As Halloween approaches each year, I generally try to read more horror fiction. I’m getting an earlier start than usual this year by delving into the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Longtime readers of this blog may recall that I’m not a big Lovecraft fan, but I read something by him now and then. Recently, on pretty much of a whim while waiting in a doctor’s office, I read one of his most famous stories, “The Colour Out of Space”, which appeared originally in the September 1927 issue of AMAZING STORIES and was reprinted in the October 1941 issue of FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, as well as in countless Lovecraft collections over the years. (Neither of the pulp covers have anything to do with Lovecraft’s story, but at least it rates a mention on the issue of FFM.)
I have a hunch most of you have read this story already, some of you probably more than once. The plot is a simple one: a mysterious meteorite plunges from space, lands on the farm belonging to Nahum Gardner near the town of Arkham, time passes, evil things happen. The Gardner family descends into madness. The well is ruined and nothing will grow on the land. Eventually everybody else in the area shuns the farm where all this creepy stuff happened, until an engineer comes along to conduct a survey for a dam-building project and hears the story from one of the locals.
I have to say, I still have some problems with Lovecraft’s work. As with almost everything I’ve read by him, I got to the end and thought, “Wait. That’s it?” Robert E. Howard has spoiled me. I would have much preferred if the engineer was a two-fisted scrapper and the evil entity from space crawled out of the well and the two of them whaled away at each other with the plucky human emerging triumphant over the cosmic horror. Now that’s a story! But . . . it’s not the story that Lovecraft chose to write, is it?
However, for the first time I got a real glimpse of why Lovecraft’s work remains so popular nearly a hundred years later. The long paragraphs and the scarcity of dialogue take some getting used to, but I’ll admit, in this one I got caught up in the style and the sheer creepiness of the whole thing was very effective. For once, Lovecraft actually had me flipping the pages to see what was going to happen. There’s some actual storytelling going on in this yarn, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more of these Lovecraft story posts here on the blog before the month is over.