A group of men are out hunting moose in the wilds of Canada. Having little luck, they decide to split up and search for their prey in smaller groups. A young cleric-to-be Simpson is paired off with Défago, a French Canadian guide. Far away from the rest of their group, Défago begins to succumb to his fears of the territory—something inexplicable but horrible, as Simpson soon learns for himself.
This novella started out poorly with some extremely dated racial language (including the n-word), and at that point I wasn’t really expecting much from it. But once we got past the cringe-worthy descriptions of Native Americans, Caucasian Americans, Scotsmen, and French Canadians—yes, a whole gamut of stereotypes—Blackwood started digging into the plot. Which was surprisingly good.
To say too much about it would be spoiling it, but basically, The Wendigo is something between a sasquatch story and a Native American mythology. Blackwood draws only loosely from the latter, using the name but coming up with his own mythos for the creature, which carries with it a foul smell and supernatural powers. The real wendigo legend involves cannibalism, primarily. Blackwood doesn’t go there, but I still thought his take on it was really creepy.
Blackwood’s writing borders on more “tell” than “show,” and some of his prose is a bit florid. In this respect, I prefer Arthur Conan Doyle or H. G. Wells, who don’t need to tell you something is horrid (over and over again). That said, I really enjoyed the mental space Blackwood was carving out in the story, especially in the way he comments on human psychology:
Simpson lit a last pipe and tried to laugh to himself . . . He did not realize that this laughter was a sign that terror still lurked in the recesses of his soul—that, in fact, it was merely one of the conventional signs by which a man, seriously alarmed, tries to persuade himself that he is not so.
Likewise, his sketch of the imperious Dr. Cathcart, who is an instant skeptic:
Like many another materialist, that is, he lied cleverly on the basis of insufficient knowledge, because the knowledge supplied seemed to his own particular intelligence inadmissable.
Blackwood highlights the anxiety of being the only eye witness to some strange occurrence and how society reacts when they don’t want to believe you. It seems that the truth is only what is agreed upon by a majority.
I gave this story just 3 stars on Goodreads, due to the ending being (in my opinion) unsatisfactory. But it was worth reading, especially if you’re looking for October spookiness. I recommend reading it at night. 😉