Wendigo

Boasting in your light, you

have forgotten the strands of flesh that

once made you human.

I had to be conjured

from broken

Memories.

 

I’ll feed on your stories of thunder.

Your charlatan tales

of valor, creating you

but not you.

 

Read me in your legends.

I am the one who roams in fear,

creating grandeur out of

carcasses.

 

Bone and ashes under

a licorice sky;

Lust stamped with a smell of

Wilderness. My screams

unrelinquished, yet

familiar.

 

How many bullets have you left,

Traveler?

Let me show you the way.

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The Wendigo – Algernon Blackwood : visiting one of the sources of Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary is one of those books that has many uncommon tropes of the horror genre, penned effortlessly by Stephen King in his drunken rage, only to loosen up the dreary influences he received from multiple source materials. Blackwood’s The Wendigo served as one of the biggest catalysts in the early 1900s to have writers incline towards Native American folklore – and before you knew it, a sub genre was born that dealt with only these legends. In Pet Sematary, arguably King’s finest telling of the Wendigo lore of the Algonquinian tribe, the literature peaked at its best, yet to get to the root of where it all started, we will definitely have to give due credit to Blackwood. Derelith, who wrote the marvelous Ithaqua, drew heavily from this psychological thriller of a short story, and in turn ended up influencing the monster that dwelt in the marshes beyond the Creed’s, one who was barely seen but was often heard, one who walked with the wind.

The premise in itself is pretty barebones : but that gives the narrator plenty of time to spin his web and create an atmosphere that is as vicious as it is visceral. Five people break into groups of two and three in some remote American wilderness, hunting big moose. The obscurity of the forest ensures that the stories inside it also stays intact, and something primal lurks in it that the forest protects fervently. It is no accident that this creature, the Wendigo, masks its presence so well amidst the dense foliage, icy terrain and a placid lake that splits the forest into two. You have a hard time for the most part deciding who is the villain here : is it the monster that feeds on fear, or is it the forest that creates that fear?

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There’s a third perpetrator in this tale : the human yearning to jump into things that they don’t comprehend, a sort of answering the call of the wild, feral, the uncharted – that inevitably brings about their doom. Blackwood is quick to point that out in The Wendigo, that even though the monster of the folklore maybe out there, it is the curiousity of the hunters and trackers that ends up being one of the deciding factors in their encounter with the elusive beast, and as much ferocity nature can conjure, it is also the fate of a few inconsiderate people who run chasing every rare chance an obscure wilderness may present : in their callousness they give life to folklore and legends that are best left unseen.

Unsurprisingly enough, it’s the Indian tracker Dévago who bears the brunt of the abuse of senses – in his change of form from a jocund moose-tracker to something else that is most profound here. Blackwood also throws in the possibility of a possession and its fatal aftermath, but the conversation between a newbie Scot and a veteran Dévago constitute the better part of the story. Punk and others chip in and fill the holes in the plot.

In the end, the sparsely heard song is what remains as a crushing reminder :

“Oh! oh! My feet of fire! My burning feet of fire! Oh! oh! This height and fiery speed!”

There is an undeniable Lovecraftian quality in this story that I absolutely adore. The thrusting into the atmosphere horror, the unseen protagonist, the psychological turmoil, the relentless questioning of human psyche elevates this story into a work of art from a simple narration. No wonder it inspired a generation of writers to spin their own twist on this genre.

Cujo : The dog is not the monster

I am on a Stephen King marathon it seems.

Unlike Pet Sematary, I did not remember Cujo the movie. I knew the basic premise. So it was about a rabid Saint Bernard dog wrecking havoc. The earlier book gave me a nice glimpse into King’s writing technique – that his novels weren’t just your run of the mill horror story, but they provided a unique point of view, a subjective analysis of human psyche and character that was often very sad and cruel. In Cujo, King is in his familiarity, and the story is again in Maine, where he lived a great deal. Castle Rock was a quiet neighborhood, so close yet so away from the business of New York or Boston or other big cities. Life here was on a different tone, often rolling off to borderline out of sync with the civilization that ran on steroids. Hence the story of a rabid dog that may have been a normal story in the cities turns out to be a vicious chapter in the town’s history.

Stephen King was in the peak of his drunken-abusiveness when he wrote Cujo, and he has largely admitted that he doesn’t remember the book. I think that factored in building the bleak spine of the story, a rigmarole that is relationship – be it between a married couple, or between parents and kids, or even between a child and a dog, and between a dog and his keepers, represented here with excruciating detail. It is beautifully summated in the ending quotes where King narrates:

“It would perhaps not be amiss to point out that he had always tried to be a good dog. He had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor.”

Indeed free will forms a great part of this story. A woman’s free will to speak up against an abusive marriage, another’s free will to choose her path amidst a tumbling relationship and the mid life crisis – to a man’s free will to save a marriage, to a vindictive ejaculation of another man in a fit of rage, ending up to the dog’s fate of being a slave to the will of a disease, an abomination that took control of him, the mind’s forces are characters of their own in Cujo. Stephen King goes one up when he introduces Cujo as a perspective and not a third-person character, something that completely changes the way the novel reads, and it is fantastic. The gradual degeneration of his mind is almost as deplorable as the crumbling relationships around him, and the fogginess in his brain, the sharp pains in his mind and body, the slow, screaming death of his self-conscience except the blurry notions of MAN, WOMAN and BOY are eerily similar to the blurred lines of a human mind as it struggles to distinguish good from the bad. The ending is hence not surprising at all, knowing King would have liked it to end it that way, and it shows in a way that the dog was just at a bad place at a bad time, just like the Trentons, just like the Cambers, just like Sheriff Bannermann.

So this is a sad story, but why does it rank as horror? Writhing inside the story of a dog gone bad is the unnerving undertale of a monster, something that lurks inside a kid’s closet, often manifesting itself with glowing eyes piercing through the clot of darkness, prying open the door ever so slightly. Is it the dementia that was brought by Frank Dodd the serial killer? Did he never die? King never really divulges into that, and his intentional omission gives Cujo the novel a supernatural chill that elevates it from a regular tale of a rabid dog rampaging around a quiet town.

In the end, Cujo is a read that requires a little patience since it takes time to enter the world of Castle Rock. Once you enter, there is no turning back. The second half is a rabid page-turner (no pun intended). Stephen King’s Cujo is at its best when the Saint Bernard is on its paws, lunging at unsuspecting human beings, tearing them apart. It is also at is worst when Cujo is on his paws, lumbering around like a lifeless husk, too fragmented, too hurt to think, too restless to die. In a way Cujo represents excessive alcoholism of King, a story returned from the otherwise inaccessible, fucked up places in the corner of his mind.

Recommended.

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary : Foray into the world of primal horror

I vaguely remember the movie ‘Pet Sematary’ that played in HBO back in the days. HBO was particularly kind to it, showing it as a part of their horror weekends, or just randomly airing it to the unsuspecting kid who was recently introduced to the world of foreign movies. The odd spelling caught my eye first, but that wasn’t the reason I had let it creep inside that foggy corner of my mind where creatures of the imagination lurked : the premise was utterly vile.

When I finally decided to read Stephen King, there were many choices in front of me, and most of them came from my viewing of their movie adaptations. ‘Cujo’, ‘Carrie’ and ‘IT’ were instant to-reads, recommended even by the bibliophile friends, but as I was surfing through the entire collection, that buried adolescence thought resurfaced though the quagmire like a Wendigo and commanded that I opened its grave first.

And like a servant of its will, I bought this book and started to read.

This book is much, much scarier than the movie (as almost always), and I am amazed because I know the plot. I know what happens, what is going to happen, yet the way Stephen builds up the ante is unlike anyone else. Being a big fan of Lovecraftian horror stories and their almost absurd way of spreading the veil of mystery, I was immediately taken aback by how leisurely the story started – like it was nothing at all, like King was just narrating a man in midway of his career in the most boring way possible – crafty, yet drab.

There are some highs in that flat narration, the slow raise of hair around your neck when you feel something is not right, but then they are quickly drowned in the problems of the modern life. The real fun however starts after the second half when the story deviously tricks you into falling into a bog of primal forces. Then you are not Jud Crandall – the voice of reason, not the road that kills, not Rachel Creed who is too scarred for her own good, not little Ellie, not Gage, not even Victor ‘Paxcow’ Pascow who has risen from the dead as a sentry, a warning between the worlds of the living and the dead. This is the Pet Sematary I remember from my childhood days, the bone chilling surrender to a power that is ancient and primal yet very much alive in today’s world, the one that is shapeless and formless yet at times manifests itself like a cat, or a child.

Pet Sematary makes you Louis Creed, a man slowly spiraling into madness from the sane world, and that is scarier than anything else.

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