This chilling cycle book includes thirteen tales related to Ithaqua, the Wind-Walker, collected together for the first time. Ithaqua was created by August Derleth and is based upon the terrible winter spirits, or Wendigo, of Native North American mythology. Includes stories by August Derleth, Brian Lumley, Algernon Blackwood, Joseph Payne Brennan, and others. A perfect book for those cold winter nights. This book is part of an expanding collection of Cthulhu Mythos horror fiction and related topics. Call of Cthulhu fiction focuses on single entities, concepts, or authors significant to readers and fans of H.P. Lovecraft.
Let's discuss the dick-punching Frankenstein in the room.
This is a book of stories about the monster god Ithaqua, the Wendigo, the Thing That Walked on the Wind. My wife's favorite picture of him is this one from the first edition of S. Petersen's Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters . . .
. . . although the second edition one has a nice, Wayne Barlowe feel.
So, enough art. On to the dick-punching Frankenstein.
Imagine you love a monster. Let's say Frankenstein's monster, who I'll just call Frankenstein because, hell, it's his father's name. Let's say Frankie has a very specific way of killing victims: punching them in the dick.
That's cool. In isolation.
Imagine picking up a book of Frankenstein stories. You read the original stories, get psyched at the classic reveal of the dick-punch, and settle in for the long run.
Then . . . the pattern emerges.
Every story . . . every story . . . follows the formula of "Person encounters Frankenstein, stuff happens, Frankenstein punches person in the dick." No matter how witty the commentary of editor Robert M. Price is between stories, you know where it'll all end. Sooner or later, Frankenstein will punch someone in the dick.
Except for one story where Frankenstein gets in a WW1 dogfight, punch after that it's back to the dick-punching.
The stories are technically good; they just get kinda samey. For contrast, its sister volume The Tsathoggua Cycle seems much more varied to me.
I love wendigos. They're a core part of the world-building in my book Murder With Monsters. I just need them shaken up a bit every once in a while.
Still, as comfort food, spread out far enough, sometimes you just want to sit outside on a cloudy night when the wind is howling and read about Frankenstein punching someone in the dick.
One of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu fiction series, The Ithaqua Cycle is a short anthology of “Cthulhu Mythos” pastiches focused on August Derleth’s literary creation of “Ithaqua,” basically his way to draw the plot of Algernon Blackwood’s novella “The Wendigo” into the “Cthulhu Mythos” shared world he was attempting to codify from the work of his mentor H.P. Lovecraft. The collection was compiled by editor Robert M. Price, who introduces each work through some rather overbearing commentary, trying to imbue them with some sort of literary merit rather than just another rehash of the same ol’, same ol’. It is a hopeless task.
Opening the anthology with Blackwood’s classic 1910 tale may, it turns out, may have been a bit of a mistake to set up your collection of bland fan fiction. While perhaps not Blackwood’s best, “The Wendigo” is still an evocative, eerie, roaring campfire-like piece that delivers a lot of mood and ends up making the other pieces following it look much worse in comparison. Blackwood’s writing is elegant in his creation of the desolate and mysterious atmosphere of the Canadian Northwoods and the inexplicable presence of its titular force, dragging the poor, sensitive French Canadian Defago into the icy forest. The rote stereotypes and bald racism that also pepper the tale are sadly typical of the time Blackwood was writing in. The Algonquin mythology of the windigo has here been lifted by Blackwood to serve his own purposes and bears little resemblance to the actual indigenous legends, but has come into pop culture as the prototypical Native American mythical monster, as discussed in Shawn Smallman's work Dangerous Spirits: The Windigo in Myth in History (definitely a more interesting read).
Price mentions none of this, except that the wendigo represents “genuine North American Indian lore” and murky insinuations that indigenous Americans are not really “native” to North America anyway (yikes) but has a lot to say about how the Wendigo can be analogous to various Biblical beings and how Derleth added it to his roster of gotta catch ‘em all elemental Great Old Ones. To be honest, his commentary left a bad taste in my mouth but was also a little funny, so smug and self-serious about such astoundingly boring fiction.
For the most part, the thirteen other stories in The Ithaqua Cycle are simply tired retellings of the same motifs with much less atmosphere, pointless inclusion of Cthulhu Mythos references for the sake of references, and continued, unquestioning use of the same old racist tropes. Spanning a period of time from pulp writer George Allen England’s 1923 “The Thing from Outside,” three of Derleth’s own stories written in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and various other genre writers writing from the ‘70s to the ‘90s, the bulk of these works follow basically the same plot;
“a party of stock white characters has a tough time of it in the Canadian wilderness, ia ia Ithaqua Fatagn! Never trust the natives…”.
The legend of the windigo is so eerie and affecting, it’s disappointing that so little comes of it in these tedious so-called cosmic horror tales. Perhaps the fact that the whole lot of these writers are British or American white dudes doesn’t help them go anywhere more novel. While a couple of them try tackling a different setting (maybe Siberia during the Russian Civil War or a WWI flying ace) or even build into some dumb fun encountering a crazy cannibal rustic in a rotting swamp cabin, as a whole the collection is just bad.
All in all, the stories collected here do little but reinforce my view of “Lovecraftian” fiction at the end of the twentieth century as an ossified, creatively bankrupt exercise in rote referencing and cliched regurgitations, content to wallow in unquestioned racist tropes and cliches. None of the stories bring any surprises or really anything any reader of weird fiction or horror hasn’t already seen over and over again.
No matter how many of these Call of Cthulhu collections I read, there are always some stories that are much better than others, the case in any anthology. In this collection there are a total of 14 stories (plus an introduction by the editor and comments by the editor prior to every story).
Overall, it was an okay book, and by far, the best story in the entire collection was the first one, "The Wendigo," by Algernon Blackwood. After that, readers of Cthulhu mythos stories in their various forms will recognize many of the authors who have made contributions to this volume, but Blackwood's work is far superior.
Here's the contents list (a * denotes my favorites)
1. "The Wendigo", by Algernon Blackwood * A party of hunters tracking moose up in the Canadian wilderness decides that perhaps they'd have better luck if they split up. Two of them, Defago (the guide) and Simpson (a young Scotsman in the hunting party) take off in a canoe for the other side of the lake. The first night out, the Wendigo makes its appearance known and leaves horror in its wake. Excellent story; perhaps tame after what's being written for horror these days, but I felt it was superb.
2. " The Thing from Outside", by George Allen England * Originally appearing in a magazine in 1923, it still has good creep potential today. A small group of people making their way south to leave Hudson Bay before the harsh winter sets in have their own encounter with evil in the form of " a Thing from outside." They find themselves in a race for survival and their own sanity. Good.
3. "The Thing That Walked on the Wind", by August Derleth * I must admit to having read this before, but I'm not sure exactly where since I have so many of these anthologies that the stories are all starting to blur together. Nevertheless, this is where he changes the name of the Wendigo to Ithaqua and links it (in his way) to the original Mythos of HPL. Good and creepy.
4. "The Snow-Thing (Ithaqua)", by August Derleth -- the sequel to The Thing That Walked on the Wind, and not as good as the original. I enjoyed the basic story (too bad he couldn't have done a series of just Dalhousie stories) but this one brings in other characters from the mythos that just don't seem to fit.
5. "Beyond the Threshold", by August Derleth Okay, this one was pretty decent, but not on list of top stories in the book. A young man from Arkham is summoned to go to the home of his grandfather in the northern wilds of Wisconsin. It seems that there have been some strange occurrences as of late. Of course, there's the typical "evil texts that should have been burned but weren't so they fell into the wrong hands" routine along with the "summoning of the evil power" thing going on here. Not much new or highly original in this particular story if you've read much of HPL or Derleth in the past.
6. "Born of the Winds", by Brian Lumley* This one I really enjoyed, but then again I'm a major fan of most of Lumley's work. An American meteorologist is visiting Navissa, Manitoba to recover after having suffered some type of "chest complaint." He's staying at the home of a friend, Judge Andrews. It seems that the Judge had a friend who had some years back disappeared into the cold wilds of the North, along the Olassie Trail. Belief in the Wendigo/Wind-Walker is strong here. Anyway, the meteorologist overhears a conversation between Bridgeman's widow and the judge, and it turns out that now Mrs. Bridgeman's son is missing along the Olassie trail, and she aims to get him back. The Meteorologist volunteers after having read some of Bridgeman's work on anthropology and strange cults of the north. Little do either of them know what's in store for them.... A very good story; one of the better ones in the collection.
7. "Spawn of the North", by George C. Diezel II and Gordon Linzner * A different look at the Wendigo/Wind-Walker/Ithaqua legend, set in days of yesteryear. Up in the far north of the Yukon is the Consolidated Mine, whose workers hang out in their off time in the Lucky Nugget Saloon. A new guy comes into town, and starts drawing attention to himself by telling tall tales from his home, Texas. Seems that anything that the Northwest has, well, it's bigger in Texas. As he's bragging about some "mighty worrisome creatures," one of the patrons, Old Jac, starts off in a semi-trance. He starts going on about the Wendigo and shows the new guy the mark left on him by the creature some fifty years earlier. Well, needless to say this is one of the homes of the Wendigo and no one is safe, not even a tough-talkin' Texan. I liked this one; it's a nice and different approach to the story.
8. "They Only Come Out at Night", by Randy Meloff - Think Wendigo = Yeti and move the scene to the Himalayas, add some Ia! Ia! Ithaqua and you've got the picture.
9. "Footsteps in the Sky", by Pierre Comtois* This one was also a resettlement of the Ithaqua/Wendigo/Wind-Walker legend, this time to the far northern forests of Russia during the time of the Russian Civil War just after the Bolsheviks had taken power. An American journalist joins a unit fighting against the reds and gets much more than he bargained for. Well written, suspenseful and just all around a fine story.
10. "Jendick's Swamp," by Joseph Payne Brennan A writer and a constable go to visit an abandoned, ramshackle home that sits in the middle of a swamp after a visitor from New York doing some hunting got lost and then came upon the old house from which he swore that two eyes were staring at him. he took off quickly, but the constable's curiousity was aroused. It turns out the family that had owned the house was a supplier of sacrifices to Ithaqua -- but supposedly they had all died off. So of course, off they go to look at the place; well, I won't spoil the rest. This one I enjoyed.
11. "The Wind Has Teeth", by G. Warlock Vance and Scott H. Urban*
When harbingers of modern progress want to take over a sacred site and construct condos, it may be time for nature to strike back. Told in a not so orderly way, this was a good story; somewhat more modern than the others in this collection.
12. "Stalker of the Wild Wind", by Stephen Mark Rainey * A Most excellent story which starts out very normally, and just when you're wondering what could possibly come from this, or why this story is in this book, the abnormal reaches in and hooks you. The story is told in modern times, looking back to WWI, by a pilot of a German plane, and tells of a dogfight he once got into that changed his life forever. Very well told and creepy, too.
13. "The Country of the Wind", by Pierre Comtois -- In the Vermont hills, a young hunter comes across a thoroughly deserted town and all too late discovers why it is so. Good.
14. "Wrath of the Wind-Walker", by James Ambuehl *-- A reporter received an assignment to interview a reclusive professor who has suddenly decided to speak out and divulge a secret regarding an expedition which began in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge. His mission: to look for a mysterious cult that worshiped a god of snow and ice that was spoken of in the mysterious Eltdown Shards. What they find, and its aftermath is quite literally chilling. Fine story - very creepy.
Overall, a very fun read, with many familiar authors and some very good work. Recommended to those with an interest in the Lovecraftian mythos (although there is nothing here by HPL). I'd definitely start with some basic Lovecraft before going into these anthologies.
Yet another great anthology in Chaosium’s Cycle series by Robert M Price!
This book gave me an introduction to my first tale by the esteemed Algernon Blackwood, The Wendigo . I can see why he has the reputation he does - he does a great job at imbuing Nature (with a capital N) with a sense of Otherness and beauty while also ominous as a place Man doesn’t entirely belong. I was greatly enjoying myself with this one right up until the very end - wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending, but everything else was pretty top notch.
Included, of course, are the Derleth stories which were the origin of this particular Mythos deity. Reading these after having read Lumley’s Ithaqua story just leaves these seeming like a pale imitation, even though these are the originals. Good for historical interest, and those like me who want to read through all of Derleth’s Mythos output.
Speaking of Lumley, his amazing Born of the Winds was also featured here, and it doesn’t suffer from a bad ending the way The Wendigo does. Top notch story, and I feel like Lumley doesn’t get enough praise for some of his amazing Mythos novellas.
Now for some of the later Mythos tales. “Spawn of the North” is one that’s going to stick with me, partially just because of the male bonding/friendship in it. It’s not something that I see very often in fiction/media. “Jendick’s Swamp” wasn’t one of my favorites or anything, but the disgust it managed to evoke in me is something to be congratulated for a horror story I suppose.
I also particularly enjoyed “Stalker of the Wild Wind”, which gave me overtones of the Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident of WW2 - just with a titanic god of the northern winds. Not sure if that’s what the author had in mind, but that’s what I got out of it. Unique Mythos tale of WW1 fighter pilots.
I was impressed how the later authors managed to vary the locales and situations for their Ithaqua stories. Yes, you know it’s gonna end up with some poor bastard getting frozen like a popsicle. But heck, a couple of the stories take place in a swamp and a jungle! So having things take place outside the Arctic circle was a surprise.
My appreciation of this anthology was probably enhanced by reading a story or two whenever my area got some snowy weather. So things were adequately spread out so as not to get too repetitive or stale, which I could see being a valid issue if reading these close together. This is something that could potentially be a problem for a number of Chaosium’s themed anthologies, if the theme isn’t broad enough.
A good book to curl up with at night in a cozy chair while it’s blustering snow out!
For my first foray into the vast world of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu Fiction series, I chose this collection of stories centering around Ithaqua, “The Wind-Walker of the Icy Wastes.” Ithaqua was always one of my favorite corners of the whole Cthulhu Mythos (I’m a sucker for horror stories with frigid settings), so I figured I would be on safe ice. For the most part my venture was rewarded. The anthology features snow-creatures galore, including sub-genre classics by Algernon Blackwood and August Derleth. A handful of the authors took the liberty of moving the title character out of his usual environs with varying degrees of success. And even among the more traditional entries, some were naturally better than others. But overall the quality is good and the reading experience thoroughly enjoyable.
While this is probably the most comprehensive compendium of stories about Ithaqua/Wendigo. Most of the stories are quite amateurish (fully deserving the 'pulp fiction' moniker). The only redeeming aspect of the collection are the stories by Algernon Blackwood (the original "Wendigo" story) and a couple of stories by Derleth (sadly, not of the quality of say "The Lurker at the Threshold"). Other stories are basically paraphrases on the same theme, not showing much creativity. Overall, I can't recommend it - I wish the topic was picked by more talented authors (in my opinion, it would make a fabulous short story by Stephen King). Mr. Blackwood's story is already out of copyright and makes a decent read; I will not miss any other stories in this collection.
This was quite fun to read, especially seeing the precursors to Derleth's Ithaqua stories and the way writers after him took the ball and ran with it. Probably the two best stories are Blackwood's The Wendigo" and Lumley's "Born of the Winds," but I also quite liked Comtois's "Footsteps in the Sky."
One of the minor keys in Chaosium's largely excellent collection series on various aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos, focusing as its title would suggest on Ithaqua, the wind walker, an entity originating not with Lovecraft but with August Derleth by way of Algernon Blackwood, and expanded on via Lumley and Comptois et al in forteen short stories. This is mythos enity the hungry thing born of the wind and the cold skies writ large, and as elemental predator/dark traveler rather than cosmic indifference or malign intelligence too alien to understand, and as such a subject which veers towards more traditional northern folklore-as-horror than lovcraftian trope at its core.
As with many such collections gathered by overlaying theme, your millage here may vary, as does for me the quality of the tales in this one, from the solidly excellent of which there are several (with Pierre Comtois's "The Country of the Wind" being the standout for me), to the stories which set the idea of the Walker in the Wastes up to begin with which are at the least interesting (even if Blackwood's prose I confess has never struck a cord with me stylistically), to some middle of the road pastiches of the old guard and a couple of outright clangers, which for me just shouldn't have made the cut and sadly defected me enough to put me off finishing for a while when I hit them (and are the only reason I didn't rate this one a star higher!)
For a number of reasons, Ithaqua is (imho) a secondary supernatural figure in the Lovecraft mythos. The main reason is that it was created by August Derleth, who was often a better friend and champion of HPL than a writer. As a consequence, editor Price had little to choose from when making up the contents of this anthology other than fan fiction, which of course is marred by great variance in quality and innovation. However, Price does well with the limited materials he has to work with (as usual). The Algernon Blackwood tale "The Wendigo" is fairly good, and it is interesting to evaluate the Ithaqua literary tradition in light of its origins in that story. However, of Derleth's three seminal tales reprinted here, only "Beyond the Threshold" is worth reading (and that's a qualified recommendation), and many of the stories that followed Derleth's lead suffer from a lack of imagination: they usually involve retelling of the same basic story again and again right through the 1980s. Thankfully, later writers began to experiment with the ideas involved, so this book gets markedly better in the last 75 pages or so. In particular, Stephen Rainey's WWI reworking of the Wendigo myth is very well done: innovative, interesting, and showing more of a debt to Lovecraft than to Derleth. James Ambuehl's story about an Ithaqua cult in Khmer Rouge-era Kampuchea is also quite well done.
This really deserves a 3.5, but the rating system doesn't allow for fractional stars.
Like all the books in the Chaosium series The Ithaqua Cycle suffers from some unevenness in story quality. Most notable as weak entries are those by August Derleth (who, in my opinion, should be both lauded for saving the works of Lovecraft from utter obscurity as well as damned for making such a hash of 'the mythos').
The other weakness the series suffers from is the series editor's inability to NOT over-explain in the lead-in/background for each individual entry. If you LIKE surprises you should read these AFTER each story as a postscript rather than as a preface.
In the end, this collection is certainly worth the money for fans of the Greater Mythos and completionists, but the casual fan is probably better served sticking to Lovecraft's own works.