Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Philip Yancey

[button color=”black” size=”big” link=”″ target=”blank” ]Purchase here[/button]

As the nineteenth century winds up, a self-absorbed monstrumologist (i.e., scientist who studies monsters) named Dr. Pellinore Warthrop is drawn out of himself, and out of his headquarters in a small New England town, along with his faithful apprentice Will Henry. It’s difficult to be precisely certain what it is that draws him. It could be the anguished plea of the only woman he ever loved, begging him to save her missing husband (who, up until he broke up their engagement, was Warthrop’s best friend). It could be his altruistic love for a man who shared his youthful apprenticeship to the legendary Dr. Abram von Helrung. Or it could be his determination to preventMeister Abram from cheapening the science of monstrumology with superstitious nonsense.

Whatever may be his true reason, Warthrop takes his “indispensible” young assistant along on a gruelling and terrifying journey, first to the wilds of Canada and then to the streets of New York City. Their quarry is a beast whose existence Warthrop never accepts, but whose call Will Henry hears: the Wendigo. It is the voice that rides the high wind, the hunger that is never satisfied. While Pellinore Warthrop insists that his friend John Chanler is merely the victim of the well-documented “Wendigo Psychosis”—the belief that one is possessed by an evil spirit that craves human flesh—Dr. von Helrung and some other members of the Society of Monstrumologists think that such creatures really exist and that Chanler has become one. This raises a conflict between Pellinore and his old mentor, not to say everyone else, as to whether Chanler is a beast who must be destroyed, or a man who must be saved.

Whatever the true answer may be, there’s always room for doubt—even from the point of view of narrator Will, who has heard the Wendigo’s voice call his name. What is not beyond doubt is that John Chanler has become terrifyingly dangerous. Make no mistake, this is a horror novel. Though it is marketed for young adults, please do not mistake it for a children’s book. Besides a smattering of PG-13 language, it contains imagery so disturbing that it may give even a seasoned adult bad dreams. Living conditions in the tenements of the era of Jacob Riis and Thomas Byrnes are so graphically depicted that your stomach might do flip-flops, even without the violence and gore that takes place in them. But what puts the final chilling touch on this horror novel is the conceit that it is not Rick Yancey’s fictional brainchild, but a transcript of journals left behind by an impossibly old man, who may have been delusional or even writing fiction himself. Who knows?

This sequel to The Monstrumologist is by no means the end of the series. Book 3, titled The Isle of Blood, came out in September 2011. Mr. Yancey is also the author of the “Alfred Kropp” trilogy, the “Teddy Ruzak” mysteries (four books so far), the novel A Burning in Homeland, and the nonfiction book Confessions of a Tax Collector.