“I have had my fill of fear. I have stared too long into the abyss, and now the abyss stares back at me.”
Halloween was a couple weeks ago and in honor of the unofficial holiday, I decided to read the second novel in Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist series, The Curse of the Wendigo. The series follows a teenaged boy called Will Henry, who works as an assistant to one of the greatest monstrumologists of his time, Pellinore Warthrop. Dr. Warthrop is a scientist who studies specimen commonly classified as monsters and he often takes Will with him on his adventures and investigations.
Like the first novel, The Monstrumologist, this second book is a frame tale, the bulk of which is told through Will’s journals. In the present day, Will has died leaving behind his journals, his sole possessions. The director of the retirement home where Will resided asked his writer friend, who we assume is Rick Yancey, not only to try to ascertain the truth of the journals, the contents of which are highly unbelievable, but also to possibly track down any of Will’s remaining relatives. In his attempts to do so, Yancey publishes Will’s journals, which we now read.
In this installment, Dr. Pellinore is asked to present a case against the study of fabled monsters at an upcoming meeting of monstrumologists in New York. It seems that Dr. Pellinore’s former mentor, Dr. Von Helrung, is trying to convince other monstrumologists to consider the existence of fabled monsters, such as the vampire, and seek to capture and study them.
Dr. Pellinore believes this is utter bullshit and only a dumbass would try to study such creatures (not what he said but it’s basically how he reacts), which obviously do not exist. Pellinore believes including them in monstrumological studies would only increase mockery of this branch of science and make it harder for monstrumology to gain the respect it deserves as a serious science.
However, when Muriel Chandler, wife of Pellinore’s best friend John Chandler, shows up asking Pellinore to help her find her husband who had gone off in the Canadian wilderness to search for a wendigo, Pellinore has no choice but to go north with Will Henry in tow. But, though Pellinore finds and returns John to his wife, Will is not sure if it’s truly Pellinore’s former best friend that returns to New York with his wife or a monster.
My thoughts: (spoilers)
It wasn’t as great as the first book. The writing is strong but the storytelling was off and though I was interested in how the plot developed, I wasn’t as immersed in the story as I was with The Monstrumologist.
I think the Yancey tries to add more dimension to Pellinore by including a love triangle. Because of it, we learn more about Pellinore’s past and we get to see how conflicted and vulnerable he is. I also think it’s more apparent in this novel that his brusque manner with Will Henry is used to mask how much he cares for the boy. Sure, it is also his personality to be so, but from his interactions with Muriel, we see that Pellinore is hard on himself and is either afraid to love or believes it best to deprive himself of it.
But despite learning this about the man, I did not like the love triangle because (I don’t like love triangles in general) it places the blame of all that occurred on Muriel. Pellinore blames himself for what happened to John, and so too the majority of characters in the novel, but the only reason why John went to chase a wendigo is because Muriel finally admitted that she doesn’t love him, which made it obvious that the only reason why she was with him was to get back at Pellinore for breaking her heart… I guess it’s really Pellinore’s fault then. He shouldn’t have jumped off the bridge way back when—
Anyways, the love triangle just made the story too much of a soap opera so I didn’t like it. However, I do appreciate that we see Pellinore in a different light and see also that women admire him, which shocked both me and Will Henry. This whole time I thought of Pellinore as an old but energetic man, but from this book I get that he’s about middle-aged, I’d say late 30s/early 40s.
The love triangle also ties in well with what drives the wendigo — hunger, — which works well with having John turned into a wendigo since he’s deprived of love and yearns, craves, hungers for love because no one seems to return the love he wants. I believe Pellinore left his best friend as well when he walked away from Muriel (way back when), Muriel doesn’t love John as much as he loves her, and, based on John’s father’s reaction when he learned his son is sick and has disappeared, I get the impression that he doesn’t love his son much or he cares more about the family’s image than his son’s wellbeing. So being deprived of love, John becomes the perfect wendigo candidate.
And, speaking of wendigos, I admire how stubborn Pellinore is. Despite all the evidence he encountered, he remained strong in his belief that creatures such as the wendigo do not exist and was able to devise a number of other reasons why John acts the way he does after his stay in the Canadian wilderness.
“Even the hardest cynic is gullible to his own lies.”
However, it is tricky to say definitely whether or not John became a wendigo or was simply deranged since the story is told from Will Henry’s point of view, so the reader is greatly influenced by Will’s opinions and perspective on things. However, Will damn near worships Pellinore as much as he dislikes the doctor and holds firm to what Pellinore teaches him so if what Will experiences is contrary to what the doctor says, then maybe what Will believes is plausible. Still, it’s hard to tell and I liked that bit of complexity.
Other things I liked about the story:
The change in setting. We visit Canada and the majority of the story takes place in New York City. I enjoyed reading about Will’s reaction to these places because he’s never left his hometown before. The Canada parts were fun, despite the harsh conditions the characters suffered and their terror at night when they thought they were being hunted by a wendigo something, because of the dialog between Will Henry and Pellinore. It made me realize that Pellinore has a sense of humor, a dry sense of humor. I really believe that the only reason why he bugs Will so much is to get a rise out of him, or just to have something to do, like when I annoy my brother, lol.
Though I liked the New York parts, sometimes the passages there dragged a bit because of all the info-dumping we get. It’s obvious that Yancey did a lot of research on New York in the late 1800s to make the story and characters more authentic, but sometimes we readers suffer for it because of the bulk of information dropped on us. I was both appreciative and annoyed by it, like the section on how polluted the city is. It helped me to imagine how NYC was then and I liked the cheeky comment Yancey/Will made about breathing shit, but I think it stretched on for too long.
“In this, the proudest city in America, you literally breathed shit.”
While in New York, Will Henry gets a peek into the Monstrumarium, where beasts the monstrumologists have caught are catalogued. That part was spooky and pretty cool until Lilly Bates tricked Will Henry into getting stung by one of the creatures. Well, Will Henry was stupid for doing it too, but Lilly rubbed me the wrong way and by the end of the story I found it hard to believe that Will considered her a friend when he spent the majority of the book feeling annoyed by her.
I also don’t think Lilly was written well. She didn’t come across as teenaged girl, she seemed younger, but most of the time she seemed more like a mouthpiece for the author rather than a true character. To me, her function in the story is to bait Will to do or think differently, to challenge him and thus help the plot progress. However, I do admire how plucky and headstrong she is and that she plans to be the first female monstrumologist, but all of that was overshadowed by how false she seemed as a character. I mean, how could she know so much about Pellinore’s love life? She doesn’t even live with her monstrumologist uncle, Dr. Von Helrung, and he always sends her from the room when having serious conversations. Sure she eavesdrops on him but I don’t think she’d be able to learn and deduce that much from her stays with her uncle. And the questions she asks Will Henry aren’t ones I would expect a kid to ask another. She just doesn’t make sense to me. (And I hope she’s not a love interest. That would be annoying!)
By the way, I thought it contrived when Pellinore lashed out at Will Henry in the woods, saying he hated Will. That didn’t make sense to me. I get that Pellinore has his awful moments but that just didn’t ring true to me.
Same too the commentary on minorities and the poor in New York City at that time. If it’s really an older Will Henry who’s narrating, and not the author, it made me wonder when Will sat down to write these journals. His reflections were very modern.
This…just…wasn’t…great. I was greatly let down by this installment because it’s based on my favorite quote by Friedrich Nietzsche (the one about abysses; see above), but it just wasn’t as awesome as the first book. The characters were disappointing, the monster was disappointing, and the story pace was disappointing. I think it would have been better if the entire story was set in those Canadian woods. Actually, if it had ended there, I would have been happier. I hope it gets better.
Quotes and passages:
“Logic sometimes breeds monsters.” — Henri Poincaré
“It is the romantic ballad of death’s embrace; the solemn hymn of offal dripping from bloody teeth; the lamentation of the bloated corpse rotting in the sun; and the graceful ballet of maggots twisting in the ruins of God’s temple.”
“The cold stars spun to the ancient rhythm, the august march of an everlasting symphony.”
“We have gone far in our public places to push death aside, to consign it to a dusty corner, but in the wilderness it is ever present. It is the lover who makes life. The sensuous, entwined limbs of predator and prey, the orgasmic death cry, the final spasmodic rush of blood, and even the soundless insemination of the earth by the fallen tree and crumbling leaf; these are the caresses of life’s beloved, the indispensable other.”
“Men are probably nearer the essential truth in their superstitions than in their science.” — Henry David Thoreau