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 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 is 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 was 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:

(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 Terence E. Hanley

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