The Monstrumologist2: Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey A Discussion Guide
About the Book Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, specialist in monstrumology, the study of real-life monsters, is asked by his former fiancée to rescue her husband, John Chanler, from the Wendigo, a ghastly creature with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Although Warthrop considers the Wendigo fictitious, he relents and goes with his young assistant, Will Henry, to the Canadian wilderness to rescue Chanler from death and starvation, only to see Chanler exhibit/develop the characteristics/murderous hunger of the Wendigo. Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry must hunt down the ultimate predator, who, like the legendary vampire, is neither living nor dead, and whose hunger for human flesh is never satisfied. This second book in The Monstrumologist series explores the thin, tenuous lines between myth and reality, love and hate, genius and madness.
Prereading Activities In the preface prologue, the author writes: “The central question, the thing that woke me in the dead of night shivering in a cold sweat, the notion which haunted me as I fought to go back to sleep . . . could monsters be real?” Ask readers to name monsters they know from books, movies, and television. Ask them if they think there is any possibility that any monsters could be real. If so, how would readers go about proving the existence of monsters? The novel mentions historians, scientists, and writers about whom readers probably know very little about. Use online sources or reference books to research background information on the following people: Dante Alighieri, Algernon Blackwood, Thomas Byrnes, Cicero, Thomas Edison, Gustave Eiffel, Sir Henry Irving, Ozymandias, Louis Pasteur, John Pemberton, Henri Poincaré, Jacob Riis, Sir Walter Scott, Nikola Tesla, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Jules Verne, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth.
There are multiple references to Greek and Roman mythology in the story. Use online sources or reference books to research background information on the following terms: bacchanal, Charon, Dionysian, Gaia, Minos's labyrinth, Narcissus, siren, Sibyl, and Sisyphus.
The author uses a great deal of sophisticated vocabulary in the novel. Not knowing the meaning of some of the words will not impede readers’ enjoyment or understanding of the story, but learning the meanings of the words will provide a valuable enrichment experience. Have readers work in small groups and organize the words into categories of their own choosing based on the definitions of the words. Words could be organized in such categories as anatomical, biological, literary, mythological, philosophical, and technical. Have groups categorize the following words: alacrity, animistic, antediluvian, anthropomorphize, arduously, bestial, boreal, brougham, bucolic, chimera, colloquium, convivial, cosmology, cravat, deferential, detritus, disingenuous, doldrums, effluvia, enigmatic, erstwhile, esoteric, facetious, filial, inchoate, irrefutable, Jovian, largess, lassitude, maelstrom, malaise, malevolent, melee, metaphysical, miasma, mollified, morass, multifarious, obsequious, ocherous, panoply, preternatural, prodigious, profundity, progeny, punctilious, recalcitrant, sepulchral, serration, sobriquet, stultifying, succor, sullen, suppurating, sylvan, taciturn, temerity, treatise, umbrage, vehement, vertiginous, and zephyr.
Discussion Questions Why do you think the author prefaces the story with real news stories from the 1890s reported in The New York Times?
In the preface, the author reports that Will Henry was declared dead on June 17, 2007. Will Henry claimed he was born in 1876, but his physician attributes this claim to dementia. What does the author discover in Will Henry’s journal that makes him think the claim may be true?
What is it that Dr. Warthrop finds so troubling about the proposal of Abram von Helrung?
What is Will Henry’s response to Dr. Warthrop’s confession that his great ambition as a young man was to be a poet?
Why do you think Dr. Warthrop is able to accept the existence of monsters like the manticore and the Anthropophagus, but not vampires or zombies?
What do you think Dr. Warthrop is referring to when he mentions “Mr. Barnum’s sideshow freaks”?
Why is Will Henry so stunned at the appearance of Muriel Chanler on their doorstep? Why does Dr. Warthrop refuse her request? What is Muriel’s response to Dr. Warthrop’s refusal?
Muriel calls Dr. Warthrop “vain and vindictive.” Do you agree with her characterization?
Will Henry says of Dr. Warthrop, “Dark demons possessed him.” (p. 30) What do you think those demons are?
What does Dr. Warthrop reveal about his relationship with Abram von Helrung? What is Warthrop’s opinion of him as a monstrumologist?
What makes Dr. Warthrop have a change of heart and go in search of John Chanler? What does he reveal about his relationship with Chanler?
Who are The Suckers and their leader, John Fiddler? What is their possible connection to the disappearance of Chanler and his guide, Pierre Larose?
What does Dr. Warthrop reveal about his relationship with Muriel and how she came to marry John Chanler?
How does Will Henry feel about his humanity when he goes into the wilderness with Dr. Warthrop and their guide, Sergeant Hawk, in search of Chanler and Larose?
Dr. Warthrop says to Sergeant Hawk: “You see, there is a movement afoot to expand the scope of our inquiries to include these very creatures of which you spoke—vampires, werewolves and the like—a movement to which I am very much opposed.” (p. 60) Do you agree with Dr. Warthrop’s argument for why these creatures and the Wendigo cannot exist? How would you counter his argument that the creatures do exist?
Will Henry tells Sergeant Hawk that he believes Dr. Warthrop’s motive for searching for John Chanler is less about finding Chanler than it is about pleasing Muriel. Do you agree?
In what condition is Pierre Larose’s body found?
What does the search party learn from their encounter with Jack Fiddler?
In what condition is John Chanler found?
What do The Suckers want the search party to do with Chanler?
Why do you think Dr. Warthrop is so insistent that no one but him touch Chanler?
How does Will Henry describe Chanler when he grabs him? From the description, does Chanler seem more human or monster?
What are the differences Dr. Warthrop sees in his and Chanler’s approach to monstrumology?
In what condition is Sergeant Hawk’s body found? How does Will Henry differ with Dr. Warthrop in his conclusion about the cause of death?
At the beginning of Folio V is a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Men are probably nearer the central truth in their superstitions than in their science.” What do you think Thoreau means in this statement, and how does it relate to Dr. Warthrop’s and Will Henry’s belief or lack thereof in the Wendigo?
Why do you think Dr. Winthrop insists on attributing the last incident in the woods to a “freak meteorological phenomenon” and an earthquake?
Why do you think Dr. Winthrop chooses not to tell the detectives the real reason for Chanler’s expedition?
When Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry see the recovering Chanler, Chanler claims that it is a “damned Irishman” named Abraham Stoker who is to blame for the ordeal. To what famous literary figure is Chanler referring? What is Stoker most famous for writing?
What does Dr. Warthrop reveal to Will Henry about his parents and childhood?
Dr. Warthrop tells Will Henry that one’s perceptions are shaped by individual experiences, which calls into question the whole notion of objective truth. He also says that one’s perceptions cannot be trusted and that there is a tendency to project them upon others. How are Dr. Warthrop’s perceptions affecting the way he sees John Chanler?
What is Will Henry’s response to Lilly’s delight in paging through the gruesome Compendia ex Horrenda Maleficii?
What does Lilly reveal to Will Henry about what happened between Dr. Warthrop, Muriel, and John Chanler?
Why does Will Henry pick up the Mongolian Death Worm even though it goes against his better judgment?
Why does Muriel tell Dr. Warthrop that she wished he’d died in Vienna?
When the body of Augustin Skala is found and Chanler is discovered missing, why does Dr. Warthrop continue to insist that Chanler is suffering from “the mental and physical effects” of the “Wendigo Psychosis”? (p. 279)
What does Van Helrung reveal to Dr. Warthrop about Chanler’s reason for going in search of the Wendigo? What does he mean when he tells Warthrop that “Outiko is not the only thing that consumes us”? (p. 306)
What is Dr. Warthrop’s explanation to Gravois for why Van Helrung clings to the belief that Chanler has been transformed into a Wendigo? What does Will Henry conclude about the reason for why Warthrop cannot admit the possibility that Chanler has transformed into a monster? Who do you think is correct, Warthrop or Will Henry?
What is Will Henry’s response to finding the abandoned infant on the floor? Do you agree with his decision to leave it behind?
Why do you think Dr. Warthrop chooses not to fire at Chanler?
After the death of Chanler, Will Henry observes Dr. Warthrop: “I detected that he was more confounded than angry . . . That the doctor’s faith had been shattered by me, the last soul on earth bound to him in any way, seemed beyond his ability to comprehend.” (p. 430) What is the irony in Will Henry’s observation?
Dr. Warthrop tells Will Henry not to feel guilty about the death of the infant because he did what anyone else would have done in the same circumstance. Do you agree? Would you have acted differently in the same situation?
What do you think the author means when he says in the epilogue: “Perhaps my quest, if one could call it that, is more about bringing him out than finding him out. Perhaps by discovering who he was and to whom he belongs, I can bring Will Henry home.” (p. 424)
How would you characterize the relationship between Dr. Warthrop and Will Henry? How does the relationship between them change in the course of the story?
What are examples of how the author uses sensory imagery in the story?
Post-Reading Activities In pairs or small groups, ask readers to create the text and illustrations for an entry in the Encyclopedia Bestia. They can create an entry for either a monster already mentioned in the novel or one of their choosing. Share the entries with the entire reading group when completed.
Algernon Blackwood was a highly regarded English author of horror and supernatural fiction published mostly in the early twentieth century. “The Wendigo,” published in 1910, is one of his best-known stories. The complete text of the story is available at http://www.horrormasters.com/Text/a0228.pdf. Read the story and compare and contrast Blackwood’s depiction of the Wendigo with its depiction in the novel.
Jacob Riis was a muckraking journalist best known for his book How the Other Half Lives (1890), an influential illustrated exposé of tenement life in lower Manhattan in the latter half of the ninteenth century. Share passages of the book with your readers and show them the illustrations.
Several references are made in the novel to the Gilded Age and historical figures associated with it. Use online sources or reference books to research background information on this period of American history and notable figures who were part of it.
This guide was written by Edward T. Sullivan, a librarian and writer.