Karl Friedrich May ( /ˈmaɪ/ my; 25 February 1842 – 30 March 1912) was a popular German writer, noted mainly for adventure novels 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 (with Kara Ben Nemsi and Hadschi Halef Omar). In addition, he wrote stories set in his native Germany, in China and in South America. May also has written poetry and a play, and composed music; he also was proficient with several musical instruments. Many of his works were filmed, adapted for the stage, processed to audio dramas or transcribed into comics. A highly imaginative and fanciful writer, May never visited the exotic places featured in his stories until late in life, when the clash between fiction and reality led to a complete change in his work.
Asteroid 348 May is named in his honor.
Life and career
Karl May was born into a family of poor weavers in Ernstthal, Schönburgische Rezessherrschaften (later part of the Kingdom of Saxony). He was the fifth child out of fourteen, nine of whom died within several months of birth. According to his autobiography, he suffered from visual impairment shortly after birth and regained his eyesight after treatment at the age of five. Possibly a lack of vitamin A led to night blindness, which got worse.
During his school time he got private music and composition lessons. According to his own story he earned money for this at the age of twelve at a skittle alley, where he was able to hear the coarse words of the players.
1856 he started his teacher training in Waldenburg, but was excluded in 1859, because he embezzled six candles. After a petition he was allowed to continue his education in Plauen. His career as a teacher ended abruptly after only a few weeks when he was accused by his roommate of stealing a pocket watch. Therefore he had to be in gaol in Chemnitz for six weeks and his license to teach was revoked permanently.
During the following years he tried to earn a living by giving private education, writing tales, composing and declaiming. But these did not secure his livelihood. As consequence he started thefts and frauds. He was sentenced to four years in a workhouse. From 1865 to 1869 he was in gaol in the workhouse Osterstein Castle (Zwickau). Because of good behaviour he became administrator of the prison’s library and had the chance to read much, including travel literature. He planned to become an author and made a list of titles of works he planned to write, named Repertorium C. May. Some of the planned works on this list he actually did write later. After his release he failed starting a good existence and continued with thefts and frauds. Compared to the effort expended, the loot was meager. He got caught, but during judicial investigation, when he was transported to the crime scenes, he freed himself. May fled beyond Saxon boundaries to Bohemia, where he was detained for vagabondage. He was in gaol again in Waldheim from 1870 to 1874. There he met the catholic prison’s catechist Johannes Kochta, whose influence helped May to find to himself.
After May’s release in May 1874 he went back to his parents in Ernstthal and started writing. The first known publication of a Karl May tale (Die Rose von Ernstthal) was in November 1874. It was a time when the German press was on the move. Industrialisation, increasing literacy and economic freedom led to many start-ups of presses (especially in the field of light fiction). Between his two long imprisonments he had already contacted the publisher Heinrich Gotthold Münchmeyer in Dresden. Now Münchmeyer engaged May as editor in his press. For the first time his livelihood was secure. He stewarded several entertainment papers (e. g. Schacht und Hütte) and wrote and edited numerous articles, some published under his own name, some under a pseudonym or anonymously (e. g. Geographische Predigten, 1875/76). May quit in 1876, because his employer tried to bind him to his company by marriage with Münchmeyer’s sister-in-law and the firm had a bad reputation. After a second engagement as editor in the press of Bruno Radelli, Dresden, in 1878 he became freelance writer and moved to Dresden together with his girlfriend Emma Pollmer, whom he married in 1880. But his publications did not result in a regular income yet; there were rent and other arrears.
In 1879 Deutscher Hausschatz, a catholic weekly journal from the press of Friedrich Pustet in Regensburg, published the tale Three carde monte. After some more stories, they made the offer May should present them all of his tales first: In 1880 he started the Orient Cycle, which ran with interruptions until 1888. But at the same time he also wrote for other journals, used pseudonyms and different titles to get multiple payment for his texts. Until his death more than one hundred tales were published in instalments in diverse journals. Another important journal was Der Gute Kamerad of Wilhelm Spemann, Stuttgart, later on Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, which was a magazine for boys in secondary school. There his first tale was published in 1887 (Der Sohn des Bärenjägers) and it printed one of his most famous stories: Der Schatz im Silbersee (1890/91). In 1882 there was new contact with H. G. Münchmeyer and May started the first of five very large colportage novels for his former employer. One of them, Das Waldröschen (1882–1884) had a total print run of several hundred thousand copies until 1907. But May made just a verbal agreement with Münchmeyer and later on this would become a problem.
In October 1888 May moved to Kötzschenbroda (a part of Radebeul) and 1891 into Villa Agnes in Oberlößnitz (another part of Radebeul). The key breakthrough came in 1891 through contact with Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld, who offered to print the Deutsche Hausschatz-stories as books. With the start of the new book series Carl May’s Gesammelte Reiseromane in 1892 (since 1896 Karl May's Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen) for the first time May experienced financial security and glory. But after a short time he had problems differentiating reality and fiction and went so far as to say that he himself had experienced the adventures of Old Shatterhand and Kara Ben Nemsi, respectively, which he had written about. This was the so called "Old Shatterhand Legend". A gunsmith in Kötzschenbroda manufactured the legendary guns of the heroes in his novels for him, first the "Bärentöter" (Bear Killer) and the „Silberbüchse“ (The Silver Gun), later on the "Henrystutzen" (Henry Rifle). Many readers accepted the equating of author and protagonist and sent numerous letters to him that assumed it to be true. In the following years he conducted talking tours in Germany and Austria, allowed autographed cards to be printed and photos in costume to be taken. In December 1895 he moved into the Villa "Shatterhand" in Alt-Radebeul, which he bought from the Ziller Brothers.
In 1899/1900 May travelled to the Orient. In the first part he was for nearly three-quarters of a year just accompanied by his servant Sejd Hassan and went from Egypt to Sumatra. In 1900 he met his wife and his friends, the couple Klara and Richard Plöhn. Together they continued the journey and returned to Radebeul in July 1900. For a year and a half May wrote a travel diary, which is extant in fragments and transcription parts. According to his second wife Klara (widowed Plöhn, see below) May twice had a nervous breakdown during the journey, each lasting over a week. Hans Wollschläger and Ekkehard Bartsch believe that this was due to an irruption of the reality into May’s dream world. He overcame the crisis without medical benefit.
While May was on his Orient journey, attacks in the press set in, especially pursued by Hermann Cardauns and Rudolf Lebius. They criticised – with different motivations – May’s self-promotion and the associated "Old Shatterhand Legend". Simultaneously they reproached his religious sham (he wrote as protestant for the catholic Deutscher Hausschatz and several Marian calendars), immorality and later on his criminal history. These polemics and several trials about unauthorized book publications lasted until his death. His broken marriage was dissolved in 1903 through a suit brought on by May. According to May, Emma, who was a friend of his adversary, Pauline Münchmeyer (widow of H. G. Münchmeyer), embezzled documents, which could have verified the verbal agreement with Münchmeyer. In the same year he married the widow, Klara Plöhn.
Since his initial employment as editor, May illegally added a doctoral degree to his name. 1902 he got an Doctor honoris causa from the Universitas Germana-Americana in Chicago for his work Im Reiche des Silbernen Löwen. Christian Heermann assumes this happened at the behest of May or Klara Plöhn to give the false doctoral degree a legal basis. This university was a known diploma mill, where degrees could be bought for money.
In 1908 Karl and Klara May travelled for six weeks to North America. They visited among other cities, Albany, Buffalo, the Niagara Falls and some friends in Lawrence. But he did not reach the Wild West. May used the journey as inspiration for his book Winnetou IV.
Tomb of Karl and Klara May
Since his Orient journey May wrote in another way. He called his former works "preparation" and started then writing complex, allegoric texts. He was convinced that he could solve or at least, discuss the "question of mankind". He turned deliberately to pacifism and wrote several books about the raising of humans from "evil" to "good". His friendship with the artist Sascha Schneider lead to new symbolistic covers for the Fehsenfeld edition. An exultant approval May experienced on 22 March 1912; he was invited by the Academic Society for Literature and Music in Vienna to hold the talk Empor ins Reich der Edelmenschen ("Upward to the realm of noble men"). Thereby he met his friend, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bertha von Suttner. Karl May died one week later on 30 March 1912. According to the register of deaths, the cause was "cardiac arrest, acute bronchitis, asthma". Today an (unrecognised) lung cancer is not excluded. May was buried on the graveyard at Radebeul-East. The tomb was inspired by the Temple of Athena Nike Klara had seen during their travels to the Orient.
May used many different pseudonyms, including Capitan Ramon Diaz de la Escosura, D. Jam, Emma Pollmer (name of his first wife), Ernst von Linden, Hobble-Frank (figure of his work), Karl Hohenthal, M. Gisela, P. van der Löwen, Prinz Muhamel Lautréamont and Richard Plöhn (name of his friend). Today most pseudonymously or anonymously published works are identified.
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 Germans, and travels with his local guide and servant Hadschi Halef Omar through the Sahara desert and the Near East, experiencing many exciting adventures.
There is a development from an anonymous first-person narrator, who is just observer and reporter (e. g. Der Gitano, 1875), over addition of heroic skills and equipment (e. g. Old Firehand, 1875, later within Winnetou II) to the full formed first-person-narrator-heroes Old Shatterhand (Deadly dust, 1880, later within Winnetou III) and Kara Ben Nemsi (”Giölgeda padiśhanün”, 1881, later within Durch Wüste und Harem). Some first-person-narrator-heroes are called “Charley” (English for Karl) by friends and fellows. For a long time equipment (e. g. Henry rifle and Bear Killer) and skills (e. g. dash struck) were the same for all first-person-narrator-heroes. Then in Die Felsenburg / Krüger Bei (1893/94, later Satan und Ischariot I/II) May let occur the first-person narrator in the American Old West, in the Orient and in Germany. Therefore he identified Old Shatterhand, Kara Ben Nemsi and Charley with Dr. Karl May in Dresden.
With some exceptions later on (Und Friede auf Erden!, 1904, and Winnetou IV, 1910), May had not visited the places he described. He compensated successfully for his lack of direct experience with these places by a combination of creativity, imagination, and factual sources including maps, travel accounts and guide books, as well as anthropological and linguistic studies. Also the work of writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Gabriel Ferry, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Balduin Möllhausen and Mayne Reid served as models.
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 writers like James Fenimore Cooper or George Catlin, his Native Americans are usually portrayed as innocent victims of white law-breakers, and many are presented as heroic characters. He also wrote about the fate of other suppressed peoples. 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.
May deliberately made himself stand out of ethnological prejudices and also wrote against the public opinion (e. g. Winnetou, Durchs wilde Kurdistan, Und Friede auf Erden!). Nevertheless in his work are some phrasings, which today are seen as “racialistic”. These phrasings underlay the paradigms of his time. For example there are broad-brush pejorative statements about Armenians, black people, Chinese people, Irish people, jews and mestizos. Therefore May was not uninfluenced by the nationalism and racism, which were characteristics of Wilhelmine Germany at that time. But in his novels there are also positive depicted Chinese people and mestizos, who contradict the common clichés. In a letter to a young jew, who planned becoming a Christian after he had read May’s books, he advised him first to understand his own religion, which is holy and exalted, until he is experienced enough to choose.
In his mature work (since 1900) May turned away from the adventurous style and wrote symbolic novels with religious and pacifistic content. The break is best shown in Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen. Herein the first two parts are adventurous and the last two parts belong to the mature work. In the context of this literarily developmental stage the friendship with art nouveau painter and sculptor Sascha Schneider is important, who painted symbolic covers for May’s books. Karl May himself repeatedly stressed the importance of his mature work, though it was never as popular with the general public as his earlier adventure stories.
For a long time, literary critics tended to regard May's literature as trivial, but recent research has reversed this assessment, at least partially.
In his early work Karl May tried several genres until he show his proficiency with travel stories. During his time as editor he published many of this works within the periodicals, for which he was responsible. The time of the early work lasted until about 1880.
- Das Buch der Liebe (1875/76, educational work)
- Geographische Predigten (1875/76, educational work)
- Der beiden Quitzows letzte Fahrten (1876/77, not finished by Karl May)
- Auf hoher See gefangen (1877/78, also entitled as Auf der See gefangen, parts later revised for Old Surehand II)
- Scepter und Hammer (1879/80)
- Im fernen Westen (1879, revision of Old Firehand (1875), later revised for Winnetou II)
- Der Waldläufer (1879, revision for the youth of "Le Coureur de Bois", a novel by Gabriel Ferry)
- Die Juweleninsel (1880–82)
Im fernen Westen and Der Waldläufer are the first book editions of Karl May texts known.
Beside these texts there are many shorter stories, which can be divided into categories. There are village stories from the Erzgebirge (e. g. Die Rose von Ernstthal, 1874), novellas (e. g. Wanda, 1875), humoresques (e. g. Die Fastnachtsnarren, 1875) and historical stories such as the series about „the Old Dessauer“ Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau (e. g. Ein Stücklein vom alten Dessauer, 1875), as well as the first travel stories. Especially in his early work May used home settings, but there are also exotic scenes. His first non-European tale Inn-nu-woh, der Indianerhäuptling (1875) contains a rough draft of Winnetou. Later some of these tales were published in anthologies, e. g. in Der Karawanenwürger und andere Erzählungen (1894), Humoresken und Erzählungen (1902) and Erzgebirgische Dorfgeschichten (1903).
Also to the early work belong articles such as natural philosophic tractates or popular scientific works about history and technology (e. g. Schätze und Schatzgräber, 1875), published answers to letters send to him as editor as well as poems (e. g. Meine einstige Grabinschrift, 1872).
There are five large (many thousands of pages) colportage novels May wrote mostly pseudonymously or anonymously for the press of H. G. Münchmeyer from 1882 to 1888. When May's authorship of these works emerged, he was publicly confronted, because contemporaneously the novels were seen as indecent, especially as they were written parallel to the commendable works in Deutscher Hausschatz.
- Das Waldröschen (1882–84, a part was later revised for Old Surehand II)
- Die Liebe des Ulanen (1883–85)
- Der verlorne Sohn oder Der Fürst des Elends (1884–86)
- Deutsche Herzen – Deutsche Helden (1885–88, also entitled as Deutsche Herzen, deutsche Helden)
- Der Weg zum Glück (1886–88)
From 1900 to 1906 Münchmeyer’s successor Adalbert Fischer published the first book editions. These were revised by third hand and published under May’s real name instead of using the pseudonym. This edition was not authorised by May and he tried to stop the publication.
In the book series Carl May's Gesammelte Reiseromane, later entiteld Karl May’s Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen, 33 volumes were published from 1892 to 1910 in the press of Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld. Most of them were published before in Deutscher Hausschatz, but some of them were directly written for this series. The most famous titles are the Orient Cycle (volume 1–6) and the Winnetou-Trilogy (7–9). Generally there is no reading order, because May himself produced unintentionally chronological inconsistencies. Most of them arose, when he revised earlier texts for the book edition (e. g. within the Winnetou-Trilogy).
- 1. Durch Wüste und Harem (1892, since 1895 entitled as Durch die Wüste)
- 2. Durchs wilde Kurdistan (1892)
- 3. Von Bagdad nach Stambul (1892)
- 4. In den Schluchten des Balkan (1892)
- 5. Durch das Land der Skipetaren (1892)
- 6. Der Schut (1892)
- 7. Winnetou I (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman I)
- 8. Winnetou II (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman II)
- 9. Winnetou III (1893, temporarily also entitled as Winnetou der Rote Gentleman III)
- 10. Orangen und Datteln (1893, an anthology)
- 11. Am Stillen Ocean (1894, an anthology)
- 12. Am Rio de la Plata (1894)
- 13. In den Cordilleren (1894)
- 14. Old Surehand I (1894)
- 15. Old Surehand II (1895)
- 16. Im Lande des Mahdi I (1896)
- 17. Im Lande des Mahdi II (1896)
- 18. Im Lande des Mahdi III (1896)
- 19. Old Surehand III (1897)
- 20. Satan und Ischariot I (1896)
- 21. Satan und Ischariot II (1897)
- 22. Satan und Ischariot III (1897)
- 23. Auf fremden Pfaden (1897, an anthology)
- 24. „Weihnacht!“ (1897)
- 26. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen I (1898)
- 27. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen II (1898)
- 25. Am Jenseits (1899)
- 28–33 are travel stories, which belong to the mature work
There are some shorter travel stories, which were not published within this series (e. g. Eine Befreiung within Die Rose von Kaïrwan, 1894). On this edition (so called “green volumes”) bases the series Karl May’s Illustrierte Reiseerzählungen (illustrated “blue volumes”, since 1907). This edition was revised by May himself and is the definitive edition. It contains just the first thirty volumes which have partly another numbering.
After foundation of the Karl May Press in 1913 in the new series "Karl May's Gesammelte Werke" many volumes were revised (partly radically) and many got new titles. Texts from others than Fehsenfeld Press were added to the new series.
Stories for young readers
These stories were written from 1887 to 1897 for the magazine Der Gute Kamerad. He intentionally wrote for young readers. Most of the stories are set in the Wild West, but here Old Shatterhand is just a figure and not the first-person narrator as he is in the travel stories. The most famous volume is Der Schatz im Silbersee. In the broadest sense the early works Im fernen Westen and Der Waldläufer belong to these category.
- Der Sohn des Bärenjägers (1887, since 1890 within Die Helden des Westens)
- Der Geist des Llano estakata (1888, since 1890 correctly entitled as Der Geist des Llano estakado within Die Helden des Westens)
- Kong-Kheou, das Ehrenwort (1888/89, since 1892 entitled as Der blaurote Methusalem)
- Die Sklavenkarawane (1889/90)
- Der Schatz im Silbersee (1890/91)
- Das Vermächtnis des Inka (1891/92)
- Der Oelprinz (1893/94, since 1905 entitled as Der Ölprinz)
- Der schwarze Mustang (1896/97)
Between 1890 and 1899 Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft published them as illustrated book edition.
Parallel to this major work May also published shorter stories and some puzzles anonymously or pseudonymously from 1887 to 1891. These were written mostly to given illustrations. One of the pseudonyms was “Hobble-Frank”, which was a popular character in his stories for the youth with Wild West setting. Also his answers to letters by the readers were published within Der Gute Kamerad.
The Mature work
The so called mature work Spätwerk consists of the publications after May’s travel to the Orient, from 1900 on. Many of them were published in the press of Fehsenfeld. Within the series Karl May’s Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen the volumes 28-33 belong to the mature work.
- Himmelsgedanken (1900, poem collection)
- 28. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen III (1902)
- Erzgebirgische Dorfgeschichten (1903, anthology)
- 29. Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen IV (1903)
- 30. Und Friede auf Erden! (1904)
- Babel und Bibel (1906, drama)
- 31. Ardistan und Dschinnistan I (1909)
- 32. Ardistan und Dschinnistan II (1909)
- 33. Winnetou IV (1910)
- Mein Leben und Streben (1910, autobiography)
Some shorter stories also belong to the mature work (e. g. Schamah, 1907), also some essays and articles (e. g. Briefe über Kunst, 1906/07) as well as texts he wrote in the context of lawsuits against him, to defend himself before the public (e. g ”Karl May als Erzieher” und “Die Wahrheit über Karl May” oder Die Gegner Karl Mays in ihrem eigenen Lichte, 1902).
Karl May wrote also musical compositions, especially when he was member of the singing society “Lyra” about 1864. Well known is his version of Ave Maria (together with Vergiss mich nicht collected within Ernste Klänge, 1899).
During his last years May hold talks about his philosophic ideas.
- Drei Menschheitsfragen: Wer sind wir? Woher kommen wir? Wohin gehen wir? (Lawrence, 1908)
- Sitara, das Land der Menschheitsseele (Augsburg, 1909)
- Empor ins Reich der Edelmenschen (Vienna, 1912)
After May’s death there were publishings of his residue: Fragments of stories and dramas, lyrics, musical compositions, his self made library catalogue and mostly letters.
Number of copies and translations
It is stated that Karl May is the “most read writer of German tongue”. The total number of copies published is about 200 millions, half of this are German copies.
The first translation of May’s work was the first half of the Orient Cycle into French 1881 (just ten years after the French-German War), which was published in Le Monde. Since that time May’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages including Latin, Esperanto and Volapük. In the 1960s the UNESCO stated May being the most translated German writer. Outside the German-speaking area he is most popular in the Czech language area, Hungary and the Netherlands. In France, Great Britain and the USA he is nearly unknown. In 2001 Nemsi Books Publishing Company located in Pierpont, South Dakota, opened its doors to become one of the first English publishing houses dedicated to the unabridged translations of Karl May's original work.
List of languages: Afrikaans, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (British), English (American), Esperanto, Finnish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Modern Hebrew, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovakian, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Volapük, Yiddish
There are also braille editions and editions read for visually impaired or blind people.
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 (generally German) protagonists, are seen 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. He was noted as having "helped shape the collective German dream of feats far beyond middle-class bounds".
The image of Native Americans in Germany is greatly influenced by May. The name Winnetou even has an entry in the main German dictionary Duden. 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).
Many well-known German-speaking people used May’s heroes as models in their childhood. Physicist Albert Einstein was a great fan of Karl May's books and is quoted as having said "My whole adolescence stood under his sign. Indeed, even today, he has been dear to me in many a desperate hour…" Many others have given positive statements about their Karl May reading.
Adolf Hitler was 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. According to an anonymous friend, Hitler attended the lecture given by May in Vienna in March 1912 and was enthusiastic about the event. Ironically, the lecture was an appeal for peace, also heard by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bertha von Suttner. Claus Roxin doubts the anonymous description, because Hitler had told much about May, but not that he had seen him. Hitler 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. In his admiration Hitler ignored May's Christian and humanitarian approach and views completely, not mentioning his – in some novels – relatively sympathetic description of Jews and persons of non-white race.
The real or imagined fate of Native Americans was abused during the world wars for anti-American propaganda. The National Socialists in particular tried to use May’s popularity and his work for their purposes. May was criticised as having offered those materials for exploitation by the Nazis. Several novels of Karl May were re-edited in an antisemitic style during the years of Nazism and led to serious misunderstandings about May's original intentions. Due to these undesirable uses of his books, the authorities of the new Eastern Germany were less approving of May’s work, and officially considered him a "chauvinist" - though this did not effect his popularity, and during the 1980s there was a Karl May renaissance.
The German writer Carl Zuckmayer was intrigued by the May’s great Apache chief and named his daughter Maria Winnetou (* 1926).
Max von der Grün reported that he read Karl May as a young boy. When asked whether reading May's books had given him anything, he answered: "No. It took something away from me. The fear of bulky books that is."
Also Heinz Werner Höber, twofold Glauser prize winner, was a self-confessed follower of Karl May: "When I was about 12 years old I wrote my first novel on Native Americans which was of course from the beginning to the end completely stolen from Karl May." He had pleaded with friends to get him to Radebeul "because Radebeul meant Karl May". There he was deeply impressed by the museum and stated: "My great country fellowman from Hohenstein-Ernstthal and his immortal heros have never left me ever since."
After Karl May published the whole poem Ave Maria in 1896 at least 19 other persons wrote musical versions. Other poems, especially from the collection Himmelsgedanken were set into music. As present for May Carl Ball wrote “harp clangs” for the drama Babel und Bibel. The Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck made an opera from Der Schatz im Silbersee in the age of eleven. Others wrote music inspired by May’s works (e. g. around Winnetou’s death).
The first stage adaptation was Winnetou by Hermann Dimmler in 1919. Revisions by him and Ludwig Körner were played in the following years. After the Second World War first adaptations were conducted in Austria. In East Germany they started not before 1984. Different novel revisions are played on outdoor stages since the 1940s. The most famous “Karl May Festivals” are held every summer in Bad Segeberg (since 1952) and in Lennestadt-Elspe (since 1958). At both places movie actor Pierre Brice played Winnetou. Another festival is on the rock stage in Rathen, in the Saxon Switzerland near Radebeul (1940, then since 1984). Many other stages in Austria and Germany show or showed plays after Karl May. In 2006 these were 14 stages. May’s own drama Babel und Bibel has not been played on a bigger stage yet.
Karl May’s friends Marie Luise Droop and her husband Adolf Droop among others founded in cooperation with the Karl May Press the production company “Ustad-Film” (the name refers to May himself in Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen III/IV) in 1920. They produced three silent movies (Auf den Trümmern des Paradieses, Die Todeskarawane and Die Teufelsanbeter) after the Orientcycle in 1920, which are lost. Due to the low success “Ustad-Film” went bankrupt in the following year. The first sound movie Durch die Wüste was shown in 1936. “Die Sklavenkarawane” (1958) and its sequel “Der Löwe von Babylon” (1959) were the first colour movies. Famous is the Karl May movie wave from 1962–1968, which was one of the most successful German movie series. While most of the 17 movies were Wild West movies (beginning with “Der Schatz im Silbersee”), three were based on the Orientcycle and two on Das Waldröschen. Most of these movies were made separately by the two competitors Horst Wendlandt and Artur Brauner. Following actors played main characters in several movies of the series: Lex Barker (Old Shatterhand, Kara Ben Nemsi, Karl Sternau), Pierre Brice (Winnetou), Stewart Granger (Old Surehand), Milan Srdoč (Old Wabble) and Ralf Wolter (Sam Hawkens, Hadschi Halef Omar, André Hasenpfeffer). The film score by Martin Böttcher has also become famous and together with the landscape of Yugoslavia, where most movies were shot, it participate to the great success of the series. After the series more movies for cinema (“Die Spur führt zum Silbersee”, 1990) or TV (e. g. “Das Buschgespenst”, 1986) and TV-series (e. g. “Kara Ben Nemsi Effendi”, 1973) were produced. Most Karl May movies are far from the original, some even contain nothing more than May’s main figures.
No other German writer has more audio dramas than Karl May, which have a number of about 300. Günther Bibo wrote the first one (Der Schatz im Silbersee) in 1929. A greater wave was during the 1960s. There are also Czech and Danish audio dramas.
After the ending of the term of copyright and with the success of the Karl May movie series of the 1960s the first German comic wave occurred. A second comic wave came during the 1970s. The first and qualitative best German comic was Winnetou (# 1-8) / Karl May (# 9-52) (1963–1965). It was drawn by Helmut Nickel and Harry Ehrt and published by Walter Lehning Verlag. The most comprehensive comic was published by the press Standaard Uitgeverij. This Flemish comic Karl May was drawn by the studio of Willy Vandersteen in 87 issues from 1862–1987. Also in other countries comics were produced: e. g. Czechoslovakia (often reduced to the wild west plot), Denmark, France, Mexico, Spain and Sweden.
In 1988 Der Schatz im Silbersee was read by Gert Westphal and published as audiobook. “Wann sehe ich dich wieder, du lieber, lieber Winnetou?“ (1995) is a compendium of Karl May texts read by Hermann Wiedenroth. Since 1998 different presses (e. g. Karl May Press) have released an increasing number of about 50 audiobooks. Another famous reader is movie actor Peter Sodann.
Karl May and his life were basis for screen adaptations: Freispruch für Old Shatterhand (1965, dir. Hans Heinrich) and Karl May (1974, dir. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg) as well as a 6-episode TV series Karl May (1992, dir. Klaus Überall). There are also novels with or about Karl May, e. g. “Swallow, mein wackerer Mustang” (1980) by Erich Loest, “Vom Wunsch, Indianer zu werden. Wie Franz Kafka Karl May traf und trotzdem nicht in Amerika landete“ (1994) by Peter Henisch, “Old Shatterhand in Moabit” (1994) by Walter Püschel and “Karl May und der Wettermacher” (2001) by Jürgen Heinzerling. A stage adaptation is “Die Taschenuhr des Anderen“ by Willi Olbrich.
Copies, parodies, and sequels
Already during May’s lifetime he has been copied or parodied. While some just wrote similar wild west stories to participate on his literarily success (e. g. Franz Treller), others even used May’s name to publish their works. Also today novels with May figures are published. In “Hadschi Halef Omar” (2010) Jörg Kastner describes the first contact of the titular character with Kara Ben Nemsi. Franz Kandolf wrote “In Mekka” (1923) a sequel to Am Jenseits, which is official part of Karl May’s Gesammelte Werke as vol. 50. An alternative to Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen III/IV by Heinz Grill (“Die Schatten des Schah-in-Schah”, 2006) has been written in the adventurous style of the first parts. As sequel to Winnetou IV May had planned Winnetous Testament. A series of eight volumes with this title has been written by Jutta Laroche and Reinhard Marheinecke. Other famous writers of sequels are Friederike Chudoba, Otto Emersleben, Thomas Jeier, Edmund Theil and Iris Wörner (Her pseudonym Nscho-tschi refers to Winnetou’s sister).
The 2001 film Der Schuh des Manitu by Michael Herbig is a parody on the Karl May Films of the 1960s and spoof extensively the characters and motives of May's Winnetou trilogy.
Karl May institutions
Karl May Foundation
In his will, May made his second wife Klara his sole heiress. He instructed that after her death all of his property and any future earnings from his work should go to a foundation. This foundation should support the education of gifted poor people and help writers, journalists and editors, who through no fault of their own, had got into financial difficulties. One year after May’s death on 5 March 1913, Klara May established the "Karl May Foundation" ("Karl-May-Stiftung"). Contributions are made since 1917. With contracts of inheritance and wills of Klara May the property of both went to the Karl May Foundation. Following her instructions, the foundation established a Karl May Museum to maintain the Villa “Shatterhand“, the estates, the collections (the museum was founded during her lifetime) and to maintain May's tomb. In 1960, the Karl May Foundation leaved the Karl May Press, which belonged to her by two-thirds. Thereby the press got parts of May’s properties.
Karl May Press
On 1 July 1913 Klara May, Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld (May’s main publisher) and the jurist Euchar Albrecht Schmid established the “Foundation Press Fehsenfeld & Co.” (“Stiftungs-Verlag Fehsenfeld & Co.“) in Radebeul. In 1915 the name changed into “Karl May Press“ (”Karl-May-Verlag“ = KMV). They ended the civil disputes (e. g. about the colportage novels) and got the rights of works from others presses (e. g the colportage novels and the stories for the youth). Third hand revisions of these texts were added to the series Karl May’s Gesammelte Reiseerzählungen, which was renamed to Karl May’s Gesammelte Werke (und Briefe). The existing 33 volumes of the original series also were (partly radically) revised. Until 1945 there were 65 volumes. The press nearly only publishes works of Karl May and secondary literature. Beside the Gesammelte Werke (the classical “green volumes”), which have 91 volumes today, the press has a huge reprint programme. Other targets of the young press were rehabilitation of May against literary criticism and support of the Karl May Foundation. Since the contractual quitting of Fehsenfeld in 1921 and the separation from the Karl May Foundation (as Klara May’s heir) in 1960 the press lies in hands of the Schmid family. Due to the attitudes of the authorities of the Soviet occupation zone and East Germany towards May (his works should not be printed) the press moved to Bamberg (West Germany) in 1959. After the German reunification the press has a second place of residence in Radebeul since 1996. When in 1963 the term of copyright ended the press lost its monopoly. The press started a commercialisation of May. The name “Karl May” is registered trade mark of the “Karl May Verwaltungs- und Vertriebs-GmbH”, which belongs to the Karl May Press.
Karl May's Villa “Shatterhand”
The “Karl May Museum” in Radebeul started on 1 December 1928 in “Villa Bear Fat” (Villa Bärenfett) as a museum about history and life of Native Americans. This villa was built as a log house in the garden of Villa “Shatterhand” after ideas of the widely travelled artist Patty Frank (Ernst Tobis). Karl May’s collection about Native Americans, which was added by Klara May, and the whole collection of Patty Frank were joined, therefore Frank became the first curator and got life estate in “Villa Bear Fat”. During the time of the GDR the museum was renamed “Native Americans Museum of the Karl May Foundation” in 1956 and Karl May related exhibits were removed in 1962.
After rethinking of the GDR authorities the museum got its former name back and the street even was renamed “Karl May Street” in 1984. While “Villa Bear Fat” further on contains the exhibition about Native Americans, where the fireplace room today is used for events, Villa “Shatterhand” shows an exhibition about Karl May since 1985. Beside the library, which can be used for research, the work room and parlour (so called “Sascha Schneider Room”) are originally arranged. Among others the replicas of the “famous guns” and a bust of Winnetou are shown. Opposite to Villa “Shatterhand” May’s fruit garden has become the “Karl May Grove” (“Karl-May-Hain”).
The “Karl May House” (“Karl-May-Haus”) is the about 300 year old weaver house, where May was born. During the May renaissance in the GDR it has become a memorial and museum since 12 March 1985. Beside the permanent exhibition about May’s life rebuild rooms like a weaver chamber and non-German book editions are shown. The garden has been arranged according to May’s description in his biography. Opposite the house lays the “International Karl May Heritage Center” (“Karl-May-Begegnungsstätte”), which is used for events and special exhibitions. In Hohenstein-Ernstthal, which is called “Karl May Home Town” since 1992, every May related place has a commemorative plaque. These places are connected by a “Karl May Path” (“Karl-May-Wanderweg”). Outside the city lays the “Karl May Cave” (“Karl-May-Höhle”), where May found shelter during his criminal time.
Some associations have been founded during Karl May’s lifetime, e. g. “Karl May Clubs” in the 1890s. Today, various work groups, societies, and clubs are devoting their activities to Karl May's life and work, and organize related events. While early associations often understood their role as rendering homage to the writer or defending him against critics, they focus today more on research. Most societies are in German-speaking areas (e. g. booster clubs of the museums), but some can also be found in the Netherlands, Australia and Indonesia. While the societies are responsible for the release of most Karl May-related periodicals (e. g Der Beobachter an der Elbe, Karl-May-Haus Information, Wiener Karl-May-Brief, Karl May in Leipzig), the magazine Karl May & Co. is published independently.
The “Karl May Society” (“Karl May Gesellschaft e.V.” = KMG) is the largest society with approximately 1800 members. The KMG was founded on 22 March 1969. One of its main objectives is to conduct research on Karl May’s life and work and to promote his recognition in the official history of literature and the general public. Among the various publications of the society are the Jahrbuch, the Mitteilungen, the Sonderhefte der Karl-May-Gesellschaft, and the KMG-Nachrichten as well as a huge reprint programmme. Since 2008 and in cooperation with the Karl May Foundation and the Karl May Press, the KMG publishes the critical edition of “Karl Mays Werke”. This project had been initiated by Hans Wollschläger and Hermann Wiedenroth in 1987. After initial disruptions and changes also regarding the printing the project is now conceptualized to more than 99 volumes.
- ^ Karl May: Mein Leben und Streben
- ^ a b c d Sudhoff/Steinmetz: Karl-May-Chronik I
- ^ Bartsch, Ekkehard & Wollschläger, Hans: Karl Mays Orientreise 1899/1900. Within: Karl May: In fernen Zonen. Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul, 1999.
- ^ Heermann, Christian: Winnetous Blutsbruder. Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul, 2002.
- ^ May, Karl: Letter to Herbert Friedländer from April 13, 1906. Cited within: Wohlgschaft: Karl May – Leben und Werk, p. 1555f.
- ^ Lowsky, Martin: Karl May (Metzler Sammlung, vol. 231). Metzler, Stuttgart, 1987, p. 38.
- ^ a b Schmid, Euchar Albrecht: Gestalt und Idee. pp. 369-376. In: Karl May. „ICH“ (39th Edition). Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg, 1995, pp. 367-420.
- ^ a b Wehnert, Jürgen: Der Text. In Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 116-130.
- ^ Kühne, Hartmut & Lorenz, Christoph F.: Karl May und die Musik. Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul, 1999.
- ^ a b c d e f g h Petzel, Michael & Wehnert, Jürgen: Das neue Lexikon rund um Karl May. Lexikon Imprint Verlag, Berlin 2002.
- ^ a b von Thüna, Ulrich: Übersetzungen. In Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 519-522.
- ^ a b c d Karl May audio drama database
- ^ a b c Ich bin ein Cowboy - The Economist, 24 May 2001
- ^ a b c d e f Tales Of The Grand Teutons: Karl May Among The Indians - The New York Times, 4 January 1987
- ^ The American Indian in the Great War, Real and Imagined – Camurat, Diane
- ^ Müller, Erwin: Aufgespießt. In several issues of KMG-Nachrichten
- ^ Karl May (German)
- ^ 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).
- ^ (Anonymus): Mein Freund Hitler Within: Moravsky ilustrovany zpravodaj. 1935, No. 40, p. 10f.
- ^ Roxin, Claus: Letter from 24.2.2004. Cited within: Wohlgschaft: Karl May - Leben und Werk, p. 2000.
- ^ 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
- ^ Harder, Ralf: Mißbraucht im Dritten Reich
- ^ Thor-Heyerdahl-Gymnasium - Anecdotes (German)
- ^ Eik, Jan: Der Mann, der Jerry Cotton war. Erinnerungen des Bestsellerautors Heinz Werner Höber. Das Neue Berlin, Berlin, 1996. EAN 9783359007999
- ^ Kühne, Hartmut: Vertonungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 532-535.
- ^ Hatzig, Hansotto: Dramatisierungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 523-526.
- ^ a b Hatzig, Hansotto: Verfilmungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 527-531.
- ^ Petzel, Michael: Comics und Bildergeschichten. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 539-545.
- ^ a b Wehnert, Jürgen: Fortsetzungen, Ergänzungen und Bearbeitungen. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 509-511.
- ^ Schmid, Euchar Albrecht: Karl Mays Tod und Nachlaß. pp. 352ff., 362ff. In: Karl May. „ICH“ (39th Edition). Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg, 1995, pp. 327-365.
- ^ a b Wagner, René: Karl-May-Stiftung (Radebeul). In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 549-551.
- ^ a b Wehnert, Jürgen: Der Karl-May-Verlag. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 554-558.
- ^ Wagner, René: Karl-May-Museum (Radebeul). In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 547-549.
- ^ Neubert, André: Karl-May-Haus (Hohenstein-Ernstthal). In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 546-547.
- ^ Wohlgschaft: Karl May – Leben und Werk. p. 1029
- ^ Heinemann, Erich: Organe und Perspektiven der Karl-May-Forschung. In: Ueding: Karl-May-Handbuch, pp. 559-564.
- ^ Satzung der Karl-May-Gesellschaft e.V. 02.03.2010.
- ^ Edition plannings
- 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 and 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.).
- Mein Leben und Streben (autobiography). Freiburg i. Br., Friedrich Ernst Fehsenfeld, 1910. Reprint: Hildesheim and New York, Olms Presse, 1975 (third edition 1997), with preface, comments, epilogue, index for subjects, persons and geograhical names by Hainer Plaul. Online version in English
- Bugmann, Marlies: Savage To Saint, The Karl May Story. BookSurge Publishing, 2008, ISBN 1-4196-5585-X, ISBN 978-1-4196-5585-2 (First English biography of Karl May).
- 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 978-1-84511-207-3.
- Michalak, Michael: My Life and My Mission. Nemsi Books Publishing, 2007, ISBN 0-9718164-7-6, ISBN 978-0-9718164-7-3 (English autobiography of Karl May).
- Plaul, Hainer: Illustrierte Karl-May-Bibliographie. Unter Mitwirkung von Gerhard Klußmeier. Saur, Munich, London, New York, Paris 1989, ISBN 3-598-07258-9 (Bibliography in (German)).
- 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 0-8078-8121-X.
- Sudhoff, Dieter & Steinmetz, Hans-Dieter: Karl-May-Chronik (5 Volumes + companion book). Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg and Radebeul 2005-2006, ISBN 3-7802-0170-4 (Chronicle in (German)).
- Ueding, Gert (Editor): Karl-May-Handbuch. Second enlarged and revised edition. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2001, ISBN 3-8260-1813-3 (Handbook in (German)).
- Wohlgschaft, Hermann: Karl May – Leben und Werk (3 Volumes). Bücherhaus, Bargfeld 2005, ISBN 3-930713-93-4 (Most extensive biography in (German); Online-Version of first edition).
- Wollschläger, Hans: Karl May. Grundriß eines gebrochenen Lebens. (First edition under a different title 1965;) Revised edition Diogenes, Zürich 1976; latest edition Wallstein, Göttingen 2004 (303 pp.), ISBN 3-89244-740-3 (Major biography in (German)).
Life and works
Compositions by Karl May