Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Wendigo in the Willows

The Ithaqua Cycle: edited by Robert M. Price (1998), containing the following stories:
The Wendigo (1910) by Algernon Blackwood; The Thing from Outside (1923) by George Allan England;; The Thing That Walked on the Wind (1933), The Snow-Thing (1941), and Beyond the Threshold (1941) by August Derleth; Born of the Winds (1975) by Brian Lumley; Spawn of the North (1975) by George C. Diezel, II and Gordon Linzner; They Only Come Out at Night (1975) by Randy Medoff; Footsteps in the Sky (1986) by Pierre Comtois; Jendick's Swamp (1987) by Joseph Payne Brennan; The Wind Has Teeth (1990) by G. Warlock Vance and Scott H. Urban; Stalker of the Wild Wind (1993) by Stephen Mark Rainey; The Country of the Wind (1994) by Pierre Comtois; and Wrath of the Wind-Walker (1999) by James Ambuehl.

In addition to producing The Call of Cthulhu rpg and its offshoots (tendrils?), Chaosium Press also releases mostly reprint volumes of Cthulhu Mythos and Cthulhu-Mythos-adjacent short stories. So kudos to them!

This anthology focuses on one of the more minor Mythos beings, Ithaqua, added to the Mythos by August Derleth and not H.P. Lovecraft himself. It's a wind deity and a spirit of the North. It's also a weird and accidental illustration of how myths -- real myths -- can alter over time, represented in the condensed timeline of 80 years of stories.

Because it all starts with Algernon Blackwood's very European reconfiguration of the myth of the Wendigo, a story with variants among various Native-American peoples of North America's Northcentral and Northeast. As generally constituted in those myths, the Wendigo is both a legendary reinforcer of the taboo against cannibalism and a cautionary fable about the evils of greed and hoarding.

Blackwood, though, reconstitutes the being as instead a sort of embodiment of the dangerous appeal of Going Wild, of surrendering to a sort of Rapture of the Empty Woods and running away from civilization. Blackwood also beefs up the idea of the Wendigo's association with the wind.

And we're off.

Derleth takes some of his cues from Blackwood and further distances his Wendigo (known now also as Ithaqua the Wind-Walker) from its mythological roots. Now it's a malign wind elemental. And that, pretty much, is what the post-Derlethian stories in this anthology work with, to lesser or greater effect.

The stories are all enjoyable, though none are major -- most are pastiches of Lovecraftian style and structure rather than their own unique takes on the Mythos, and that's true of Derleth as much as anyone else. Great post-Lovecraftian stories in the Cthulhu Mythos tend to strike out on their own paths, finding personal approaches. Letting some air in.

Nonetheless, the anthology is quite enjoyable, as noted. The most startling story herein is George Allan England's "The Thing from Outside" -- it's basically a Cthulhu Mythos story before Lovecraft had truly begun the Mythos, a sort of bridge between Blackwood's proto-Lovecraftian "The Wendigo" and "The Willows" and H.P.L.'s "The Call of Cthulhu" and everything after. Recommended.

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