The Wendigo is a short horror novella (48 pages) written in the early 20th century by the famed author Algernon Blackwood. The scene is set when a rag-tag group of hunters delve deep into the uncharted and unforgiving Canadian wilderness in search of wild game. A Scottish divinity student named Simpson and a hunting guide named Defago split from the main group and decide to set up camp within the heart of the wilderness, surrounded by the fluttering trees and stifling cold. A growing atmosphere of dread starts to emanate, a sense of foreboding and man’s insignificance compared to the surrounding nature. As the ominous atmosphere intensifies, Defago believes that he senses a presence lurking in the shadows, stalking their paltry camp. Unpleasant odours float towards their camp, carried by the ever-present swaying winds. Defago awakes in the middle of the night screaming in terror and disappears into the deep forest, almost like he is being summoned somewhere. Shaken by Defago’s terror and disappearance, Simpson becomes anxious and unsure of what to do. Alone in the piercingly cold forest, Simpson is aware that he will die without his guide as he does not possess any tracking or hunting skills. He gathers the courage to follow Defago’s footsteps into the wilds. After following for a while, Simpson notices a separate set of tracks that he cannot identify. Though they are large, and the owner has a long gait. The tracks simply vanish at one point and Simpson thinks that he hears the distant voice of Defago mumbling a wild chant. Distressed by what he has seen and heard, Simpson decides to abandon his search and attempt to re-unite with the rest of the camp. Once he does, they decide to go searching for Defago together.
Camp is established and the crew prepare to go searching for their lost comrade. Again, an odour emerges, and a figure materialises among the trees. The figure gets closer and sits down next to the fire in the camp. The mysterious stranger is a disfigured and reeking Defago. It soon becomes apparent that this is not the real Defago and the body has been possessed by something. The possessed Defago attempts to communicate with the group in a creaking manner and is contorting in an unnatural way before disappearing once again. The hunters are now aware that they have trespassed on the land of something ancient and evil and decide to return from the hunt to the wider camp. To their surprise when they return Defago is already there and is suffering from delusion and frostbite and soon dies. The Native American members of the group notice that an odour arrived along with Defago and leave immediately. They recognise that they have awoken The Wendigo and must leave at once.
The Wendigo is a bit of a slow burn but a fantastic atmospheric horror story. The novella taps into the fear of the unknown and that sense of a dark lurking presence hiding in the dark.
I would rate the book 4/5 and recommend it to any horror fans as it is a quick read.