Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.
In Native American mythology—specifically Algonquin, Cree, Ojibwe, and Naskapi—the Wendigo is known by various names including Witigo, Witiko, and Wee-Tee-Go, each of them roughly translated to mean “the evil spirit that devours mankind.” The creature is over fifteen feet tall, was once human, but has been transformed into a ravenous beast with the horns of a deer. The genesis of the Wendigo varies from tribe to tribe; some believe a man was changed into the Wendigo through dark magic. Others claim that the gods cursed a man for eating human flesh. Though descriptions vary, the Wendigo is generally said to have glowing eyes, protruding yellow fangs, and an overly long tongue. Most have a sallow, yellowish skin, but others are said to be matted with hair. They are driven by a horrible hunger.
Interestingly, during times of famine, tribal elders used the Wendigo story as a cautionary tale against cannibalism. It was only with the advent of Algernon Blackwood’s 1910 short story “The Wendigo” that the monster entered horror fiction. Filmmakers have also adopted the Wendigo for their own various takes on an inhuman killer stalking the woods, beginning with an adaptation of Blackwood’s story filmed in 1978, followed by new iterations every decade or so. Cannibalism still being taboo in most cultures, the Wendigo continues to haunt our communal psyche.
The video game series Until Dawn made use of the Wendigo as one of its villains whose story begins with a mine opened in 1893 on Cree land. A structural failure caused part of the mine to collapse in 1952, during which thirty miners were trapped, but rescuers found only 12 survivors. There was no record of the other 18, but it soon became clear the remaining 12 had cannibalized them. Later, the survivors began to display unusual physiological characteristics and swiftly mutated into Wendigoes. A Golden Joystick Award nominee last September, Until Dawn is a 2016 British Academy Games award winner, a considerable feat for a legend once recorded as “Wendigo psychosis” by a Jesuit news chronicle in 1661.
This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Ochre Issue contributor Kim Welliver.