Karl May's Imaginary America

It's only on his deathbed, felled in the prime of his manhood by a bullet from the perfidious Santer, that Winnetou finally sees the light and asks to convert, while German settlers softly sing a new setting of the "Ave Maria" Old Shatterhand wrote on one of his visits back to Germany.

The great appeal of May's Winnetou novels is that you can read them on many different levels at many different ages. When you're a kid you read them as Boy's Own Adventures. The impact is indelible.

"For boys this is so attractive. You have good men and bad men. It's black and white...a world picture that's very simple," says Klaus Franz, a school teacher near Stuttgart. "Winnetou and Old Shatterhand always win. And every boy wants to win."

Klaus should know. He got hooked badly when he was just eleven years old. That summer vacation he helped the village priest reorganize the church library. One lunchtime, when they'd finished work for the day, the priest gave Klaus the first volume of Winnetou to read. After lunch, Klaus sat down on the steps outside his house, took out the book and began to read.

"And in the evening, I 'woke up,' I came back to reality. I had read the whole book." Over 300 pages in five hours. By the end of the first week, Klaus had devoured another four volumes. He was hooked.

Karl May's Imaginary America

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The American West in the American Imagination

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