Monday, 19 May 2014

The Colour Out Of Space by HP Lovecraft Review

It’s been a while since I read any Lovecraft so I’d forgotten just how… crap he is! 

Lovecraft’s problem is his poor writing ability. He can come up with some great stories and ideas, he clearly had a ton of nightmarishly unique imagery, but he really struggles to convey them to the reader. 

Like The Colour Out of Space, which tells of a meteorite hitting a farm and the mysterious colourfully glowing rock slowly poisoning the farmer and his family. It’s a great setup but Lovecraft ineptly tries to make the cause of the illnesses a mystery when you know it’s the alien meteorite. Things start falling apart and continue in that vein for the rest of the story with little variation. There’s no suspense but he drags out the story to a unnecessary length anyway and it’s beyond tedious to read. 

The Outsider takes a similar approach where a monster rises up from his dungeon castle to visit the outside world and is surprised to see he looks different to the humans who run from him screaming. That scene when he looks in the mirror at the end and realises he’s a monster is the “twist ending” even though the reader’s figured it out long beforehand. 

The Hound is a dull story of a demon dog’s revenge on a pair of grave-robbers who stole a magical amulet. A great idea but so poorly handled that it fails to live up to it’s potential. 

Lovecraft’s style is to write lavish monologues rather than a narrative so it feels like you’re reading a sequence of descriptions of elaborate and complex images rather than an actual story with a plot, characters, etc. And if you write horror, it’s best to try and have some immediacy with the threat - having characters meet another character who relates a story from 50 years ago, and whose “terrors” were also static and distant, completely nullifies any scares. 

And while he doesn’t describe the monsters, leaving that up to the reader, which can be effective if written with skill, it’s not really potent in the way he uses it here. Simply writing “oh the horror was unimaginable!” isn’t scary, it’s stupid. 

At least Lovecraft knew his weaknesses and stayed away from writing dialogue for the most part - which doesn’t make it easier to read - but he does attempt dialogue in The Colour Out of Space and it’s laughable. It’s a page-length monologue where a character stutters out a few words followed by ellipses, over and over again: “the terror… it’s so terrible… durnit, the terror… unimaginable!!...” etc. - nobody talks like this!!

(Horror trivia: in On Writing, Stephen King says his inspiration for The Tommyknockers was The Colour Out of Space. Also in On Writing, I think the dialogue he uses to illustrate how not to write speech was taken from this story too.) 

Lovecraft’s stories may be horribly written and be a chore to read but he is remembered for a reason as his stories contain some great imagery and he did influence a number of succeeding great horror writers. If you want a taste of what Lovecraft’s like to see if you’ll like or dislike his work, this three story collection provides a good idea of what to expect from him.

The Colour Out of Space (Penguin Mini Modern Classics)

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