Monday, October 31, 2022

Why I think Ithaqua is cool

 October is almost done. Time for one more Mythos post!

One of my personal favorite Great Old Ones and my favorite that wasn’t made up by H.P. Lovecraft is Ithaqua, the Wind Walker.

A big part of that is one of my earliest exposures to Mythos was a collection of Wendigo legends, stories and anthropology references that I can’t seem to find any record of. (Mostly because pop culture has now become super saturated with Wendigo and there’s so much out there) It included The Thing That Walked On the Wind and Ithaqua.

I know that there is plenty of nostalgia involved but I think Ithaqua is Derleth’s best addition to the Mythos.

But there is an additional reason why I think Derleth’s creation of Ithaqua is so solid. He blatantly and pretty openly stole quite a bit from Algernon Blackwood’s novella The Wendigo.

Blackwood’s story has informed so much of the popular idea of The Wendigo. Heck, a simplified version of the story is in the children’s book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Even if you don’t know you know the story, you probably know it. If ‘oh my burning feet of fire’ rings a bell, this story is where that comes from.

The elevator sketch is that a hunting guide gets taken by the Wendigo, possibly partially transformed into a Wendigo himself. While the lost guide, or the Wendigo disguised as him, briefly reappears, the guide does not truly reappear until they find him dying of exposure.

One of the reoccurring motifs of the story is that the Wendigo has strange, deformed or unnatural feet. The footprints are wrong and when the guide is under the sway of the Wendigo, his feet are unnatural as well. Indeed, the feet are never truly seen but only briefly glimpsed as dark and oddly massed.

Written in 1910, the Wendigo captures many cosmic horror elements. The northern woods become a liminal space. (I wrote that sentence just so I could use the word liminal.) The characters enter another world, one they don’t understand. And one is horribly transformed by the experience.

More importantly, the Wendigo is never truly defined or even seen. There is no explanation for it or its nature. It is outside the context of the hunters’ experience. Blackwood wrote eldritch cosmic horror before that was cool.

To be fair, he had already done that in his earlier story The Willows.

Many earlier authors influenced Lovecraft and the Mythos. Usually, though, there is some changes along the way. (Ambrose Beirce’s Hastur doesn’t resemble the Hastur we know and dread today) Blackwood, on the other hand, gave Derleth Ithaqua in a package with a bow.

No comments:

Post a Comment