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Tales to Chill Your Blood Reads > The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood Group Discussion (Spoilers Likely)

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 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 1343 comments Mod
Our first group short story read is The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood.

Feel free to start talking as soon as you read it. I would suggest to mark spoilers, just in case.

Here is the link the free Kindle version:

Here is the link to ebook on Project Gutenberg:

message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Lyons (amandamlyons) Thanks for the links :)

Got my copy

message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason (darkfiction) | 164 comments Looking forward to reading this one!

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 1343 comments Mod
YW, Amanda! Jason, I'm glad this got voted for. I've wanted to read this for a while.

message 5: by Simon (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 133 comments This is a great story. I read it about nine months ago. I think this story was an influence on Ramsey Campbell's Midnight Sun, anyone read that? If you like this story, you should like that too.

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Martha (hellocthulhu) | 325 comments Mod
Thanks for the rec Simon, I will check it out sometime.

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Jason (darkfiction) | 164 comments I read Midnight Sun about five years ago, and it is now one of my favorites! Awesome book. A great metaphor for S.A.D. I thought so, anyway.

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Simon (friedegg) | 133 comments Sorry, but what does S.A.D. stand for?

message 9: by Cathy (new)

Cathy | 164 comments Seasonal Affective Disorder. The way some of us get depressed and lethargic when the days get short.

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 1343 comments Mod
So, did anyone get to read this yet?

I read it yesterday, but I don't want to hold the thread hostage.

Any thoughts on the story?

message 11: by Cathy (new)

Cathy | 164 comments I'd read it years ago, but I'm rereading right now -- I'm up to the part where they decide to go up-country.

I remember it being a truly chilling story, with the landscape itself being almost as menacing as the supernatural events. Very eerie.

message 12: by Steve (new)

Steve Chaput (stevec50) It's been so long since I originally read the story that I'd pretty much forgotten most of the details. I love the old fashioned style, with asides on the main characters, that opens the story. A bit more later.

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Jason (darkfiction) | 164 comments I will be getting to this story very shortly. Probably either tonight or tomorrow.

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Cathy | 164 comments OK, I finished it at lunch.

It really is super-creepy -- it reminds me a lot of The Great God Pan. The idea of nature as a ravenous inhuman force, the unease it induces, and also the fact that it never becomes quite clear enough to me what HAPPENED!

message 15: by Steve (new)

Steve | 31 comments I intend to start it today.

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 1343 comments Mod
Cathy, I agree with you about the underlying theme of a hostile nature.

My thoughts:

*I thought Blackwood's writing was beautiful and luscious, but not arrogant. He's descriptive, but also able to convey scenes without being too wordy. I like the subtle building of tension, and his use of describing how the characters react to the situation to increase the reader's unease. The scene where the character's skin doesn't seem to fit right on his face---really creepy!
*I'd definitely classify this as weird fiction--the whole aspect of the manifestation of the wendigo.
*One thing I've noted as a woman of color reading classic literature, is the casual racism/sexism/bigotry prevalent. I felt that this story could have been a lot more weighted down with those aspects. One reviewer really criticized this book for that, and I didn't feel it was that bad. After reading writers who are considerably worse about this, I felt that Blackwood showed himself to be somewhat enlightened in that manner. JMHO. Others may differ.
*I want to read more of his stuff.

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Martha (hellocthulhu) | 325 comments Mod
Howard is much worse about the casual racism/sexism. I'm not one for censoring of most words in literature, but part of me kinda wishes they would censor it the way many older writers would use "D---" instead if "Damn".

I did think it was funny in another Blackwood story (The Willows I think) that he refers to a character as "the lumbering Swede".

So, back on topic. (SPOILERS)

I reread The Wendigo last night and it seems I actually remembered much of it. I love the wording used to describe lonely primal enviroments and reminds me why I never want to go camping!
I guess this story could be interpreted in a few ways, one being that the Wendigo is just the call of the wild personified, as stated in the story, and Defago is the only one who heard/smelled it. Another is that the Wendigo is actually a creature that preys on travelers far from civilization. I tend to favor that opinion, since even if you think Simpson imagined hearing/smelling the Wendigo, the other camp members heard Defago's cries near the end. I don't think the entire group was hallucinating!
Does anyone think the burned forest area was supposed to be attributed to the Wendigo? If not, do you think it's significant in another way?
Also, what do you make of the end when "Defago" comes back to the camp and his buddy says that it isn't really him? That's the only part I didn't really get.

I do really love the "Ah! Ah! My burning feet of fire!" The show Supernatural should've worked that into the Wendigo episode they had. I would've been so happy!

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 1343 comments Mod
Martha, we are on the same wavelength sometimes!


I think that the Wendigo was pretending to be Defago, and that's why the skin on his face didn't seem to look like it fit right, and his feet were animal-like. I don't think it was hallucination at all.

That quote is classic. I feel like I need to go around saying it so people can look at me like I've lost my mind. :)

message 19: by Cathy (last edited Sep 16, 2010 01:26PM) (new)

Cathy | 164 comments Blackwood has some racial issues (they don't crop up in this story but I seem to remember it from some of his others), but compared to a lot of his compatriots they seem minor. I'm reading Robert E. Howard stories right now, and they're pretty appalling -- not because he uses That Word That Starts with N (which he does, frequently), but because the premise of half the stories is that blacks are stupid, lusty half-humans who want nothing more than to slaughter white men and despoil white women, and who deserve to be kept down with an iron hand by their white overlords. This worldview made "Black Canaan" repellent to read, even though on a story level it's incredibly well-done and vivid. And his "Orientals" are cruel, wily, and inscrutable, of course, but he doesn't seem to have had the same kind of visceral hostility toward them that he did toward blacks.

Back on topic -- I think that when the false Defago comes back, it's not exactly the Wendigo disguised as him -- I think he has been transformed so that some part of him has BECOME a wendigo, inside the shell of Defago. And what is left of his humanity is the pathetic husk who staggers back to camp that night and dies.

It's interesting what parts of the Wendigo legend Blackwood DIDN'T use -- that the Wendigo is a cannibal, and that human beings can become wendigos, and monstrously inhuman, by eating human flesh. Instead, he made his eat moss!

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Martha (hellocthulhu) | 325 comments Mod
Cathy wrote: "Blackwood has some racial issues (they don't crop up in this story but I seem to remember it from some of his others), but compared to a lot of his compatriots they seem minor. I'm reading Robert E..."

Howard's writing is so amazing at times that I just try to forget about atrocities like "Black Canaan". But yes, he is definitely the most racially hostile of the older writers I have read. We could do a whole thread on racism/sexism in older lit, I imagine!

But I think you hit the nail on the head about Defago. That seems to make the most sense. It is interesting that he didn't hint about Defago becoming a Wendigo in the story, or if there was a hint I totally missed it!

message 21: by Steve (last edited Sep 17, 2010 01:41AM) (new)

Steve | 31 comments Finished this morning. I've long thought that "The Willows" to be one of the greatest horror stories ever written. "The Wendigo" is just as good. For some reason I thought I had already read this, but I hadn't, so what a treat. As others have noted, there is some racism, but as Danielle points out, it actually may be more muted that other writers of the period. I'd have to read more of Blackwood to see, though I doubt he was any less racist in his views than Howard. He probably just packaged it with better prose.

I'm not totally sure about what was going on with the feet, or what was meant by Defago being partially out of the tent. And my initial reaction to the return of "Defago" was negative, since I felt the Not Knowing for the search party deep in the woods was creepy as it gets. But that negative sense went quickly away as they gathered around the camp fire with the oddly shaped ("reconfigured") "Defago." Blackwood definitely ratcheted things up to another level. It was interesting watching Cathcart, the man of science, see his logical world fall apart. Cathy's point about the moss eater vs. cannibal is an interesting one. I wonder if Blackwood had read or heard of a variation of the story. But he had to be aware of the cannibal version. Perhaps he thought the idea was so jam packed with weirdness, it was unnecessary. And in the end, the soul blasted Defago may be worse off than the quickly killed and munched Defago.

On FB, a few weeks back, Laird Barron was touting this story, and saying it had a huge impact upon him as a writer. I can see why, since Barron often uses a hostile wilderness as a background. Also, as I was reading the story, I wondered to what degree this story influenced movies, such as Ravenous, and even Jeepers Creepers, (the flying creature, the "eyes" reference in the story).
Outstanding selection this go round!

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 1343 comments Mod
I tried to watch Ravenous, since I really like Guy Pearce. It was too gruesome for me. I ended up watching the end, though. The cannibalism aspect of the wendigo really makes that myth that much more horrifying. I thought it was interesting that Blackwood made his version of the wendigo a moss-eater. It makes you wonder what the purpose of its taking victims truly is. Is it lonely?

As for racism in early literature, it's hard not to encounter it. I don't doubt that Blackwood has his own ideas about the superiority of British above all others. But, he managed to write this story so that it didn't slap this reader in the face. I am a fan of REH, and it bothers me that he does have such racist elements in his stories. It's interesting that he would have those attitudes, considering he was friends with blacks growing up, according to his biography on If racism is about ignorance, it makes you wonder how one can hold onto such blatantly wrong attitudes when one is acquainted with human beings who prove those ideas a lie. Oh, well. Sorry to go off topic.

Back to the story. I liked the underlying theme of the hostility of nature. I love nature, but I never take it for granted. Humans may have an arrogant assumption that we're in control of the world, but nature always gives us nasty reminders that control is an illusion.

message 23: by Simon (last edited Sep 17, 2010 07:48AM) (new)

Simon (friedegg) | 133 comments Regarding the racial attitudes of the classic writers...

I think it more generally a matter of politically incorrectness rather than blatant racism. All this about Robert Howard's racism is strange to me because I've read so many of his stories in which the protagonist is comrade in arms with a black character. Sure, in many of his stories they were portrayed as mere savages but he was definitely capable of seeing them in a different light and this is reflected in his stories.

 Danielle The Book Huntress (Wants to Read More) (gatadelafuente) | 1343 comments Mod
I can see your point, Simon. I scratch my head about it, but in one of his stories, he continually refers to the black Africans as 'bestial'. He makes a distinction between a lighter-skinned, more European-looking black woman as somehow being better than her darker kin. Maybe he doesn't mean anything by it, but it's very offensive.

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Steve | 31 comments This is from Blackwood -- which is in the Introduction to his 1938 Collected Stories: Then the awful "Wendigo" comes shouldering up over the hill of memory, a name I remembered vividly in "Hiawatha" (Wendigos and giants runs the line), yet hardly thought of again till a friend, just back from Labrador, told me honest tales about mysterious evacuations of a whole family from a lonely valley because the "Wendigo had come blundering in" and "scared them stiff"...

message 26: by Jason (last edited Sep 22, 2010 02:19PM) (new)

Jason (darkfiction) | 164 comments I finally finished The Wendigo last night. I had a crazy weekend and I'm reading a lot of other things at the same time, so it took me close to a week.


Anyhow, this story really impressed me. I have not read much in the classics, but The Wendigo is by far one of the creepiest I've read. As many have already posted here, I thought the ending, where Defago comes back, to be the creepiest. This new form of Defago's reminded me of a zombie, and I liked it that nothing was explained.

It was this factor, that nothing was explained, that made the story so creepy, IMO.

Another creepy scene was where Defago was dragged from the tent and Simpson was left alone with that smell and the screaming sounds. If I were Simpson in that situation, I would have soiled my pants! LOL

I'm very much looking forward to reading more from Blackwood.

message 27: by Kurt (new)

Kurt Reichenbaugh (kurtreichenbaugh) | 54 comments This was a terrific selection. I too liked the depiction of nature as indifferent and or hostile to man. (Did the makers of Blair Witch Project read this story?) The tent scene as Defago is being pulled out was really creepy as Jason said. The screams in the dark, the tracks growing further apart, the movement of nature just outside the visible comfort of fire were all very nicely illustrated by Blackwood. And Cathcart shielding Simpson (and the reader) from the seeing Defago's feet only further added to the horror of what he'd become.
Good campfire story.

message 28: by Jason (new)

Jason (darkfiction) | 164 comments I was actually reminded of Blair Witch while reading this. Had the same intensity, creepiness, and intense fear.

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