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Literature: Winnetou

"That was Winnetou, the Apache chief, the most glorious of Indians. His name lived in every log-cabin and at every camp-fire. Just, sagacious, true, brave to to point of audacity, guileless, a friend and protector of all who needed aid, be they red or white of hue, so he was known throughout the length and breadth of the United States and beyond their borders."
Der Sohn des Bärenjägers

Winnetou is one of the best known novels written by the German author Karl May. His heroes Old Shatterhand and Winnetou are very famous literary characters in Europe and quintessential examples of Ideal Hero and Heterosexual Life-Partners. Although May only travelled to America himself after his novels became successful, the novels are famed for their accuracy in geographic terms. All trips and journeys of the main character can be followed in an atlas.

Several of the novels have film adaptations made in Germany in the sixties. The Treasure of Silver Lake was the first film of the series; it proved successful enough and span a film series. The movies were parodied in Der Schuh des Manitu.

These are the most respected films of the series:

The novels the films were based on are in the public domain, and you can read the German originals here, here and here, respectively.

List of movies of this series:

  • The Treasure of Silver Lake (1962)
  • Winnetou I (1963)
  • Old Shatterhand (1963, produced by a different company, but with the same actors)
  • Winnetou II (1964)
  • Unter Geiern (Beneath Vultures, 1964) — in the latter, Winnetou was accompanied not by Old Shatterhand, but by Stewart Granger as Old Surehand.
  • Winnetou III (1965), in which Winnetou dies. Because of that, the following films were prequels again, the first two with Stewart Granger reprising the role of Old Surehand:
  • Der Ölprinz (The Oil Prince, 1965)
  • Old Surehand (1965). After that, Lex Barker returned for:
  • Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi (Winnetou and the Half-Breed Apanatchi, 1966); then came Rod Cameron for:
  • Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand (Winnetou and His Friend Old Firehand, 1966); and the final one with Lex Barker:
  • Winnetou und Old Shatterhand im Tal der Toten (Winnetou and Old Shatterhand in the Valley of the Dead, 1968).

Many of the later films were co-produced in Italy and co-starred Italian actors. The success of the Kraut Western is often seen as a midwife to the birth of the Spaghetti Westerns. It also provided the spark that made the East German DEFA decide to produce a series of ideologically more correct Indianerfilme ("Indian movies") of its own. All of these starred Gojko Mitic in the lead, a Yugoslavian actor whose first part in a Western had been chief Wokadeh in Unter Geiern.

The Winnetou novels and film series provide examples of:

  • Blood Brothers: Old Shatterhand and Winnetou.
  • Brownface: Frenchman Pierre Briece as Winnetou. Granted, Brice didn't need make-up, as he has naturally bronzed skin, and Winnetou is always described as looking more like a Roman with lightly bronzed skin rather than a Native American. (As an aside, Brice also played a Roman general in the Romanian-French co-production "The Dacians".)
  • Catch Phrase: Sam Hawkens' constant "If I'm not mistaken, hihi."
    • Old Wabble's "It's clear."
  • Cool Horse: Both Apache chief Winnetou and his friend Old Shatterhand have a black stallion of Apache breed that are all of extraordinary quality, and they have the finest specimen. Old Shatterhand's Hatatitla and Winnetou's Ilchi are famous far and wide and only their names bring about respect. The antagonists in the movie adaptations tend to covet them and try to steal them from our noble heroes. (With no success, because the horses are trained to emphatically not let anyone else ride them. Bad things happen to those who try. And the bad things are not always treated comically. Being trampled to death by a horse is an unpleasant way to go.)
    • Rih, the Arabian black stallion Old Shatterhand rides during his Oriental travels.
  • Famed in Story: Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, most prominently, and people also know their horses and guns. They are respected wherever they go.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: The friendship of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou is incredibly strong and they trust each other completely. Both have loved a woman very deeply, but both have lost them, so they only have one another as family which adds to the closeness. They call each other "my brother" and they sometimes read each other's ideas.
    • In the books, Winnetou was in love with Ribanna when he was still a teenager, and the circumstances in which he lost her were a lot more tragic. And while Old Shatterhand cared a lot for Nsho-Tchi, respected her and admired her, he wasn't in love with her. And wasn't interested in marriage with anyone at that point, anyway. So by the time they meet, and especially after Winnetou's family dies, they are each other's everything. In fact, Winnetou himself tells Old Shatterhand, shortly after the murder: "You know what I have lost. From now, you be my father and my sister. I beg of you, Scharlih."
  • Ideal Hero: Old Shatterhand and Winnetou are honest, noble, capable, incorruptible and Bad Ass. All bandits and tramps, beware!
  • I Have Many Names: Charlie has a lot of these. It all starts with "Old Shatterhand", which is of course the nickname given to him by his white companions, and then this nickname got translated into pretty much every Indin dialect of every tribe he has ever encountered (or, after a while, who has ever heard of him). So we have Selki-Lata/Selkhi-Lata (Mescalero Apache), Nonpay-Klama (Shoshones), Pokai-Mu (Utah), Tave-Schala (Yuma), Nina Nonton, Ka-Ut-Skamasti, and so on. Then there are the variations of his given name, Carl, which he adapts into Charley/Charlie/Charles/Carlos, and is usually reserved for friends. (Special mention goes here to Winnetou's "Scharlih", which is the Apache's affectionate way of (mis)pronouncing Charlie.) He also uses aliases whenever he thinks the situation requires it, such as Mr. Jones, März, Mr. Beyer, Meier/Mayer, Mr. German, and in one amusing case of trying to mislead someone, Old Firefoot. Moving to South America, we have Arriquez, Tocaro, El Rastreador, El Sendador.
    • In the Orient cycle, he is called Kara Ben Nemsi (Karl, Son of Germans) and Baturu (the Brave), but he also uses several aliases, such as Scherif Hadschi Schebab Eddin Abd el kaderben Hadschi Gazali al Farabi ibn Tabit Mrewan Abul Achmed Abu Baschar Chatid Es Schonahar, Mauwatti El Pars-Effendi, Nusrani, Saduk el Baija, Mayor of Dimiat, Abu Machuf, Amm Selad, Mudir of Dscharabub, Iskander Patras, Ben Sobata, Abu es Sidda, Selim Mefarek, Hadschi Akil Schatir el Megarrib(nis) ben Hadschi alim Schadschi er Rani Ibn Hadschi Dajim Masschur el Azami ben Hadschi Taki Abu Fadl el Makurram, Abd el Mushala, Emir Hadschi Kara ben Nemsi ben Emir Hadschi Kara ben Dschermaniibn Emir Hadschi Kara ben Alemani. Further East, in China, he is called Kuang-Si-Ta-Sse. And there is more where this came from.
      • Adding to all that, in the US-version of Karl May's books from 1898/99, everything German was made American, and the main character is called Jack Hildreth (though he is so far removed from the original he is literally another person).
      • And in "Weihnacht!", Carl's old school friend Carpio calls him Sappho, both while they were kids and after Old Shatterhand had become a famous name in the West. And yes, it's Sappho as in the poet of Lesbos. And yes, he received the nickname because he also wrote nice poems.
    • Winnetou himself almost never uses aliases, choosing rather to not give any name rather than spin a lie, but when he follows Charlie to Africa (loooong story), he lets Charlie pick a name for him - they go with Ben Asra, Somalian/Indian prince. Other people they meet, both Arabs and white, call him Winnetou el Harbi w’Nasir, or simply "Mr. Beyer’s Indian" (Mr Beyer being Old Shatterhand).
  • Legendary Weapon: Old Shatterhand's and Winnetou's weapons are reputed. Also, easier to steal than the bloody horses. Since they are not sentient (no matter what the Comanches or the Sioux would have you believe), our heroes have to get them back on their own.
  • Living Legend: Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. People know the names of their horses and guns and they are respected for their sense of justice, honour, incredible fighting skills and general awesomeness.
  • Mighty Whitey: More so in the novels, but also included in the films.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Sam Hawkens and Uncle Gunstick in most movies. Additional characters as well.
  • Power of Friendship: The bond between Winnetou and Old Shatterhand is strong enough to move mountains.
    • Their bond is so strong, it starts working even before they become friends, and even while, for all intents and purposes, they were actively enemies - except Old Shatterhand does everything in his not-inconsiderable power to save and protect Winnetou from whatever plans were made against him (even when said plans belonged to his good mentor Sam Hawkens, much to the westman's despair) and Winnetou, for all the wrestling and knife-induced wounds, has serious problems with letting the man simply bleed to death. It starts to get ridiculous when he literally puts himself between Old Shatterhand and a murderously angry Tangua - while Old Shatterhand was tied at the stake and couldn't defend himself properly. It's a wonder if any readers remember by that point that those two were still supposed to be enemies.
  • Prequel: In the way the movies were produced, Winnetou I is this. Winnetou and Old Shatterhand were shown as very good pals in The Treasure of Silver Lake, now we finally get to see how they met the first time.
    • All the stories that feature Winnetou that were chronologically written and published after the end of the trilogy, and therefore tell of adventures that happened before Winnetou's death.
  • Sequels
  • The Western: Filmed German style!
  • You Look Familiar: Karin Dor played the role of Ellen Patterson in The Treasure of Silver Lake. In Last of the Renegades, she played Winnetou's Love Interest, an Indian girl Ribanna. And in "Winnetou and Shatterhand in the Valley of Death" she plays Mabel, the daughter of major Kingsley.

Winchester 73Index of Film WesternsThe Wistful Widow Of Wagon Gap
Das VersprechenGerman LiteratureThe Wolf and the Seven Young Kids
What Katy Did 19 th Century LiteratureWives and Daughters
Wings of FireChildren's LiteratureWinnie the Pooh
Wings of DesireGerman FilmsWinnetou I

alternative title(s): Winnetou; Winnetou
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