Birthday Reviews: Nictzin Dyalhis’s “Heart of Atlantan”
Nictzin Dyalhis was born on June 4, 1873 and died on May 8, 1942.
Dyalhis’s writing career began with the story “Who Keep the Desert Law” in 1922 and saw the publication of fewer than 20 stories over the next 18 years. His first story in Weird Tales, “When the Green Star Waned,” may have been the first use of the word “blaster” for a ray gun. Although L. Sprague de Camp has stated that Nictzin Dyalhis was his birthname and appears on his draft card, people have suggested that he changed the spelling of his last name from Dallas. Dyalhis also appears to have changed the date of his birth as suited him. One of the few members of the science fiction community to have actually met him was Willis Conover, Jr.
“Heart of Atlantan” first appeared in the September 1940 issue of Weird Tales, edited by D. McIlwraith. It remained out of print for 30 years before Lin Carter selected it for his anthology The Magic of Atlantis. In 1976, Peter Haining published a retrospective of Weird Tales and chose the story to represent Dyalhis’s contributions to the magazine. Wildside Press issued several of Dyalhis’s stories, including “Heart of Atlantan” in their e-book The Golden Age of Weird Fiction Megapack: Volume 4 in 2015. The story most recently appears in The Sapphire Goddess, published in 2018 by DMR Books and edited by Dave Ritzlin. “Heart of Atlantan was Dyalhis’s final published story.
Framing techniques in weird fiction were a common device in the early pulp era, an attempt to give some sort of credence to the tale. The events didn’t often happen to the narrator, but to a friend, or were found in a book. In “Heart of Atlantan,” Henri d’Armond describes how he was having a conversation with his friend, Leonard Carman, about the possibility of lost ancient civilizations. Carman is convinced they exist and to prove his point calls a woman, Otilie, to join them. Bent, broken, ugly, and illiterate, Otilie has the ability to serve as a medium, writing messages from a lost race.