From Algernon Blackwood`s 1910 tale, August Derleth gave new life to the legend of the Wendigo
August Derleth has been praised or reviled as an editor and posthumous collaborator of H. P. Lovecraft but I think Mythos fans often forget he was also a collaborator on the Mythos, creating his share of new books, monsters and ideas. One of these ideas was the Walker on the Winds, Ithaqua. Like HPL before him, he looked to the stories of yesteryear for inspiration and found it in “The Wendigo” by Algernon Blackwood. This tale appeared in his collection The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910). Twenty-three years later, Derleth would write a sequel to Blackwood’s story, mentioning the author.
“The Wendigo” follows Simpson, a neophyte to the Bush, on a moose hunt with Dr. Cathcart and their hired guides. Simpson is paired with Defago, a French Canadian who blanches when Cathcart decides he should take Simpson to Fifty Mile Lake. Once the two men arrive at the lake, the guide becomes even more nervous. The reason becomes clear to Simpson when he finds the man sleeping with his feet sticking out of the tent and whimpering in his sleep. A great wind rises, calling the man, who plunges off into the wilderness, leaving Simpson alone. The hunter tries to find his guide but only finds impossible tracks that get wider and wider apart. He also hears Defago’s voice on the wind cry in esctacy about his burning feet. Simpson returns to the other camp and gets Carthcart and his guide, Hank. They return to the spot where Defago disappeared. The wind monster reappears, shaking Cathcart’s scientific philosophy. When Simpson yells at the wind to return Defago he appears. The man is horribly changed, his flesh hanging like a mask and his feet weirdly misshapened as if by fire. The wind takes him again and the three men return to their first camp. When they arrive, they find Defago already there, his mind blasted. He dies shortly after for he has “seen the Wendigo”.
But before Derleth would do this, another writer would pen a tale for Hugo Gernsback that played an important intermediary step. This was “The Thing From — Outside” by George Allan England. England was a Science Fiction writer best known for his trilogy Darkness and Dawn (1912-14). This story appeared first in Gernsback’s Science and Invention (April 1923), a magazine devoted to non-fiction with one or two stories in it, but was reprinted in the very first issue of Amazing Stories (April 1926), the first Science Fiction magazine ever. A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Manly Wade Wellman, Lilith Lorraine, Kenneth Sterling, Frank Belknap Long, even Derleth himself, would all be published by Gernsback in the decade to come.
The Thing From – Outside
“The Thing From — Outside” follows a group of five people who are traveling in the wilderness. Their native guides abandon them when they see a strange circular footprint in a rock. Their death screams are a prophecy of what is to come. The party finds the strange tracks around their camp. The monster is following them. When water is placed in the track it freezes and can’t be remelted. The first victim is Professor Thorburn’s wife. She dies of a paralysis, with fear-filled eyes. They bury her body and continue to flee. The men argue as to the nature of the monster but can’t agree. The birds and the black flies can no longer be found. The leaves on the trees fall off. The party finds an old cabin and hide there for a while. Jandron the geologist wakes up to find the professor dead, like his wife, and Marr and Vivian missing. The ground is covered in snow despite it being summer. All sources of heat no longer work. There is a love triangle of sorts between Marr, Vivian and Jandron. jandron wants to flee with the girl but Marr goes crazy. Marr tries to shoot Jandron but his bullets won’t ignite. Marr returns to the cabin where the thing tortures him. Jandron manages to get the injured man and the girl into a canoe and heads out into Lake Moosawamkeag. They are rescued. Marr is dead but Jandron and Vivian escape. Vivian has no memory of what happened. Jandron lies and tells her that the others died in a boat capsizing. They marry but Jandron can never wear a ring as he has an aversion to all things ring-shaped.
It is easy to see how England’s story inspired Derleth’s version of the Wendigo. Where Blackwood is ethereal and vague, England is far more brutal if just as unclear. You can feel the terror that the captives are suffering, the weird paralysis, the fear of the unknown. Derleth borrows this version of a thing from outside our reality for his wind-walker. In many ways his story is more frightening than most Lovecraft tales because of its directness. Lovecraft worked hard to use M. R. Jamesian indirection in the forms of journals and letters in his stories. England does none of this, just tells it directly. Only the weak ending of “The Thing From — Outside” marrs it as a masterpiece of horror. Strangely, I hadn’t heard of this story until recently. It seems an odd story to find in Science and Invention.
There is so much more to this topic and G. W Thomas’ article in the second issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly goes much further in depth. You can read the entire article and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the download button below!