Postscript: The legend of the wendigo

Postscript is a new ongoing feature here on the blog that explores themes raised in the books I’ve read and reviewed. My first is a follow-up to Rick Yancey’s The Curse of the Wendigo, which presents one version of the wendigo monster myth.

I encourage you to suggest other books or topics you’d like me to discuss in the comments.

The Wendigo - CharmedI’m a junkie for television shows on Netflix. My most recent addiction is Charmed, which I used to watch as a teenager. (Don’t judge me.) I must have started viewing the show later in its run because boy, are some of the characters (cough cough Andy) and events of the first season confusing considering what I know. [Update: Scratch that. I thought Ted King and Julian McMahon were the same person. They look EXACTLY ALIKE.]

The other day, I came upon the episode “The Wendigo” — which is, surprise, about a wendigo. This monster (pictured left) was more like a werewolf, but whatever. Anyway, it was an interesting episode for me to watch so soon after reading The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey. The only trait that Charmed‘s version of the monster shares with the one in Yancey’s book is a heart of ice.

In The Curse of the Wendigo, the wendigo is a creature so thin that it’s almost invisible. It ravenously consumes but, unable to sate its hunger, only grows more emaciated. It calls out the names of its victims on the high wind before it attacks, ripping out their hearts and tearing the skin from their bodies.

The Charmed episode provided a good explanation for the organ removal that fit well with Yancey’s story: the wendigo commits this act because it suffers from a broken heart. So it’s all about love, as usual.

I started to wonder: what’s the real folklore of the wendigo? The legend originates from the Algonquian Native American peoples. The heart of ice is a common characteristic, and the creature either feeds on human flesh or possesses someone, turning them into another wendigo.

But there’s also a medical term called “Windigo psychosis,” which describes cannibalism as a result of delusion. It typically affected families in winter — a period of little sunlight — who spent too much time in isolation due to snowfall.

Swift RunnerThe story has roots in Canada and particularly Ontario and Alberta, such as with the Swift Runner case. The wendigo is considered an embodiment of evil, and Swift Runner — who butchered and ate his wife, six children, mother, and brother though he was not malnourished — afterward expressed considerable remorse at his actions, believing them to be the work of a demon.

As for the monster itself, some believe the wendigo to be a relative of the bigfoot. When it claims someone, that person undergoes physical changes, such as lip swelling and a persistently low body temperature.

John Chanler, the character in The Curse of the Wendigo, went through a transformation as well before he became a deranged killer. His behavior appalled him though he was unable to stop. And Piper Halliwell in Charmed became one when a wendigo scratched her (more like a werewolf, see?). She broke out in cold sweats and experienced uncontrollable anger — with lots and lots of swearing.

Besides The Curse of the Wendigo, you can find the monster in Algernon Blackwood’s short story of the same name (available on Project Gutenberg for free), which introduced the wendigo into horror fiction, as well as in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, Jean Zimmerman’s The Orphanmaster, and much more. It’s also appeared in television shows like The X-Files and Supernatural.

One thought on “Postscript: The legend of the wendigo

  1. I’ve seen the wendigo episodes of both Charmed and Supernatural, and in Supernatural they pronounce it ‘win-day-go’ and in the Halliwells (and me) pronounce it “wen-dih-go.” It’s bugged me for ages, anyone know which is correct?

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