Title: The Wendigo
Author: Algernon Blackwood
Release Date: 1910
Horror is a genre filled with shadows. Shadows cast by great authors. Great authors mostly from the past. Names like Poe and Lovecraft echo through the firmament of Horror. Their icy touch sensed in tales dreamt of by the generations that came after them. But where did these greats gain their stature from? In the case of Lovecraft it was, partly, by standing upon the shoulders of giants. Giants like Poe, Dunsany and Blackwood – an author whose work he admired enough to praise as one of the masters of the modern genre.
The Wendigo is, along with The Willows (1907) one of Blackwood’s best known stories and it is easy to see why. Set in the wilds of Canada, the story tells of a group of moose hunters who venture into the forest and uncover something unsettling, but the exact nature of what they discover remains a mystery even as the story closes.
The moose hunters come from a variety of different ethnic and social groups but as they sit around the camp fire jawing, they find themselves united by their fear. A slow, creeping fear that spreads through the group like an unpleasant smell on the breeze. And that is exactly where it starts… with a smell. With the isolation of the wilderness pressing down on the group and with nothing else to focus on, the group begin to freak each other out. Minor nuances in facial expression and bearing breed uneasiness, an uneasiness that feeds on itself and therefore grows and grows. With consummate skill, Blackwood allows this sense of tension to build only to release it, switching from a denser prose style to a lighter one to reflect the mood. Slowing the pace as the hairs on the back of the readers’ necks stand on end.
It is only half-way through the fifty odd pages of story that the word Wendigo is first mentioned and its effect is astonishing. Suddenly the sense of pervasive dread and encroaching madness has a name. A shape. A smell. As the remaining members of the group slowly lose their grip on reality, the question is raised as to whether there actually is anything out there in the dark. Or is it simply the isolation? The loneliness. The darkness. The power of suggestion. As the story climaxes, Blackwood offers one final explosion of tension. An explosion that leaves your head spinning and your bearings lost. Is the Wendigo something that exists out there in the darkness… or is it something that lies dormant within us?