Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Lovecraft's Legacy (1980) Daniel Cohen

Here is an excerpt about HP Lovecraft by a notable writer of the 1980's. He writes rapturously about his favorite: The Colour Out of Space.



What is the most frightening of all the monsters in science fiction? I suppose everybody has his or her own favorite. And I have mine. Like the other creatures discussed in this chapter {#7 "What Was It?}, my favorite does not have a solid body. It only appears as a color.

The thing - it has no name - is in a story called The Colour Out of Space. The story was written in 1927 by H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft is not usually thought of as a writer of science fiction. He is better known as a writer of horror stories. He is probably the second-best American writer of horror stories. The best in America, and the world, was Edgar Allan Poe.

In the story, a meteor lands near a remote New England farm. Scientists come to examine it. It is not like anything they have ever seen before. The meteor begins to shrink rather quickly. After a few weeks it is gone.

The scientists forget about it. But strange things begin to happen on the farm. The vegeta- bles grow to huge sizes. But they taste horrible. Then they crumble to gray dust. The farm animals and the wild animals begin acting strangely. Then they, too, begin to decay.

And the farmer, Nahum Gardner, his wife and boys-what happened to them?

First, the farmer's wife begins to go mad. "When the boys grew afraid of her, and Thaddeus nearly fainted at the way she made faces at him, he decided to keep her locked in the attic. By July she had ceased to speak and crawled on all fours, and before the month was over Nahum got the mad notion that she was slightly luminous . . . "

Things just got worse and worse on the farm. When a friend came to visit, he found that the boys had disappeared. Nahum was dying or, to be more accurate, rotting. The friend went upstairs to find out about the wife who had been locked in the attic:

"When he did enter he saw something dark in the corner, and upon seeing it more clearly he screamed outright . . . the terrible thing about the horror was that it very slowly and perceptibly moved as it continued to crumble."

The cause of all these unnatural terrors is a thing. It doesn't have a body or a shape. It is just a color, but not a color that has ever been seen before on this earth. The thing was brought to earth by the meteorite. It lived in the bottom of the farmer's well. It drew its strength from the living things around it. The more they died, the stronger it became.

At the end of the story the color shoots back into space. But one person sees a small part of it fall back to earth. The whole terror may begin again.

The Colour Out of Space is a truly frightening story. Someday you may wish to read it yourself. Let me give you one piece of advice. Don't read itjust before going to sleep.

Daniel Cohen, Science Fiction's Greatest Monsters [They Come From Spaceships, Flying Saucers, The Outer Limits.], Archway; Simon & Schuster, 1980, 2nd June 1986, pp. 85-88.

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