The Wendigo In Pet Sematary Is Based On A Real Legend

Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Warning: Spoilers for Pet Sematary ensue.
Let's get one thing squared away: The sequel of Pet Sematary has not been confirmed. After all, the movie only just came out April 5. But because it's a Stephen King adaptation, and because the hype is big, there's already speculation that a potential prequel would focus on one of most compelling and mysterious aspects of the story: The Wendigo, the demonic being responsible for Pet Sematary's bleak ending.
Deep in the forest behind Louis Creed's (Jason Clarke) new home in Ludlow, ME is an ancient burial ground with exceptional abilities. Bury a once-living creature in the soil, and it will return — alive — within hours. But it will return different. Meaner. Ruthless. Louis learns this first-hand when he resurrects his daughter's cat, Church, who is suddenly much mangier and fiercer. And he learns it another time when he resurrects his daughter, Ellie (Jete Laurence), after she's tragically killed in a truck accident. This new, hell-sent Ellie wreaks havoc on the entire Creed family.
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For the most part, the forces behind these resurrections remain mysterious. Pet Sematary's filmmaker chose to remain in the raw, grief-stricken present than delve into supernatural mechanics. But the burial ground's powers are rooted in a long mythology, stemming back to the Algonquin-speaking people, who inhabited the northeastern seaboard and continental interior, especially the Great Lakes region.
The word "wendigo" translates to "the evil spirit that devours mankind," though one German explorer translated it to mean "cannibal." As the legend goes, the first Wendigo was once a lost hunter who turned to cannibalism to survive. After, he developed an appetite for human flesh and continues to search for more humans to eat. A Wendigo is born each time a human resorts to cannibalism. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, "Windigo legends are essentially cautionary tales about isolation and selfishness, and the importance of community."
The Wendigo appears for a flash in Pet Sematary. Louis sees (or thinks he sees) a tall creature with wispy, black limbs walking through the forest. In classic mythology, the Wendigo is extremely tall, has glowing eyes, yellowed fangs, and a long tongue. Extremely thin, the Wendigo can almost appear as a black shadow. With its incredible speed, endurance, and heightened senses, the Wendigo is an incredible hunter — and it wants only one thing.
"Ever hungry, they craved human flesh, which is the only substance that could sustain them," wrote Ojibwe storyteller Basil Johnston in The Manitous. "The irony is that having eaten human flesh, the Weendigoes grew in size, so their hunger and craving remained in proportion to their size; thus they were eternally starving.”
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Eventually, after wandering the woods of Canada and Minnesota, the ever-starving Wendigo made its way to Ludlow. Jud (John Lithgow), Louis's neighbor, sheds some initial light on the history of the Wendigo and Ludlow. A lifetime resident of Ludlow, Jud knows enough not to venture toward the burial ground often. Judging by the the archives that Louis pulls up on his computer, the burial ground's powers seem to be common knowledge in Ludlow. Residents have been using the burial ground's powers for decades — someone once brought back a bull and a dog.
Before the people of Ludlow ran amuck with its powers, the burial ground once belonged to the Micmac tribe. It also used to be an normal, non-enchanted cemetery. Then the Wendigo cursed any corpse buried in the land to be reanimated as a murderous version of its past self. When the Micmac tribe left the area, they carved warning signs in the form of spirals on trees that led to the burial ground — warning signs that Jud and Louis ignored, to drastic ramifications.
Along with Pennywise the Clown and the Red King, the Wendigo is one of Stephen King's primary antagonists. It shows up again in the 1999 novel The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Thank a 1907 short story by Algernon Blackwood for bringing the Wendigo to Stephen King, and broader pop culture. Blackwood's story follows a hunter who goes mad after seeing a Wendigo in the woods. In the ensuing century, the creature has since appeared in comics (Marvel's Wendigo), books by Margaret Atwood, video games like Until Dawn, and the shows Charmed and Supernatural.
The more the Wendigo seeps into Western pop culture, the further it travels from its initial conception. For example, American Indians never depicted the Wendigo with horns, though that's how they're frequently rendered now. In indigenous stories, some people get away from the Wendigo — but that certainly doesn't happen in Pet Sematary.
So if you happen to be wandering the woods of the north, be prepared. The Wendigo is notoriously difficult — nearly impossible — to defeat. You'll need a silver bullet, right through the heart. Stay safe out there.
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