Premise: Dr. Cathcart and his nephew Mr. Simpson go on a moose hunting trip deep into the wilderness of northern Canada with their guides Hank Davis and the French Canadian Joseph Défago, along with their Indian cook, Punk. They split up to cover more ground, Dr. Cathcart with Hank and Simpson with Défago, but the rumor of a creature that wanders the wild where they are headed begins to stir in their minds.
When Défago takes off unexpectedly, Simpson attempts to follow him, but Défago is so swift that he is unable to keep up. The strange tracks he leaves, however, reveal that Défago was chasing something else, something with even stranger tracks. Stranger still is the lingering scent of something unexplainable that those who have smelled it can only describe as the “odor of lions.”
Simpson somehow is able to make it back to the original camp alone. Dr. Cathcart and Hank are surprised to see him, especially without his guide. But when Défago returns on his own, he is somehow changed. Dr. Cathcart might know something of his condition, but it is Punk’s response in the end that is most telling.
Themes: The Wendigo is a story of the unknown, not only the stories and rumors of something in the wilderness, but the sheer anxiety of going into unexplored territory and living off the land and by your wits. This is a classic monster tale that asks the question, “Who or what is the monster here?”
The changes someone goes through when facing uninhabited lands can be thrilling, but it can also take a toll on your mind. At least, that is what The Wendigo says to us. The “call of the wild” can bring about a ferocity in a man that makes him lose a little of himself in the wild. And when brought back into civilization, that part of himself may not come back.
Pros: With classic horror stories the suspense is built by simply not showing the monster and by contrasting the fantastic with the mundane. Even in such a short story The Wendigo is packed with the perfect amount of character development, a vast setting, and an unsettling chill of something watching you at every turn.
Cons: Many authors of classic horror risk belaboring points and drawing out suspenseful situations through repetition, and The Wendigo is no exception. It can be tedious at times, but only briefly, if there is such a thing as briefly tedious. Thankfully, it is short and those parts can easily be plowed through.
Recommendations: If you have read Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley and are looking for more authors of their ilk, look no further than Algernon Blackwood. The Wendigo gives us a look at the unknown and brings with it both fear and wonder, which many times both go hand in hand. It is authors like Blackwood with such a mastery of the craft of storytelling that make me enjoy reading classics. Go read this now, especially since it is fairly short and you can download the ebook for free.