"The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood and Humanity's Role in Myth

Most every culture dating back to the beginning of recorded history has its fair share of myths and urban legends, passed down and frequently convoluted, like an extended, eerie game of telephone. One of my personal favorite myths is that of the Wendigo, a cannibalistic man turned monster, also occasionally represented as an evil spirit, said to haunt areas of Canada, the Great Lakes Region, and Appalachia. These legends stem from the Native populations of these areas, especially from the First Nations Algonquian tribes located in Nova Scotia and the Great Lakes Regions of both Canada and the United States. There is a very specific type of forest that stirs the fear of the Wendigo, first documented in contemporary literature by Algernon Blackwood in his short story, "The Wendigo".

Though I was not overly impressed with Blackwood's story, mostly due to the early 1900s racism sprinkled throughout that really detracted from what might have been an incredible first documentation, he did touch on some interesting points about the legend of the Wendigo as it relates to the humanity it encounters. Unless you're watching Until Dawn, the Wendigo is rarely fully glimpsed. Much of the fear that it instills is based in the idea of "fear of the unknown". Early legends concerning the Wendigo are vague; some sources speak of it as an undefined evil spirit, other sources convey a monstrous form, others tend towards a human with monstrous tendencies. Blackwood's "The Wendigo" combines all three, though, throughout the story, the creature is never truly seen except in the form of one of the group's companions as he disappears and reappears in a form simply described as "not himself".

Modern media has continued to pay homage to the original vague nature of the Wendigo myths, from Stephen King's Pet Semetary, where the villain is arguably the evil of the burial ground and the unnamed monster haunting the woods all at once, to the modern remake of NBC's Hannibal, in which the serial killer is represented in dreams by imagery akin to the Ojibwe Wendigo depiction:

      "The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash-gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets,  the Wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody ... Unclean and suffering from suppuration of the flesh, the Wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption."

Even the cult CW show Supernatural , in merely its second episode, represents the Wendigo as an unknown horror for most of the episode, showing it just twice on-screen in short glimpses.

So, what conclusion should we be drawing from all of this? Because of the geographic locale from which the myth of the Wendigo stems, the vast Canadian/Great Lakes Region solitary wilderness that can influence and disturb even the most sound of mind, to the source of the creature itself: the repeated undertaking of taboo acts such as cannibalism or, in some cases, immense greed that values self-preservation over human life, the Wendigo is a creature that embodies a complex and selfish evil, especially in terms of the First Nations Algonquian's values as a society. Unlike many other urban legends and similar cryptids in the surrounding area, for example, Mothman or the Jersey Devil, the Wendigo has a myriad of physical descriptions and is based in the evil enacted by humanity rather than being strictly a monstrous apparition.

Other tales surrounding the Wendigo follow the same trend of evil in the midst of humanity. The Wendigo is commonly purported to be able to accurately mimic human voices, leading to warnings about being able to see the faces of everyone in your party at all times if you should venture into the forests, in case the Wendigo has unknowingly inserted itself into the group. In addition, its preferred method of attack is generally said to be turning its victims into Wendigoes themselves, thus leading evil to create more evil.

Whether you believe that the Wendigo is simply a manifested legend of human evil or something far less mortal, I would always advise being careful in the Northern forests and keeping a close eye on your traveling companions.


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