in physics top of her class in 1893. Two years later she completed a second degree in mathematics. Marie met Pierre Curie in 1894; they married in 1895 and in 1897 Marie gave birth to their first daughter and in the same year began her Ph.D. dissertation on the properties of the element uranium (Farndon, 2007).


Marie Currie (www.biography.com)

Marie and her husband Pierre conducted the dirty and dangerous work of isolating and discovering two elements from material called Pitchblende, which is a black crystalline mineral of uranium oxide. A German chemist by the name of Martin Klaproth discovered uranium in 1789 (www.britannica.com) but it was Marie and Pierre Curie who isolated and discovered the other two elements in Pitchblende: polonium and radium. The Curies won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, with Marie being the first women to win the prize. However, even then in his acceptance speech, Pierre warned of the dangers of radium and how it could be a very powerful and destructive weapon. Their work on radioactivity took a toll on the health of the Curies. Pierre tragically died in an accident associated with a horse and cart in 1910. Marie was awarded a second Nobel Prize in Physics in 1911 for her work on polonium and radium. She and her daughter contributed to the war effort by developing a special vehicle that could take X-ray equipment to wounded soldiers on the battlefield and also set up over 200 stationary X-ray clinics. She continued her work through the 1920’s and early 1930’s on radium but ultimately died of leukemia in 1934 as a result of her continuous work with radioactive substances (Farndon, 2007).

I could find no reference to Marie Currie and her pioneering work in any of HPL’s stories or selected essays. However, he must have been familiar with her work and he was certainly familiar with radioactivity, at least with what was known about it in the early 20th century. For example radium, which is highly radioactive and can be extremely harmful, particularly if inhaled or swallowed, was used in all sort of strange commercial products, primarily for its property to produce a strange green glow. Such products were produced from the late 19th century up to the mid-1940s and included products such as creams, facial powders, lipstick, cigarettes and even condoms (see below). It was touted as a health remedy for all sorts of aliments from skin and eye problems to “rejuvenation tonics.” HPL must have been familiar with these products (most likely excluding the condoms) but he was also probably familiar with the accumulating evidence that radium was a dangerous radioactive substance.


Hand Cleaner with radium (www.buzzfed.com)


Condoms with radium to make them glow I the dark (www.io9.com)

In the early 1920’s one of the best jobs a young woman could get was working at the Waterbury Clock Company in Connecticut. Essentially, girls with sharp eyes and nimble fingers would paint numbers on the face of watches. The material used was paint laced with radium, which at the time was considered a wonder-chemical since it would glow in the dark. Many of the girls would wet the fine brushes with their mouths before dipping them into the radium-laced paint to give them a fine point. After a few years of such work many of the girls began to suffer from radiation poisoning, displaying horrible symptoms (The Waterbury Observer, by Ann Quigley, September 2002). Some examples of radium poisoning are shown below.


A person suffering from radium poisoning (www.videomedicine.com)


One of the radium girls suffering from radium poisoning (www.videomedicine.com)

In spite of radium being proclaimed as the “miracle element of the future” these young women began dying, starting in the mid-1920’s while they were only in their 20’s. Initially many of the symptoms associated with radium poisoning were misdiagnosed but over time the connection between their jobs as dial painters and these symptoms began to emerge. Many companies were making a lot of money with radium so compensation for the women and their families was long, arduous and hard-fought. If you want to know more, I recommend Radium Girls: Women and the Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935 by Claudia Clark, 1997. In spite of the litigation problems and roadblocks, the lawsuit and associated publicity was a factor in eventually establishing the occupational disease labor laws, which established safety precautions and required protective gear for workers. While I have no evidence of this, I am sure HPL read of these horrible accounts and the legal proceedings in his local papers, particularly since a large part of this occurred in Connecticut. Did these accounts of radiation poisoning and the “miracle” element of radium stimulate HPL’s imagination as he developed and wrote “The Colour Out of Space” in March 1927?


An article on the death associated with radium from 1927 (www.io9.com)

To conclude, it should be noted that Lovecraft owned a spinthariscope, which is a device that detects radioactivity (I Am Providence: The Life and Time of H.P. Lovecraft, by S.T. Joshi, 2013). This simple device would detect ionizing radiation, typically with the creation of alpha particles and their bombardment on a screen, resulting in the generation of light or fluorescence. Typically, a tube was inside of the device, with a screen coated on one end with zinc sulfide. Between the screen and the lens a small amount of radium salt was suspended, which generated the green fluorescence. Again, “The Colour Out of Space” may have originated from HPL reading about radium and radioactivity in the newspapers as well as using his spinthariscope to observe the green glow of radium.


An antique spinthariscope, possibly similar to the type owned by H.P. Lovecraft (www.orau.org)

Next time we will actually discuss the biological impacts the Colour had on life on Earth at the Gardner farm.  Also, if you are interested in a digital or hard copy of The Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 1, please check out our Kickstarter site at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-1. Thank you – Fred.


The Colour Out of Space (from http://www.hplovecraftart.blogspot.com)