Sunday, March 10, 2013

Monster #9—The Wendigo

The concept of being lost in the woods and freezing to death is pretty scary. So is the idea of being eaten by wild animals when you're lost in the woods. What could be worse than that? How about being lost in the woods AND eaten by wild animals? Or worse than that? Being eaten by cannibals.

Now... what if you were the one lost in the woods... but YOU were the cannibal? That's pretty frightening too.

The wendigo is a monster that embodies these fears. From the original Algonquian mythology, the wendigo was described as a bloody-lipped gaunt person that reeked of death. Worse... humans could become wendigos if they were overpowered by greed.

From those myths, a number of more modern incarnations of the wendigo have evolved, but the core elements remain the same—there's something out there in the frozen woods that wants to eat you. One of Algernon Blackwood's greatest short stories is called "The Wendigo." From there, the story impressed H. P. Lovecraft and others in his writing circle, notably August Derleth, and as a result, the legend infiltrated the Cthulhu mythos in the form of the Great Old One Ithaqua. The wendigo would go on to show up in Marvel comic books, in video games, modern fiction, and of course in RPGs. I got to be the one to put the wendigo into 3rd edition D&D when for my monster assignment for the 3rd edition Fiend Folio I was asked to stat up some mythological monsters of my choice for inclusion. One of the ones I picked was the ahuizotil (a cool critter I might do in a future monster day entry), but the one I was the most proud of was the wendigo, which was a template you could put on a person or wild animal to turn him or her or it into a ravenous monster. My friend Greg Vaughan got to stat up the Pathfinder version of the wendigo for Rise of the Runelords, but I developed that adventure ("Spires of Xin-Shalast") so I got to get some work in on him there as well.

And, of course, the wendigo's been showing up more and more often in film and TV as well, with appearances in movies like Ravenous and The Last Winter and on shows like the X-Files and (according to Wikipedia) My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Perhaps scariest of all, though, is the fact that, in a way, this monster's for real. "Wendigo psychosis" is a very real mental disorder that causes one to be overcome with an urge to eat human flesh when other sources of food are readily available. That's right. There could be a little bit of wendigo lurking in someone reading this blog at this very moment. Maybe... even in someone WRITING this blog!

You've come a long way, Mr. Wendigo! Don't ever change!
Not a good time to be unable to run...

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