Friday, June 29, 2012

Weird Tales Books-The 2nd Avon Fantasy Reader

The 2nd Avon Fantasy Reader edited by Donald A. Wollheim and George Ernsberger

The Avon Fantasy Reader was published in January 1969. The 2nd Avon Fantasy Reader followed close on its heels in February 1969. That was apparently the end of the series. The contents of both books were drawn from the original Avon Fantasy Reader of the 1940s and '50s, edited by Donald A. Wollheim. George Ernsberger was the editor of the new series. In his foreword to the second entry, he wrote: "The job of the present editor was made error-proof by Mr. Wollheim's unfailing acumen: since there were no bad stories in the original Readers, no unforgivable lapse of taste was possible now." A curious statement. In any case, of the nine stories in the book, five were from Weird Tales.

The 2nd Avon Fantasy Reader edited by Donald A. Wollheim and George Ernsberger
(Avon Books, 1969, 173 pp.)
Foreword by George Ernsberger
"The Blonde Goddess of Bal-Sagoth" by Robert E. Howard (Weird Tales, Oct. 1931 as "The Gods of Bal-Sagoth")
"Shambleau" by C.L. Moore (Weird Tales, Nov. 1933)
"The Curse of Yig" by Zealia Brown Bishop (Weird Tales, Nov. 1929, reprinted Apr. 1939)
"Ubbo-Sathla" by Clark Ashton Smith (Weird Tales, July 1933)
"The Painted Mirror" by Donald Wandrei (The Eye and the Finger, 1944)
"Amina" by Edward Lucas White (Lukundoo and Other Stories, 1927)
"The Black Kiss" by Robert Bloch [and Henry Kuttner] (Weird Tales, June 1937)
"The City of the Living Dead" by Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt (Science Wonder Stories, May 1930)
"The Curse of a Thousand Kisses" by Sax Rohmer (The Haunting of Low Fennel, 1920)

The 2nd Avon Fantasy Reader (1969) with cover art by Gray Morrow.

Text copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Weird Tales Books-The Avon Fantasy Reader

The Avon Fantasy Reader edited by Donald A. Wollheim and George Ernsberger

During the late 1960s and early 70s, Americans looked back with nostalgia upon the years of the Great Depression. Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Sting (1973), Paper Moon (1973), Chinatown (1974), and The Fortune (1975), all set in the 1920s and '30s, played at the movies. On television, you could watch The Waltons, and on the radio, you could listen to music inspired by the great bluesmen of an earlier era. Captain Marvel, The Invaders, and The Shadow returned to comic books. And readers of pulp fiction thrilled to old adventures reprinted in paperback form. A two-book series, The Avon Fantasy Reader, even revived the title of an earlier reprint series from 1946 to 1952 (or 1947 to 1951 according to George Ernsberger). The original series ran for eighteen issues and reprinted stories from the great fantasists of the pulp fiction era. They included H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Jr., Ray Bradbury, and Nictzin Dyalhis. The revived Avon Fantasy Reader, from 1969, ran to two volumes in more or less the same format. Both were edited by George Ernsberger with stories drawn from the original series edited by Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990). Both also featured full-color cover art in the old style by Gray Morrow. The first volume holds seven stories, four from the magazine Weird Tales.

The Avon Fantasy Reader edited by Donald A. Wollheim and George Ernsberger
(Avon Books, 1969, 173 pp.)
Foreword by George Ernsberger
"The Witch from Hell's Kitchen" by Robert E. Howard (Avon Fantasy Reader #18, Mar. 1952)
"Black Thirst" by C.L. Moore (Weird Tales, Apr. 1934)
"A Victim of Higher Space" by Algernon Blackwood (Day and Night Stories, 1917)
"The Sapphire Siren" by Nictzin Dyalhis (Weird Tales, Feb. 1934, as "The Sapphire Goddess")
"A Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson (The Blue Book Magazine, Nov. 1907)
"The Crawling Horror" by Thorp McClusky (Weird Tales, Nov. 1936)
"The Kelpie" by Manly Wade Wellman (Weird Tales, July 1936)

The Avon Fantasy Reader (1969) with cover art by Gray Morrow.

Text copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ray Bradbury in The New Yorker

June 2012, the month in which all of us disappeared from Ray Bradbury's view, is coming to an end. The month began with the publication of The New Yorker Science Fiction Issue, the first of its kind in the magazine's history. The Science Fiction Issue is dated June 4 & 11, 2012. Ray Bradbury died on June 5. Are those two facts significant? Or are they simply coincidental? In any case, it seems pretty likely that Bradbury's essay for The New Yorker, entitled "Take Me Home," was the last of his works published in his own lifetime. As in all things Bradbury, the essay is one of nostalgia, remembrance, longing, and loss. In it, he recalled an event from his childhood, one shared with his now long-dead grandfather. "Even at that age," he wrote, "I was beginning to perceive the endings of things."

The cover of the recent Science Fiction Issue of The New Yorker, with cover art by Daniel Clowes. Ironically, Mr. Clowes' drawing shows a spaceman burning through a wall of books to interrupt a party. Why ironic? Because the issue includes an essay by Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451. Curiously, the issue is lacking in science fiction-related cartoons. Despite the efforts of The New Yorker, science fiction may still be too outré, even for cartoonists, who are themselves perennial outsiders.

Text and captions copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Weird Tales on Film-The Ray Bradbury Theater

The Ray Bradbury Theater

In the tradition of The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling's Night Gallery, The Ray Bradbury Theater presented an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories, all drawn from the work of the host, Ray Bradbury. Produced in Canada, The Ray Bradbury Theater ran for six seasons between 1985 and 1992. (There weren't any episodes in 1987 or 1991.) Each episode ran twenty-three minutes and there were sixty-five episodes in all. Stars of the show included William Shatner, Jeff Goldblum, Peter O'Toole, Drew Barrymore, Leslie Nielsen, James Whitmore, Patrick Macnee, Shelly Duvall, Paul Le Mat, and Susannah York, all of whom had previously performed in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. (You can test your knowledge of those genres by guessing an appropriate TV show or movie--and no peeking at the Internet Movie Database.) At least eleven episodes of The Ray Bradbury Theater were based on short stories that originally appeared in Weird Tales magazine, all under their original titles with only slight variations:

"The Crowd" (1985; from Weird Tales, May 1943)
"Skeleton" (1988; from WT, Sept. 1945)
"There Was an Old Woman" (1988; from WT, July 1944)
"The Lake" (1989; from WT, May 1944)
"The Wind" (1989; from WT, Mar. 1943)
"The Black Ferris" (1990; from WT, May 1948)
"The Jar" (1992; from WT, Nov. 1944)
"Let's Play Poison" (1992; from WT, Nov. 1946)
"The Dead Man" (1992; from WT, July 1945)
"The Handler" (1992; from WT, Jan. 1947)
"The Tombstone" (1992; from WT, Mar. 1945)

Text copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Short Story Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Poet, Playwright, Screenwriter, Public Speaker, Television Host
Born August 22, 1920, Waukegan, Illinois
Died June 5, 2012, Los Angeles, California

Ray Bradbury has died and the universe has lost one of its great literary voices. The reach and influence of his work are incalculably large. His was the voice of a poet, a nostalgist, and stylist in genres too often cold, mechanistic, and marred by hackwork. Everyone who has read and admired his work remembers a first encounter with fondness and nostalgia, whether it was in the pages of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, R Is for Rocket, or one of his other hundreds of works. For me, early in life, the book was Dandelion Wine, a wistful remembrance and evocation of magical youth. Later, I was touched by the story "Powerhouse" (1948), reprinted in The Golden Apples of the Sun.

If the Golden Age of Science fiction is twelve, then Bradbury lived a Golden Age his entire life. "The great thing about my life," he said in 1982, "is that everything I've done is a result of what I was when I was 12 or 13." He claimed to have remembered his own birth. If that is true, it would have been only the first sign of an astonishing prodigy. Like so many contributors to Weird Tales and other pulp magazines, he was an early reader and admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He began writing at age twelve and wrote every day for at least the next sixty-nine years. As a child, Bradbury so admired Burroughs' Warlord of Mars (1919) that he wrote his own sequel.

Bradbury grew up in Los Angeles and made friends with others in the bustling science fiction scene of the 1930s. They included Forrest J Ackerman, Robert A. Heinlein, Emil Petaja, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, Jack Williamson, Hannes Bok, and Ray Harryhausen, most of whom contributed to Weird Tales. Bradbury's first story was published in a fanzine when he was a stripling of seventeen. The following year he began producing his own fanzine, called Futuria Fantasia. His first sale to a professional magazine was a story, written with Henry Hasse, entitled "Pendulum" and published in Super Science Stories in November 1941. His self-proclaimed first success was "The Lake" for Weird Tales, published in May 1944. In his book Zen in the Art of Writing (1990), Bradbury recounted the genesis of his story:
All during my twentieth and twenty-first years, I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.
I finally found it one afternoon when I was twenty-two years old. I wrote the title "The Lake" on the first page of a story that finished itself two hours later. Two hours after that I was sitting at my typewriter out on a porch in the sun, with tears running off the tip of my nose, and the hair on my neck standing up.
Why the arousal of hair and the dripping nose?
I realized I had at last written a really fine story. The first, in ten years of writing. And not only was it a fine story, but it was some sort of hybrid, something verging on the new. Not a traditional ghost story at all, but a story about love, time, remembrance, and drowning.
"The Lake" was not Ray Bradbury's first story for Weird Tales, but it was in his words the story that "got various editors of other magazines to sit up and notice the guy with the aroused hair and the wet nose." In short order, Bradbury's work began appearing in slick magazines, his first book--Dark Carnival (1947)--was published, and he began seeing his stories adapted to comic books, television, radio, and the silver screen. Some of those adaptations were his own, as was the screenplay (with John Huston) for the film Moby Dick (1956).

I won't go into the details of Ray Bradbury's life and career. Those are well known and as I write this well documented on the Internet. Instead I'll close with three things: First, a writer for Wikipedia observed that Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday night, June 5, 2012, during a rare transit of Venus across the face of the sun. It would appear that even the physical universe noticed his passing. Second: there's an old saying: "When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground." Ray Bradbury labored his whole life to build libraries and--with his book Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and other warnings--to keep them from burning. Although he has died and ninety-one years of extraordinary experience have passed out of the world, Bradbury's love of books lives on, as does his large body of work. Finally, when he was twelve years old, Ray Bradbury encountered a carnival performer named Mr. Electrico who touched him on the nose with an electrified sword and commanded him, "Live forever!" As it happened a decade later when he wrote "The Lake," Bradbury's hair stood on end. The charge from that electrified sword was more than a mere physical phenomenon however. From that day forward, Ray Bradbury wrote. And because of his writing, he will indeed live forever. 

Ray Bradbury's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Candle" (Nov. 1942)
"The Wind" (Mar. 1943)
"The Crowd" (May 1943)
"The Scythe" (July 1943)
"The Ducker" (Nov. 1943)
"The Sea Shell" (Jan. 1944)
"Reunion" (Mar. 1944)
"The Lake" (May 1944)
"There Was an Old Woman" (July 1944)
"Bang! You're Dead!" (Sept. 1944)
"The Jar" (Nov. 1944)
"The Poems" (Jan. 1945)
"The Tombstone" (Mar. 1945)
"The Watchers" (May 1945; reprinted Summer 1973)
"The Dead Man" (July 1945)
"Skeleton" (Sept. 1945)
"The Traveller" (Mar. 1946)
"The Smiling People" (May 1946; reprinted Fall 1973)
"The Night" (July 1946)
"Let's Play 'Poison' " (Nov. 1946)
"The Handler" (Jan. 1947)
"Interim" (July 1947)
"The October Game" (Mar. 1948)
"Black Ferris" (May 1948)
"Fever Dream" (Sept. 1948)
"There Are No Ghosts in Catholic Spain" (Summer 1983)

Ray Bradbury's Letters to "The Eyrie"
Nov. 1939 
Mar. 1940 
Nov. 1943 
Jan. 1945 

Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 described a dystopian future and served as a warning against those who would destroy culture and civilization by destroying books. Some sources refer to Fahrenheit 451 against the backdrop of the Cold War. I think those sources have gotten it wrong. Fahrenheit 451 has transcended its time and may be more relevant now than it was six decades ago when first published. In any case, the cover illustration for this edition of the book is fitting. Burning books is equivalent to burning the man, who is clothed in leaves from a book as a knight (even a Quixotic knight) is clothed in armor. He shields his face, perhaps not so much against the heat as in grief over what has befallen him and his society. As the light from the fire fades, darkness will encroach, and that will be the end.

Ray Bradbury lived a life devoted to the written word. May books and the work of Ray Bradbury never die.

(Cover art by Joe Mugnaini.)

Though Monarch Worm devours our heart,
With Yorick's mouth cry, "Thanks!" to Art.
--"We Have Our Arts So We Don't Die of Truth"
by Ray Bradbury

Text and captions copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nictzin Dyalhis (1873?-1942)

Author, Workman
Born June 4, 1873?, Massachusetts?
Died May 8, 1942, Salisbury, Maryland

Today is the 139th anniversary of the birth of one of the most enigmatic authors to contribute to Weird Tales, if not in all of American popular fiction. I say today is the anniversary, yet even that is in doubt, for almost nothing the man known as Nictzin Dyalhis ever said or wrote about himself was true. Despite claims made by Sam Moskowitz and others, even the name "Nictzin Dyalhis" was almost certainly a pseudonym. And despite decades of inquiry, the identity of its author remains unknown.

According to information he provided himself, Nictzin Wilstone Dyalhis was born on June 4, 1873, in Massachusetts. There isn't any corroborating evidence of those claims. The first known record of Nictzin Dyalhis dates from his marriage--presumably his first--in 1910. At the time he completed his World War I draft card, Dyalhis was living in Pennsylvania and working as a box nailer at a nearby company in New York State. Interestingly, he had "one eye gone." Shortly thereafter, he began selling stories to pulp magazines. His lifetime output of published works is so small that I can list his credits here in their entirety. A blogger named Steve on his blog, Bear Alley, compiled this list. I have not seen a couple of these stories listed before in Dyalhis' credits.
  • "Who Keep the Desert Law" (Adventure, Oct. 20, 1922)
  • "For Wounding--Retaliation" (Adventure, Nov. 20, 1922)
  • "When the Green Star Waned" (Weird Tales, Apr. 1925; reprinted in Weird Tales, Jan. 1929)
  • "The Eternal Conflict" (Weird Tales, Oct. 1925)
  • "He Refused to Stay Dead," with Eric Marston (Ghost Stories, Apr. 1927)
  • "The Dark Lore" (Weird Tales, Oct. 1927)
  • "The Oath of Hul Jok" (Weird Tales, Sept. 1928)
  • "The Red Witch" (Weird Tales, Apr. 1932; reprinted in Magazine of Horror, Jan. 1968)
  • "The Whirling Machete" (Underworld Magazine, Dec. 1933)
  • "The Sapphire Goddess" (Weird Tales, Feb 1934; reprinted as "The Sapphire Siren" in Avon Fantasy Reader, 1951; Weird Tales, Spring 1981)
  • "Gangland’s Judas" (Complete Underworld Novelettes, Aug. 1934)
  • "The Sea-Witch" (Weird Tales, Dec. 1937; reprinted in Weird Tales, July 1953)
  • "Heart of Atlantan" (Weird Tales, Sept. 1940)
Most of Dyalhis' work was published in Weird Tales magazine. His first story, "When the Green Star Waned," proved especially popular and was an early salvo in the battle between weird fiction and science fiction in the pages of "The Unique Magazine." In all, he authored eight stories for Weird Tales. Their popularity was disproportionate to their number. Readers voted "When the Green Star Waned" (Apr. 1925) the most popular story in the issue in which in appeared, the most popular story of 1925, and the fifth most popular of all stories printed between November 1924 and January 1940. "The Eternal Conflict" (October 1925), "The Sapphire Goddess" (Feb. 1932), and "The Sea-Witch" (Dec. 1937) were also most popular for the month in which they appeared, while "The Red Witch" was second in popularity only to "In the Vault" by H.P. Lovecraft in April 1932. "When the Green Star Waned," "The Eternal Conflict," and "The Sea-Witch" all landed in the top twenty-five most popular stories of the period 1924-1940, placing Nicztin Dyalhis in the company of Lovecraft, C.L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, and Edmond Hamilton.

Nictzin Dyalhis was married at least twice and had perhaps just one child, a daughter. He lived in various places in Pennsylvania and Maryland in ever-increasing poverty. Late in life, Dyalhis received a young Willis Conover, Jr. (1920-1996) in his backwoods home. (1) Conover, a student in Maryland and a fan of science fiction, later wrote about their conversations and correspondence. His account is one of few we have from those who knew Nictzin Dyalhis personally. Dyalhis died on May 8, 1942, in Salisbury, Maryland. True to form, he was not buried in the cemetery in which his obituary claimed he would be buried. Even in death, Dyalhis confounded fact.

I am planning to write more on Nicztin Dyalhis and hope to offer as complete an account of his life and work as has been printed anywhere. If anyone has information to contribute, please send it my way. You can reach me in the comments section at the bottom of this blog entry or by email at: (No longer active as of March 21, 2023.)

(1) Conover himself was a contributor to Weird Tales with his poem, "Awakening" (May 1940). 

In "When the Green Star Waned," his first story for Weird Tales, Nictzin Dyalhis authored the cover story, the most popular story of the issue, the most popular story of the year, and an early entry in the field of science fantasy. He was also the originator of the term blaster (spelled blastor). The two-color cover art was by Andrew Brosnatch.
Dyalhis made an outsized contribution in terms of popular stories in Weird Tales. His cover stories were also out of of proportion to his total number of stories. Here is the second of his five cover stories, "The Dark Lore" from October 1927, with cover art by Curtis C. Senf.
Senf also did the cover for Dyalhis' third cover story, "The Red Witch," from April 1932. 
Margaret Brundage's art graced the cover of Weird Tales in February 1934 when "The Sapphire Goddess" was published.
Virgil Finlay provided the cover illustration for "The Sea-Witch," Nictzin Dyalhis' last cover story for "The Unique Magazine," and the work of a more mature author. A few short years after this story was printed (in December 1937), Dyalhis went to his grave, not far from the ocean that may have inspired him.

Text and captions copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley