Old Shatterhand

European writers mythologized the American Old West. Karl May created Winnetou and his sidekick Old Shatterhand. Einstein was a fan. May drew inspiration from James Fenimore Cooper, the author of “The Last of the Mohicans”. This was a romantic, sometimes factually inaccurate portrayal of the “noble savage” and his frontiersman blood brother. Very appealing to a European audience, drawn to the adventure of the New World. Critics pointed out the flaws of character stereotyping, contrived plot lines and sentimentality, but readers were undeterred. Revisionist literary interpretation rescues Cooper; I’m not sure about May.

As a child, I loved reading Karl May. I could create an imaginary America, with characters who possessed nobility of spirit and relished their freedom. The irony was that May didn’t experience the stuff he wrote about, so he also created an imaginary frontier.


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