Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Book Review - Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader (Larry Fessenden, 2015)

The Wendigo is hungry, always hungry. And its hunger is never satisfied. The more it eats the bigger it gets. And the bigger it gets, the hungrier it gets. It can grow as tall as the trees, and still it aches with hunger. And we are hopeless in the face of it. We are devoured.”
–Larry Fessenden, Wendigo (2001)

These days, you don’t see many books about the Wendigo on the shelves in the bookstores. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be very many people who are willing to tackle the enormous amount of lore and material that is available about this horrifying beast. And trust me, there is a lot of material to be had! Close to a year ago, I heard about a book entitled Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader via the Internet. When I saw this title, I immediately knew that I absolutely had to get ahold of a copy. Not having a whole lot of money with which to order a copy for myself, I decided to contact the publisher, Fiddleblack Publishing (through Twitter, of all things). I explained my situation to them, and soon enough, I had a response! They actually agreed to send me a copy, free of charge! Who knew that Twitter could be so useful? Anyway, I provided them with my mailing address, and I waited. About a week later, I had the book. This review is LONG overdue, and I would like to offer Fiddleblack Publishing my sincerest apologies for not having posted this review sooner. I’ve been through a lot in the past year, and I hope that they can forgive me.

Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader is a collection of scholarly essays compiled by writer and film director Larry Fessenden, who wrote and directed the movie Wendigo (2001), as well as directing the movie The Last Winter (2006) and the “Skin and Bones” episode for the short-lived TV anthology series Fear Itself (2008). He also collaborated with the scriptwriters for the 2015 PS4 horror survival hit, Until Dawn (Sony Computer Entertainment, 2015). All of this and more he relays in his introduction to the book. He also discusses how he was introduced to the monster as a child and how it literally scared the SHIT out of him. He then recounts his obsession with it as an adult and as a writer and a filmmaker, as well as his subsequent research into the subject and how it continues to influence his work to this very day. Needless to say, the Wendigo has, figuratively speaking, consumed him.

Sudden Storm: A Wendigo Reader is composed of seventeen scholarly essays, interviews, stories, and script excerpts by a number of different writers, with each one giving their own thoughts on the Wendigo. Each one of these shall be briefly examined in this review, which is why it’ll be quite a bit longer than the others. The first thing presented is a script excerpt from Mr. Fessenden’s Wendigo (2001), in which the young boy Miles speaks to his father, George, about the Wendigo, after which they go sledding in the snow. In the first essay, “Seeing Wendigos”, Victoria Nelson discusses the monster in regards to literature, mainly concentrating on Algernon Blackwood’s novella “The Wendigo” (1910). She also takes a look at E.M. Forster’s 1920 tale, “The Story of the Siren”. While the latter story isn’t actually about the Wendigo, Nelson takes note of some interesting parallels between the two stories. Afterwards, she touches upon Fessenden’s Wendigo, and then draws upon “parallels” between the Wendigo and UFOs. The next entry, “The Wendigo”, recounts a “goblin story” as told by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt of a ferocious monster in the woods that a man named Bauman once encountered and subsequently told Roosevelt about. Most people, however, regard this story as being an early account of a very aggressive Sasquatch. The next essay, “The Many Faces of the Wendigo: An Examination” by Chris Hibbard, is an in-depth guide to the basics of what you need to know about the Wendigo. This is a fantastic essay, and the original version (first published in 2008) can be read here. The next essay is Carter Meland’s “It Consumes What It Forgets”. This essay is about the Wendigo’s hunger and how it is unable to relate to or to feel any sort of kinship with humans and the pain that it causes them because of that hunger. It cannot love or feel anything other than its unending hunger, and nothing else matters to the beast other than killing and eating. In short, that hunger has caused the Wendigo to forget its humanity, and therefore it consumes what it has forgotten.

In “Story of the Wendigo” by Sheldon Lee Compton, a very short story is given about a man who has been possessed by the Wendigo and kills his starving family. Following this tragic tale is an excerpt from the “Skin and Bones” script, as written by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. The next essay is “Prophesy”, written by my good friend Nathan Carlson. Nathan is the world’s foremost authority on the Wendigo and the lore surrounding this horrible beast, and I trust him and his research implicitly. In “Prophesy”, Nathan speaks of how the white men destroyed a sacred manitohkan (effigy) in 1895 that kept starvation and the Wendigo at bay. A shaman gave an ominous prophecy that the Wendigo was coming, and the beast would destroy everything and everyone who didn’t flee. This set into motion a chain reaction that led to mass panic, famine, starvation, and fear, all of which only hastened the Wendigo’s coming. In 1896, a man named Felix Auger fell victim to the hunger himself, and had to be executed. He was buried under a pile of heavy logs to keep him from coming back as a full-fledged monster. Tragedy after tragedy followed, until eventually the prophecy was forgotten…that is, until 2008. Nathan turned on the TV early in the morning one night, and the Fear Itself episode “Skin and Bones” was on. At the time, Nathan was writing the very same essay featured in this book. And when the show was over, the news immediately came on and shocked the world with the story of Vincent Li, who murdered a young man named Tim McLean on July 30th aboard a Greyhound Bus. Li stabbed the young man to death with a large knife and then hacked his head off with the blade and consumed some of his flesh. When Nathan heard the news, he sank into “a fog of horror and revulsion”. You can actually feel Nathan’s pain as you read this essay. However, I don’t want to give away the rest of the story. But needless to say, Nathan was both horrified and sickened by the similarities to the Wendigo and the sheer brutality of the act. The shaman’s prophecy has come true, and it threatens to devour us all.

The essay following Nathan Carlson’s “Prophesy” is an interview with filmmaker Christian Tizya of Watson Street Pictures, conducted by Larry Fessenden himself. This interview explores the mythology of the Wendigo, the murder committed by Vince Li in 2008, native beliefs regarding the beast in modern times, and Christian’s opinions regarding cinematic and literary portrayals of the beast. The next essay, entitled “Pantheon” by Kim Newman, deals with the monster’s portrayal in popular culture. This is mostly in regards to television and the movies, but some literary material is examined. Some of those films include Antonia Bird’s Ravenous (1999), Larry Fessenden’s films Wendigo (2001) and The Last Winter (2006), as well as some brief mentions of other, lesser-known films. “Wendigo of the Week: A Myth Too Big for the Small Screen?” by Samuel Zimmerman deals entirely with the Wendigo as portrayed on television. The shows covered include Supernatural (S1/Ep01, “Wendigo”), The X-Files (S1/Ep19, “Shapes”), Sleepy Hollow (S2/Ep06, “And the Abyss Gazes Back”), and Fear Itself – “Skin and Bones”. Zimmerman takes the time to look at the deeper meanings behind the creature’s portrayal in these TV shows, although his comments regarding the Supernatural episode “Wendigo” (which I loved) are far from flattering. In “Myth and Media Consumed”, Alison Natasia examines the “Wendigo Archetype” in Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) through the common denominator of the two: cannibalism (as the Wendigo itself is never actually mentioned by name in the film). And in the sixteen-page essay “Windigo Teaching: Cannibal Critiques in ‘Ravenous’ and ‘Wendigo’”, Carter Meland dives deep into these two films. Here, Meland summarizes the lore that surrounds the Wendigo for reference in conjunction with the films. Next, he takes the time to summarize and dissect each film, looking at the deeper meanings and taking care to note and discuss each connection to the original Native American beliefs that he finds. He also examines Joseph Boyden’s novel Three Day Road (Penguin Books, 2006) in the same manner. Since this essay is so long, I’ll move on to the next one to avoid any spoilers. Don’t worry, because we’re almost done.

The next essay in line is “Consumption, Chaos & Family Values”, written by Bernice M. Murphy. In this thought-provoking essay, Bernice examines Stephen King’s novel The Shining (Doubleday Publishing, 1977) and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film of the same name, but with a twist: she looks at the two works as stories of a man, Jack Torrance, who becomes possessed by the Wendigo and slowly turns into a monster. It should be noted here that Jack’s never-ending hunger isn’t for human flesh: it’s for alcohol. This too can be interpreted as a more modern variation on the more traditional Wendigo’s hunger for human flesh, but the end result is always murderous violence (among the many themes and parallels explored in this essay). Following this is an excerpt from the script of The Last Winter (2006), written by Larry Fessenden and Robert Leaver. And finally, the last essay in the book is “The Last Winter: Why Wouldn’t Nature Fight Us?” by Bernice M. Murphy. This final essay takes a deeper look at the themes found in the film and their connections to the Wendigo. She presents the unseen force that plagues the people as the Earth itself, rising up against everything that mankind has done to it. It is interesting to note that the Wendigo itself is seen as a force of nature, more specifically as the personification of both winter and hunger. This is fascinating stuff, to put it mildly. At the end of the book is a short afterword by Larry Fessenden, which is followed by an annotated list of recommended reading.

Overall, this book is well-written, neatly organized, and is both very educational and extremely entertaining. There are some spelling and grammar errors, but this does not detract from the book’s value as a thought-provoking, in-depth look at the Wendigo, the lore and beliefs surrounding the beast, and the monster’s portrayal and its place in popular culture. And in addition, the book features some truly amazing artwork that will both tantalize and horrify you. All in all, I cannot recommend Sudden Storm enough, and I strongly urge my friends and this blog’s readers to order a copy for themselves as soon as possible. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Fiddleblack Publishing for sending a free copy of this book to me, a guy that they don’t know and have never met, and for giving me this great opportunity to begin with, even though I took much longer to read through this book and to get this review written, typed, and posted than I should have. I hope that you guys at Fiddleblack can find the kindness within your hearts to forgive me, as I have been through a lot in the last year, and I hope that you very much enjoy this review! Thank You!!!

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