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|Karl Friedrich May|
|Born||February 25, 1842|
Ernstthal, later Kingdom of Saxony
|Died||March 30, 1912 (aged 70)|
Radebeul, German Empire
|Genres||Western, Travel Fiction, 'Heimatromane', Adventure Novels|
Karl Friedrich May (February 25, 1842 – March 30, 1912) was one of the best selling German writers of all time, noted mainly for books set in the American Old West, (best known for the characters of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand) and similar books set in the Orient and Middle East. In addition, he wrote stories set in his native Germany, in China and in South America. May also wrote poetry and several plays, as well as composing music; he was proficient with several musical instruments. May's musical version of "Ave Maria" became very well known.
Life and career
May was born into a family of poor weavers in Ernstthal, Schönburgische Rezessherrschaften, Kingdom of Saxony, the fifth child out of 14. According to his autobiography, he suffered from visual impairment and rickets shortly after birth, due to lack of vitamins A and D. He regained his eyesight after treatment at the age of four or five.
May graduated from a teachers' college and taught in both Waldenburg and Plauen. His career as a teacher ended abruptly during 1863 when he was accused by his roommate of stealing a pocket watch, a charge which May always denied. His license to teach was revoked permanently and probably as a consequence he suffered a nervous breakdown. During the next few years he was accused of petty misdeeds whilst suffering from what is now diagnosed as Dissociative Identity Disorder; he was jailed twice for small thefts and alleged frauds.
During the years in prison, May began writing. In 1875 his first known story was published. However, not until 1892, when 'Winnetou I' appeared in a book edition, did he achieve success with his writing. Many of his books are written as first-person accounts by the narrator-protagonist, and he sometimes claimed that he actually experienced the events he described.
May used many different pseudonyms, including Capitan Ramon Diaz de la Escosura, M. Gisela, Hobble-Frank, Karl Hohenthal, D. Jam, Prinz Muhamel Lautréamont, Ernst von Linden, P. van der Löwen, and Emma Pollmer (the actual name of his first wife; according to May, she was never aware of the purpose or content of his writing). Nowadays his works are all published under his own name.
May visited North America in 1908, long after writing the novels set there, and he never travelled farther west than Buffalo, New York. He compensated successfully for his lack of direct experience with the West by a combination of creativity, imagination, and factual sources including maps, travel accounts and guide books, as well as anthropological and linguistic studies.
Non-dogmatic Christian feelings and values play an important role, and May's heroes are often described as being of German ancestry. In addition, following the Romantic ideal of the "noble savage" and inspired by the writings of James Fenimore Cooper, his Native Americans are usually portrayed as innocent victims of white law-breakers, and many are presented as heroic characters. In his later works, there is a strong element of mysticism.
For the novels set in America, May created the characters of Winnetou, the wise chief of the Apache Tribe, and Old Shatterhand, the author's alter ego and Winnetou's white blood brother. Another successful series of novels is set in the Ottoman Empire. Here the narrator-protagonist calls himself Kara Ben Nemsi, i.e. Karl, son of Germany, and travels with his local guide and servant Hadschi Halef Omar through the Sahara desert and the Near East, experiencing many exciting adventures.
Both series are linked not only by the common narrator, the author himself as either Old Shatterhand or Kara Ben Nemsi, but also by numerous other references and shared minor characters.
May's works were extremely successful, particularly in continental Europe, and have been translated into more than thirty languages including Hebrew, Latin, Volapük, Esperanto and Ido. More than 200 million copies of May's books have been sold worldwide. Several of May's novels were made into films during the 1960s, usually with the scenery of the then Yugoslavia serving as the Wild West.
For a long time, literary critics tended to regard May's literature as trivial. The Karl May Society (Karl-May-Gesellschaft) was founded in 1969 to commemorate his life and works.
May's house "Villa Shatterhand" in Radebeul near Dresden, Germany now houses a museum devoted to him and his collection of anthropological artifacts of American Indian origin. It is also the home of the "Karl May Foundation". A second museum is in his home town Hohenstein-Ernstthal, which is officially named "Karl-May-Geburtstadt Hohenstein-Ernstthal" since 1992. Next that museum is the "Karl May International Heritage Center".
Karl May and his works are deeply rooted in the belief that all mankind should live together peacefully; all of his main characters try to avoid killing anyone, except when necessary to save other lives.
Karl May had a substantial influence on a number of well-known German-speaking people - and on the German population itself. The popularity of his writing, and indeed, his (practically always German) protagonists, are considered by some as having filled a lack in the German psyche which had few popular heroes until the 19th Century. His readers longed to escape from an industrialised, capitalist society, an escape which May offered them. He was noted as having "helped shape the collective German dream of feats far beyond middle-class bounds" - and criticised as having offered those dreams for later exploitation by the Nazis.
Amongst his fans were counted physicist and Nobel-prize-winner Albert Einstein, who noted that he had spent his entire adolescence under May’s spell, and writer Hermann Hesse, who considered his work "fiction as wish-fulfilment" while being a life-long fan. Albert Schweitzer said that "much in his work was imperishable".
Adolf Hitler was also an admirer, who noted that the novels "overwhelmed" him as a boy, going as far as to ensure "a noticeable decline" in his school grades. Hitler attended a lecture given by May in Vienna in March 1912 and was enthusiastic about the event. He defended May against critics in the men's hostel where he lived in Vienna, as the evidence of May's earlier time in jail had come to light; although it was true, Hitler confessed, that May had never visited the sites of his American adventure stories, this made him a greater writer in Hitler's view since it showed the author's powers of imagination. May died suddenly only ten days after the lecture, leaving the young Hitler deeply upset.
Hitler later recommended the books to his generals and had special editions distributed to soldiers at the front, praising Winnetou as an example of "tactical finesse and circumspection", though some note that the latter claims of using the books as military guidance are not substantiated. However, as told by Albert Speer, "when faced by seemingly hopeless situations, he [Hitler] would still reach for these stories," because "they gave him courage like works of philosophy for others or the Bible for elderly people." This influence on the German 'Fuehrer' was later castigated by Klaus Mann, a German writer who accused May of having been a form of 'mentor' for Hitler.
The wider influence on the populace also surprised post-WWII occupation troops from the US, who realised that thanks to Karl May, "Cowboys and Indians" were familiar concepts to local children (though fantastic and removed from reality). The new Eastern Germany was less favouring of his work, and officially considered him a "chauvinist" - though this could not break his popularity, and eventually, even the communist state allowed free publication of his books and created its own Karl May museum.
Between 1912 and 1968 German cinema produced 23 movies made from May's novels, most only loosely following the books. In thirteen of these American actor Lex Barker starred either as Old Shatterhand, Kara Ben Nemsi, or Doctor Sternau. Three movies saw British actor Stewart Granger in the leading role as Old Surehand, and one film starred American Rod Cameron as Old Firehand. May considered the prefix "old" added to the names of several of his heroes as illustrating their considerable experience. Eleven movies featured French actor Pierre Brice as the fictional Apache chief "Winnetou".
The music for the movie Der Schatz im Silbersee (The Treasure of Silver Lake) (1962), composed by German Martin Böttcher, became well known. Music was one reason for the great success of the Karl May movies of the 1960s. Their success made possible the so called "Spaghetti Western" from Italy (with the famous compositions of Ennio Morricone). The star of some of the Spaghetti Westerns, Terence Hill, began his career in the German Karl May movies.
The 1960s Karl May films are typical productions of the time and have not aged as well as the Italian westerns from the same time period. Most were shot in the then Yugoslavia, some in Spain, and none in America. May himself is the subject of a 1974 film by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.
- Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses (1920), silent movie
- Die Todeskarawane (1920), silent movie
- Die Teufelsanbeter (1920), silent movie
- Durch die Wüste (1936), first May talkie
- Die Sklavenkarawane (1958), first May color film
- Der Löwe von Babylon (1959)
- Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962)
- Winnetou 1. Teil (1963)
- Old Shatterhand (1964)
- Der Schut (1964)
- Winnetou 2. Teil (1964)
- Unter Geiern (1964)
- Der Schatz der Azteken (1965)
- Die Pyramide des Sonnengottes (1965)
- Der Ölprinz (1965)
- Durchs wilde Kurdistan (1965)
- Winnetou 3. Teil (1965)
- Old Surehand 1. Teil (1965)
- Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen (1965)
- Das Vermächtnis des Inka (1965)
- Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi (1966)
- Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand (1966)
- Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten (1968)
Karl May festivals
The most famous Karl May festivals are the open air festivals held every summer in Bad Segeberg, Schleswig-Holstein, and in Lennestadt-Elspe, North Rhine-Westphalia, where for ten years movie actor Pierre Brice played his Winnetou character in a live version. Another open air Karl May stage is in Rathen, Saxony, near the village of Radebeul, where May lived and died.
- ^ a b c d e f Tales Of The Grand Teutons: Karl May Among The Indians - The New York Times, 4 January 1987
- ^ a b c d Ich bin ein Cowboy - The Economist, 24 May 2001
- ^ The American Indian in the Great War, Real and Imagined - Camurat, Diane
- ^ Hitler's Mein Kampf attribution of his poor grades in secondary school (his primary school marks, in grades first through fifth, had been quite good in general) to his fascination with May is not entirely reliable. There were a number of factors which contributed: attendance at a larger school in Linz, segregation of classes by subject matter rather than by age, and more difficult subject matter are several identified by Kershaw (Adolf Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris, chapter 1).
- ^ Hamman, Brigette (1999). Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 382–85. ISBN 0-19-512537-1.
- ^ a b Mein Buch - Grafton, Anthony, The New Republic, December 2008
- Karl Mays Werke: historisch-kritische Ausgabe. Für die Karl-May-Stiftung herausgegeben von Hermann Wiedenroth und Hans Wollschläger. F.Greno, Nördlingen 1987 ff. / then by Haffmans: Zürich / then by Bücherhaus: Bargfeld 1993-2007 / now: Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg und Radebeul (Karl May's Works: historical critical edition. On behalf of the Karl May Foundation edited by Hermann Wiedenroth and Hans Wollschläger / changed publisher 3 times / The German National Catalogue presently shows 58 entries under the name of this project, including improved re-editions, supplementary volumes, documents etc).
- Bugmann, Marlies: Savage To Saint, The Karl May Story. First English Biography of Karl May, BookSurge Publishing, June 26, 2008; first edition, ISBN 141965585X, ISBN 978-1419655852
- Frayling, Christopher: Spaghetti westerns: cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone. Routledge, London and Boston 1981; revised edition I.B.Taurus, London and New York 2006, ISBN 9781845112073.
- Sammons, Jeffrey L.: Ideology, nemesis, fantasy: Charles Sealsfield, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Karl May, and other German novelists of America. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1998, ISBN 080788121X.
- Hans Wollschläger: Karl May. Grundriß eines gebrochenen Lebens. (First edition under a different title 1965,) revised edition Diogenes, Zürich 1976; latest edition Wallström, Göttingen 2004 (303 pp.), ISBN 3-89244-740-3 (major biography in (German)).
External links and references
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Karl May|
|German Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Karl May|
- Karl May in the German National Library catalogue (German)
- Karl May Verlag, Bamberg-Radebeul
- Karl Friedrich May Papers at Gettysburg College
- Website of the Dutch Karl May society, mainly in Dutch, homepage also in English.
Works in English
- Amazon.com (Karl May's works in English by Marlies Bugmann)
- Nemsi Books (Publisher of new unabridged English translations of Karl May's works)
- Works by Karl May at Project Gutenberg
- Karl May Gesellschaft - English Homepage
- Winnetou, The Apache Knight Diggory Press ISBN 978-1-84685-697-6
- Winnetou, The Treasure of Nugget Mountain Diggory Press, ISBN 978-1-84685-697-6
Other English sites
- Australian Friends of Karl May / Karl May Bookstore
- Karl May Links
- First English language Karl May forum
- Karl Friedrich May Papers at Gettysburg College
- Karl May Gesellschaft e.V. (Karl May Society - registered) (free texts)
- Karl-May-Museum in Radebeul
Compositions by Karl May:
- Free scores by Karl May in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)