The Curse of the Wendigo (by Rick Yancey)

5 01 2012

The Curse of the Wendigo is the second installment in Rick Yancey’s award-winning Monstrumologist series. Set just a few months after the end of The Monstrumologist, the reader continues to follow the adventures of Will Henry and Dr. Pellinore Warthrop.  This time around Dr. Warthrop is asked by his former fiancée, the gorgeous and lush Muriel Chanler, to look for her husband John Chanler, who has gone missing in the Canadian wilderness looking for the mythical – if not fictitious – creature of the Wendigo, a cannibalistic predator that is starving even as it gorges itself on human flesh… The Wendigo has a legendary hunger that can seemingly never be satisfied, and once the Wendigo has called on you, you are lost to it. The first folio, set in the Canadian wilderness, is as formidable as it gets: atmospheric, frightening, Gothic terror at its best. Even though Dr Warthrop does not believe such a creature like the Wendigo is anything more credible that the homo vampiris, he agrees to help Muriel. The reader is set to wonder what history the two have, and what it takes for the Doctor to show that he has feelings for another human being after all.

The elements that made The Monstrumologist so unique in YA literature are still present here: the graphic descriptions of the monstrous acts are still creepy and terrifying, the language is rich and layered, the love for the Victorian (Gothic) novel is very much present. Also, Rick Yancey has continued with the frame story that he started in the previous installment. Yancey, who presents himself as the editor of a series of journals (or folios), writes the prologue and epilogue. He claims to have been called to a nursing home to look at the journals of a recently deceased man, William James Henry… As he reads the journals he constantly wonders about their veracity: did these sickening  things really happen? Are these terribly shocking creatures real? But how could they? This man, this William James Henry claimed to have been born in 1876… his stories are so incredulous (Wendigos. Mongolian Death Worms…) that a man who claims to have seen or done all that is written in these journals can only be deemed delusional, can’t he? Or are the journals mere scribblings of a writer of fiction: “One can write fiction – it is possible, I hear – and not be delusional.”  (p. 424)

The frame story and the musings about the boundaries of truth and reality on the one hand, and fiction and delusions on the other hand, are an integral part of this series of books. In the adventures that Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop experience, the same ideas come to the fore. Dr. Warthrop, for instance, though he is a monstrumologist and studies ‘monsters’, is a scientist first and foremost. He is not interested in studying the stuff of legends and fantasy. On the contrary, he wants to give Monstrumology the status of a true science, which only concerns itself with the truth and the ‘real’ monsters, not delusions, myths and fabulations like vampires or Wendigos.

What makes this second book even better than the first one, is the fact that Yancey also explores what monstrous acts humans are capable of. One of the questions that runs through the entire book is the discussion between Dr Van Helrung – who believes in the existence of the Wendigo – and Dr Warthrop – who doesn’t and thinks John Chanler did what he did due to a severe case of psychosis induced by a certain disorder or trauma. At one time Dr Warthrop says: “Do you know why I think he clings to it with all this heart and soul, Gravois? For the same reason our race clings to the irrational belief in Wendigos and the vampires and all their supernatural cousins. It is very difficult to accept that the world is righteous, ruled by a just and loving God, when mere mortals are capable of such unthinkable crimes.” He nodded toward the desecrated corpse upon the gleaming stainless steel table. “The monstrous act by definition demands a monster.” (p. 324-325)

Besides exploring the questions of science versus ‘fiction & fantasy’ – which in itself makes for a more interesting sort of ‘horror book’ than mere slasher horror – the characters themselves get more depth. Especially the Doctor’s motivations are explored, but we also get to see a newer side to Will Henry and the relationship between the two. This book is also clearly set up to explore this relationship even more in book three. Besides the more complicated relationship between the two male protagonists, it was also good to see a few female characters, like Lilly Bates, who might very well become the first female monstrumologist…

Not very often a sequel shows the same level of originality and power as the original. Rick Yancey however has succeeded in writing a cleverly crafted novel that transcends the ‘horror’ genre and improves on its predecessor!

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