Karl May's Imaginary America

As the artificial flames started to lick the body, syrupy violins played a theme from 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.' Old Shatterhand, choking back the emotions, delivered a final eulogy to his fallen blood-brother.

"His body is dead...but his soul lives on in each and every one of us!" And there, sure enough, framed by spotlights against the cliffs was Winnetou on his horse Iltschi. The applause lasted fifteen minutes. Nobody left.

There's still lots of money to be made out of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. The Karl May industry has invested too much to let a little matter like Winnetou's death or Pierre Brice's retirement get in its way. There are Winnetou board games, Winnetou T shirts, Winnetou beer mugs. Doubtless, someone's already hard at work inventing a Winnetou video game in some basement in Munich.

But for me and countless others, I suspect, Winnetou's high tech death was deeply symbolic. The spirit, the soul of the myth may have also left for the Happy Hunting Grounds. All that remained might be just the usual tawdry commercial exploitation of a wonderful story.

Julian Crandall Hollick is a a journalist and broadcaster who usually covers the two "I's" - India and Islam, for National Public Radio. This article is adapted from an article written for "Smithsonian" magazine in 1992 and accompanied Julian's award-winning documentary "Winnetou and Old Shatterhand", about the American West in the European Imagination, originally broadcast on Public Radio that same year.

Karl May's Imaginary America

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The American West in the American Imagination

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