The Monstrous Connection Between Pet Sematary and Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark
There are plenty of terrifying mythical monsters in the world to keep you up at night, unless you’re that weird kid who is fascinated by those monsters and does lots of research about them. Fortunately for everyone, I am that kid and I *love* mythical monster stories. I grew up researching things like the Jersey Devil, the Bell Witch, and the Loch Ness Monster, but there’s one monster that’s especially terrifying that doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves – the Wendigo. Recently having finished Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and looking back on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I was reminded of this beast and decided to dive deeper into the mythos around the original legend, as well as modern places that the Wendigo appears.
The website native-languages.org has an entry dedicated to the story of the “Windigo”, which includes many alternate spellings, including the familiar Wendigo. This site doesn’t look like much, but was founded by a Cherokee man dedicated to preserving Native cultures. The site attributes the myth of the Wendigo to several different tribes, including the Chippewa, Algonquin, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. There are also similar stories among other groups in the upper midwest and northeast, including the Cree, Iroquois, and Micmac.
Native Languages offers a few different details about this beast, which all come down to a couple of ideas: Wendigos are spirits that possess people, and the myth involves cannibalism, either as the catalyst for the possession or as a consequence of it. The actual beast itself is described as being made of or coated in ice, sometimes with the original person still trapped inside.
The oddly well-vetted and sourced Wikipedia page dedicated to the Wendigo also notes that it is sometimes described as having the head of a deer or deer skull. It also lists the creature as its own being, not necessarily always one that possesses a human and transforms that person into a Wendigo. It seems that, like Bigfoot, stories about this creature vary pretty widely depending on the region. Visual depictions of the Wendigo demonstrate this variance; there are depictions of giant deer/human beasts, as well as scrawny, slender-man type beings. Either way, they all eat human flesh and should be the subject of your nightmares.
I first encountered the story of the Wendigo in a short story called “Burning Feet” from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. You might recall that I have professed my love for this series and the special place it holds in my Halloween heart previously on SH. In this story, a hunter goes into the Canadian wilderness with a man named DeFago; DeFago disappears one night after the two hear mysterious voices on the wind. The hunter finds nothing of DeFago in the morning except for burning footprints. The townsfolk discuss that it might be the Wendigo, who carries its victims off, skimming their feet and legs over the ground until the friction burns them off. This story, along with the terrifying illustration, stuck in my little brain and stayed there forever.
The ill-fated Creed family has their own dealings with the Wendigo in Ludlow, Maine. The creature is first brought up by Jud Crandall, who talks about the stories of the Micmac people who feared the ground that turned sour. Of course, he only really talks about it after he and Louis resurrected Church. Louis sees the Wendigo on a number of occasions: in a dream,as a kind of mythical hallucination, a huge, lumbering presence without defined shape while in the dark of the forest; a sinister face in the vapors of fog; and a voice personified through the body of his young son, Gage. The sinister force pervades the story, becoming ever more present and suffocating as the events of the novel unfold. While the Wendigo does not have one specific form, it is still high-octane nightmare fuel. Perhaps this lack of hard and fast form aids in the general terrifying nature of the Wendigo in this regard.
Stephen King also uses the Wendigo in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, because it’s scary and he’s good at that.
There are a few of other places that this particular beast shows up, even though it’s not as popular as certain other monster myths. The 1999 movie Ravenous involves a number of men who consume human flesh and then become Wendigos as a result. Supernatural featured an episode involving a Wendigo that needed to be dealt with. There is also a survivor video game called Until Dawn that features a Wendigo in truly creepy fashion. There’s also what seems to be a less well-known game called The Wendigo where you have to find an object in an old, creepy house whilst being chased by one of these chilly dudes. Watching some gameplay video of The Wendigo makes it abundantly clear that I would not sleep if I tried that particular game out. New author Siobhan Carroll published an arctic horror story called “Wendigo Nights” that recalls the terror of isolation in the cold with a group of people who can’t entirely be trusted. So, while there may not be any novels out there featuring 100 year old Wendigos falling in love with high school students and glimmering in the sun, it’s clear that it does have a place in our collective world of story-telling.
Do you know of other stories that feature the Wendigo? What are your thoughts on this creature of the cold and dark? Let us know!