Wendigo (2010). © By VHS-Junkie. Reproduced with kind permission.
The vampire craze seems to have peaked and is finally on its way down. Twilight's strangely suburban, sanitized Nosferatu for the SUV set is depressing in how utterly devoid of horror it is. Stephen King has commented on horror as a profoundly moral genre: it deals with the paths we must take to return to normalcy when terrible transgressions have occurred. Over the past few years, the Wendigo, a mythological monster from Canadian Algonquin legend, has enjoyed a resurgence. There have the been the usual attempts to make the thing mainstream, as Cryptomundo, a blog devoted to Cryptozoology reports. More popularized versions are listed here at Newspaper Rock blog. But the Wendigo has resisted being turned into a cartoon version of itself, like the vampire, werewolf and mummy. Perhaps there is something about it that is so dire and frightening that it can't be easily popularized.
The Wendigo was the entity that embodied the Algonquian taboo against cannibalism in times of famine. Wiki: "Among northern Algonquian cultures, cannibalism, even to save one's own life, was viewed as a serious taboo; the proper response to famine was suicide or resignation to death. On one level, the Wendigo myth thus worked as a deterrent and a warning against resorting to cannibalism; those who did would become Wendigo monsters themselves."
Windigo. A portrait of starvation. By Cecil Youngfox.
How the Wendigo can be depicted is elusive. It's often been drawn as a hulking monster with a deer's head. But a better description comes from Algernon Blackwood's story The Wendigo, which you can read at Horror Masters here. It opens with the warning that things like the Wendigo appear at the crossroads between the wilderness and our primal brains - where, at critical moments, the mysteries of dark places open up and lay themselves bare to us.
I highly recommend that story. Blackwood was a master at describing natural landscapes bit by bit in a way that brought growing uneasiness to the reader; the effect is not unlike the actual growing uneasiness one feels when one goes hiking on a sunny day, gets off the path, and then feels that the woods are not so bright and friendly after all. The enduring image that stayed with me from that piece was of a wraith which was so emaciated that when seen from a certain angle it was paper thin. This creature would fly above starving people in the forest, haunting them from the treetops, gliding with feet of fire. The Wendigo is a taboo figure against immortality. It prohibits maintaining one's life at any cost, suggesting that a life preserved under conditions that would render humanity inhuman must not be saved. It also hints that survival by breaching taboos leads the desperate person down a path beyond survival. By committing cannibalism to survive, the person transforms from a mortal being into an immortal being. But the immortal entity, the Wendigo which haunts the northern forests, is monstrous, horrifying, an aberration. Hence the Wendigo is very similar to the vampire myth, which evilly overturns Christian and other religious ideas of sacred rebirth.
There are two lakes named after the monster in Quebec, the smaller one, Lac Windigo, looks like the kind of landscape I would expect in Wendigo country - isolated, dreary, over-wooded. Easy to hike into - but - easy to get lost in as the day wears on, and a lot harder to get out of once you've gotten too far in. CGI-bloated movies can't convey the sense of being watched by something from across a lake in the Canadian wilderness, especially when summer subsides and the chill of autumn sets in.
Go to Symbols of Immortality 1: The Phoenix
Go to Symbols of Immortality 2: The Blood Countess