WINNETOU by Karl May


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The first offerings in a projected Collected Works of Karl May--the German edition stretches to 74 volumes--are three novels representative of this turn-of-the-century German writer's multi-styled vision of faraway places where peace and universal brotherhood triumph (Hermann Hesse called this ""fiction as wish-fulfillment""). His most popular work, Winnetou, is the best example of his straight adventure stories, often set in the American West, where the message (here, ""the Indian has no less a right to his existence than the white man"") remains relatively implicit while rough-and-tumble action predominates. Winnetou is the young Apache chief whose efforts to coexist with the intruding whites (the transcontinental railroad threatens) are cut short by greed and murder; the narrator (""Dear reader! Do you know what the word 'greenhorn' means?"") is Old Shatterhand, Winnetou's white bloodbrother. In the Desert moves to North Africa for the first in a series of novels that eventually span the Ottoman Empire: narrator-hero Kara Ben Nemsi (a German) and his Arab companion (who tries persistently to convert him to Islam) encounter a murder, expose a criminal conspiracy and, in the process, give May the opportunity to indulge his fascination with Islamic cultures. Ben Nemsi and his sidekick also trek through Ardistan and Djinnistan, but this is a more consciously mythical brand of May, beginning in Sitara, ""Land of the Sunflowers,"" moving to the City of the Dead, and ending in a cleansing apocalypse that ushers in an era of tolerance and nonaggression. May's evocations of distant locales, though still pleasantly accessible, were a product of secondary sources and imagination; only late in life did the ex-pauper, ex-convict author go abroad. But a large European audience--mostly young boys, like Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer--saw the world's exotic frontiers through May's eyes as a place where modern man could learn and do good. Thus, the interest in May's novels may come more from historians of imperialism and immigration than from yarn-hungry readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1977
ISBN: 087422179X
Publisher: Seabury