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An American expert on Karl May (pronounced "MY" in German), Professor Alex Kuo of Washington State University, has written: “May has been a significant author in shaping the average German youth's view of the American West and the American Indian as well, as part of Germany's long love affair, for good or bad, with the states west of the Mississippi.”
About.com's "Karl May Books in English."
Karl May: The Author
Karl May’s most popular work is Winnetou™, the story of a young Apache chief as told by his white friend and blood brother, OLD SHATTERHANDÔ. The action takes place about one hundred years ago in the American Southwest, where the Native American way of life is threatened by the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Winnetou™, the only Indian chief who could have united the various quarreling tribes and reach an equitable settlement with the Whites, is shot in a fight with another Native American tribe His tragic death foreshadows the death of his people.
WINNETOU™ is essentially a romantic elegy on the destruction of beauty and bravery, a protest against the brutal banality of modern civilization. But in spite of its realism and images of the free, noble, “natural” man, this is not a historical novel, or a Western, in the usual sense. May’s work is as colorful as that of James Fenimore Cooper and Zane Grey, but his purpose is quite different. For him, the “real” place of action is never any prairie, desert, or forest, but the collective unconscious of his readers. All of May’s characters are archetypical figures engaged in an eternal struggle for human dignity, love, and peace. It is this quality of May’s fiction that has maintained its appeal for millions of fans and which has made WINNETOU™ the most beloved of his heroes.
Unlikely Men in an Unlikely New World
What other significant figures in history have said about Karl May's works:
“My whole adolescence stood
under his sign. Indeed, even today, he has been dear to me in many a
“What I liked most in his
writings was the courageous stand for
peace and mutual
understanding, which inspires nearly all his books…”
“He is the most brilliant representative of a truly original type of fiction – i.e. fiction as wish-fulfillment…” -Herman Hesse
Underlining the above statements of these three important people in our history, May’s philosophy can be described as a combination of realism in a world that encounters people of different mentalities and cultures with all of its consequences. Beautiful moments, rivalry, uncertainty, and the images of freedom and each person’s desire to protect the existing situation are combined in a way of a colorful western novel, yet different from all other existing ones.
May’s main characters all fight for human dignity, love, and peace; yet, every page of his books leaves the reader their individual way of interpretation of his message.
In the repeating message of the urge of a minority in this world to always seek protest against brutality and unfairness, Karl May brings together two unusual men of different mentalities and cultures and underlines their bond of friendship by brotherhood and sets an example for all continuing generations.
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