I've read several interpretations and background information on "The Colour out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft, which all say his goal was to create a kind of truly alien monster - a color instead of a bodily being.

However, today, the story sounds too much like a description of radioactivity: mutating plants and animals, creeping sickness and decay, the diminishing material of the meteor. Even the "strange colors" can be interpreted as gamma radiation (radioactivity was discovered when photo plates close to Uranium were changed, as if they had been exposed to light).

In 1927, when the story came out, radioactivity was already well known, but not so feared. In fact, it was still the time of radio-quackery, when slightly radioactive potions, creams and powders were sold as "miracle treatments", but the dangers also became known slowly.

Lovecraft put quite a lot of scientific elements in his stories, although not always correctly. Could he have known about dangers of radioactivity, which might be the basis for the effects described in this story?

  • 3
    I'm sure Lovecraft knew what radioactivity was as much as any educated layman. These similarities only go so far to match the effects in the story.
    – Oldcat
    Apr 23, 2015 at 19:17
  • All I know of Color out of Space is in this video: youtube.com/watch?v=PmdzptbykzI Nov 4, 2018 at 2:45
  • Andy Troy argued for this in a presentation at the NecronomiCon Providence 2013 (later published in a collection of articles from the event): "A Stalking Monster": The Influence of Radiation Poisoning on H. P. Lovecraft's "The Colour out of Space", Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 1
    – Kitsune
    Mar 1, 2023 at 17:37

1 Answer 1


Quite possibly. The "Radium Girls" were in the news at the time and Lovecraft owned a spinthariscope, which is a device used to view radiation. I don't believe there is any hard proof, though. The effects described in the story only vaguely resemble actual radiation poisoning.

  • 2
    Thanks for the link to the lovecraftianscience blog, really interesting site, when it comes to HPL's use of popular scientific knowledge (with some mistakes and a lot of artistic freedom)! I had already been wondering how his non-euclidian geometry in R'lyeh and Dreams in the Witch-house was supposed to look like, thinking of it a bit like an M.C.Escher drawing. So the color's effects do not exactly match real effects of radiation (not even Chernobyl is as dead as the blasted heath), but come close to popular belief what effects of radiation are like.
    – Erik Hart
    Apr 28, 2015 at 18:24

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