Karl May's Imaginary America

The designated warrior just happens to be Intschu-tschuna, Winnetou's father. Of course, Old Shatterhand defeats him. But he spares his life and so earns not only the lasting trust of all good Apaches but also becomes blood-brother of Winnetou and co-chief of the Apaches. He also displays a quality of Christian mercy that runs throughout all the books.

Winnetou is not the silent sidekick to a White Hero. He's not Tonto to Old Shatterhand's Lone Ranger. If anything he's Karl May's version of Chingachook, the last of the Mohicans turned Apache. Winnetou and Old Shatterhand share equal billing. They are both heroic, both possessed of great virtue. Skin color,racial differences mean nothing. Both lead independent lives. Old Shatterhand travels frequently back to Germany and the Middle East, where as Kara Ben Nemsi he undergoes wonderful adventures among the Kurds. But he always returns, no matter how long the absence, to the Frontier.

Written in clear, uncomplicated prose that has worn its years lightly, a typical Winnetou tale starts elsewhere, around a campfire, or in some small town in California or Colorado. A man tells a tale about some recent crime. We don't make the connection yet.

Somebody rides in with news of a cattle rustling or a murder. Old Shatterhand and his newfound companions saddle up and ride off. As the adventure unfolds they meet up with old friends from those early days surveying for the railroad in Arizona, most of them trappers or scouts or other assorted 'Westmen' (another May word that every German assumes to come straight from Webster's Dictionary) just happen to be German. Given the mass exodus of young Germans to Texas and points West after the failure of the 1848 Revolution it's plausible. And May never really tries to score nationalist points.

Karl May's Imaginary America

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The American West in the American Imagination

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