According to my latest royalty statement, I’m selling books in Europe as well as the U.S. Tracking Nana has found a market in Britain and Spain, and I was surprised to find it selling in Germany as well. I’ve seen German tourists around the Southwest over the years but didn’t realize many of them share an interest in the Apache Wars.
A friend steered me toward enlightenment in the works of Karl May, a turn of the (last) century author who might be described as Germany’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. Like Burroughs, May was an enormously prolific and popular writer in his time, selling 200 million copies of his works worldwide. He wrote page-turners set in other exotic locales, but his most popular and enduring creations were the Apache chief Winnetou and his bloodbrother (May’s alter-ego) the intrepid German-American frontiersman Old Shatterhand. Unlike Burroughs, who is only vaguely remembered today as creator of Tarzan, May’s books remain popular in Germany more than a century after his death in 1910, spawning stage plays, TV shows, comic books and movies.
Although May visited America once it was for just six weeks late in his career and he ventured no farther west than Niagara Falls. His Westerns were entirely the product of his vivid imagination, and bore little more relation to the reality of the frontier than Burroughs’ Martian potboilers did to the real Red Planet. In May’s stories Winnetou rises to become first chief of the Mescalero and then leader of all the Apache bands as well as the Navajo — an ambition that would have daunted Old Nana himself. Some of May’s adventures are available online, but I’m not sure whether those listed are English translations or in the original German.