Elder Signs is a website dedicated to the Cthulhu Mythos in general and the Book Collector in specific. The Book Collector is a creation of G. W. Thomas, a dark detective who seeks out the arcane books of the Mythos for his employer, the mysterious Telford.

Listen to the Book Collector on Pseudopod:

"Goon Job"

"Merlin's Bane"

Buy the book now!

 


Read G. W. Thomas' Book Column

"Writing the Mythos"

at Innsmouth Free Press

WEIRD SITES: THE HELLFIRE CLUB

MALCOLM M. FERGUSON

Weird Tales Author

C. Hall Thompson: Lost Opportunities

The Ghostbreaker Mythos

Why Write Horror?

The First Deep Ones

The Avon Fantasy Reader Covers

Dark Bards: Mythos Poetry

Michael May's Adventureblog

"The Door to Infinity"

"The Graveyard Rats"

"The Yellow Nineties"

ITHAQUA: THE WALKER ON THE WINDS

Matt Fox's Illustration from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1944

August Derleth has been praised or reviled as an editor and posthumous collaborator of H. P. Lovecraft but I think Mythos fans often forget he was also a collaborator on the Mythos, creating his share of new books, monsters and ideas. One of these ideas was the Walker on the Winds, Ithaqua. Like HPL before him, he looked to the stories of yesteryear for inspiration and found it in "The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood. This tale appeared in his collection The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910). Twenty-three years later, Derleth would write a sequel to Blackwood's story, mentioning the author.

"The Wendigo" follows Simpson, a neophyte to the Bush, on a moose hunt with Dr. Cathcart and their hired guides. Simpson is paired with Defago, a French Canadien who blanches when Cathcart decides he should take Simpson to Fifty Mile Lake. Once the two men arrive at the lake, the guide becomes even more nervous. The reason becomes clear to Simpson when he finds the man sleeping with his feet sticking out of the tent and whimpering in his sleep. A great wind rises, calling the man, who plunges off into the wilderness, leaving Simpson alone. The hunter tries to find his guide but only finds impossible tracks that get wider and wider apart. He also hears Defago's voice on the wind cry in esctacy about his burning feet. Simpson returns to the other camp and gets Carthcart and his guide, Hank. They return to the spot where Defago disappeared. The wind monster reappears, shaking Cathcart's scientific philosophy. When Simpson yells at the wind to return Defago he appears. The man is horribly changed, his flesh hanging like a mask and his feet weirdly misshapened as if by fire. The wind takes him again and the three men return to their first camp. When they arrive, they find Defago already there, his mind blasted. He dies shortly after for he has "seen the Wendigo".

But before Derleth would do this, another writer would pen a tale for Hugo Gernsback that played an important intermediary step. This was "The Thing From -- Outside" by George Allan England. England was a Science Fiction writer best known for his trilogy Darkness and Dawn (1912-14). This story appeared first in Gernsback's Science and Invention (April 1923), a magazine devoted to non-fiction with one or two stories in it, but was reprinted in the very first issue of Amazing Stories (April 1926), the first Science Fiction magazine ever. A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Manly Wade Wellman, Lilith Lorraine, Kenneth Sterling, Frank Belknap Long, even Derleth himself, would all be published by Gernsback in the decade to come.

Frank R. Paul's illustration "The Thing From -- Outside"

"The Thing From -- Outside" follows a group of five people who are traveling in the wilderness. Their native guides abandon them when they see a strange circular footprint in a rock. Their death screams are a prophecy of what is to come. The party finds the strange tracks around their camp. The monster is following them. When water is placed in the track it freezes and can't be remelted. The first victim is Professor Thorburn's wife. She dies of a paralysis, with fear-filled eyes. They bury her body and continue to flee. The men argue as to the nature of the monster but can't agree. The birds and the black flies can no longer be found. The leaves on the trees fall off. The party finds an old cabin and hide there for a while. Jandron the geologist wakes up to find the professor dead, like his wife, and Marr and Vivian missing. The ground is covered in snow despite it being summer. All sources of heat no longer work. There is a love triangle of sorts between Marr, Vivian and Jandron. jandron wants to flee with the girl but Marr goes crazy. Marr tries to shoot Jandron but his bullets won't ignite. Marr returns to the cabin where the thing tortures him. Jandron manages to get the injured man and the girl into a canoe and heads out into lake Moosawamkeag. They are rescued. Marr is dead but Jandron and Vivian escape. Vivian has no memory of what happened. Jandron lies and tells her that the others died in a boat capsizing. They marry but Jandron can never wear a ring as he has an aversion to all things ring-shaped.

It is easy to see how England's story inspired Derleth's version of the Wendigo. Where Blackwood is etheral and vague, England is far more brutal if just as unclear. You can feel the terror that the captives are suffering, the weird paralysis, the fear of the unknown. Derleth borrows this version of a thing from outside our reality for his wind-walker. In many ways his story is more frightening than most Lovecraft tales because of its directness. Lovecraft worked hard to use M. R. Jamesian indirection in the forms of journals and letters in his stories. England does none of this, just tells it directly. Only the weak ending of "The Thing From -- Outside" marrs it as a masterpiece of horror. Strangely, I hadn't heard of this story until recently. It seems an odd story to find in Science and Invention.

"The Thing that Walked on the Wind" (Strange Tales, January 1933) is Derleth's first attempt at using the Ithaqua monster. A Mountie named Dalhousie reports about a strange case at Navissa Camp, Manitoba and the town of Stillwater, where everyone mysteriously disappeared. The local doctor discovers three bodies that fall from the sky. The first, a woman, has been frozen solid. The other two are men and still alive. One wakes and mumblesof the terrible things he has seen while on his aerial travels with Ithaqua. Both men die from the warmth of the room, their bodies now conditioned to live in extreme cold. From the pieces, Dalhousie figures the two men were strangers who has come to Stillwater. The woman had come to them for help since the townsfolk planned to sacrifice her to ithaqua, the Wind-Walker. While the three escaped they were taken by the monster, who took all the townsfolk as well in retaliation. When the Mountie looks into these terrible details he sees the creature, a weird purplish snow cloud with burning eyes. After that he feels something is watching him and he must escape. The report ends there.

This first installment in the Ithaqua story features some details that will be later stories. First off, if you see Ithaqua he will come back and get you. This is Derleth's version of "seeing the Wendigo", though less subtle than Blackwood's manic esctacy. Secondly, he uses the Lovecraftian format of a report filled with Mythos references and tidbits from the Tcho-Tcho people of Leng to Cthulhu in R'yleh. This story and those that follow have some creepy ideas but suffer from over-exposure. Where Blackwood and England leave things largely unseen, Derleth describes to his detriment.


"Ithaqua" (Strange Stories, February 1941) returns to the same area along the Olassie Trail. Another Mountie reports of a man who has disappeared, Henry Lucas, leaving some mystifying tracks behind. The man walked out of door and virtually disappeared. Constable French investigates. the local priest directs him to the hinted at altars and fires in the woods. He finds three strange circular stone altars and evidence of large bonfires. He also sees Ithaqua before fleeing back to the town of Cold Harbour.


It's strange to think only the last Ithaqua story, "Beyond the Threshold" appeared in Weird Tales (September 1941), the place where the majority of the Mythos was born. This tale begins like a Deep One story then gradually changes into an ithaqua tale. Because of this, it is structurally different than the two previous Derleth tales. Anthony Alwyn comes to the home of his grandfather at his cousin Frolin's behest. It seems the old man has been acting strangely and weird music has been eminating from the study. The two cousins slowly learn that their grandfather has discovered old evidence from their ancestor leander Alwyn that tells of Ithaqua and a hidden "threshold" that the old man wants to cross. When he finally does he ends up like all those who see Ithaqua, carried off and frozen to death, dropped mysteriously far away from home. The tale adds little to the Ithaqua idea except describing the Great Old Ones as elementals such as air ementals, ithaqua, Lloigor and Hastur, water elementals like Cthulhu, etc. This would be the branch of the Mythos that Brian Lumley would exploit when he created his Titus Crow novels. Like Derleth, Lumley over-explains, over-exposes all the horror that Blackwood and England created, maing the wind-walker more rounded but far less frightening.


Less famous Matt Fox illustration from "The Wendigo". This picture shows when Defago returned after being with the Wendigo.

© G. W. Thomas unless Fair Use is intended.