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. Accuracy of many other things is not to be taken for granted.

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.

The movies of this series:

  • Der Schatz im Silbersee (The Treasure of Silver Lake, 1962)
  • Winnetou I (Apache Gold, 1963)
  • Old Shatterhand (1963, produced by a different company, but with the same actors)
  • Winnetou II (Last of the Renegades, 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 (The Desperado Trail, 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 novels the films were based on are in the public domain, and you can read the German originals here, here and here, respectively.

The Winnetou novels and film series provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Comic Relief/Adaptational Wimp: Old Wabble in the novels Old Surehand I and III a badass frontiersman and Indian fighter; starting out as a companion to Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, he becomes their rival and and then an outright villain who tries to kill them, making him one of May's most interesting characters. In the films Old Surehand and Der Ölprinz he is much younger and merely Old Surehand's clumsy comical sidekick.
  • Badass Native: Winnetou, of course. Several other secondary characters as well, with Colma Pushi standing out the most.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Played straight with young women, partly subverted with older ones. So it's usually a case of aging, occasionally with the narration pointing out she used to be a beauty in her youth. One particular case is that of Tocbela in "Old Surehand". In her case, her great beauty was ruined early on by shock and madness, and she barely recovers a little sanity when she's in her forties and irrevocably changed physically. Her older sister Tahua, also a famous beauty, was also changed by the trials of her Action Girl lifestyle.
  • Blood Brothers: Old Shatterhand and Winnetou.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Played absolutely straight in the movies, with a little more variation in the books (for example, Winnetou never wears any sort of beads, feathers (even though he's a chieftain) or war paint. And he wears his hair in a type of bun.
  • 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".)
  • Canon Welding: Karl May started with serialized stories which he later reworked into books, which sometimes required altering characters, elements and the context of a scene. For instance, in the serialized stories there are two different accounts of the first meeting of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand: In his first appearance in Winnetou, der rote Gentleman he meets Old Shatterhand in a saloon, in the one that became canonic in Winnetou I, the two first met when Shatterhand was working as a surveyor for a railroad company and Winnetou and his father Intschu tschuna wanted to stop them from building a railroad through Apache territory. The scene in the saloon was then recycled in Winnetou II with Winnetou pretending he did not know Old Shatterhand because the latter was accompanied by Old Death.
  • Catch Phrase: Sam Hawkens' constant "If I'm not mistaken, hihi."
  • The Chief's Daughter: Nscho-tschi, daughter of Intchu-chuna, chief of the Apaches and Winnetou's younger sister. She fulfills some of the cliches while avoiding others completely: she loves Old Shatterhand once she gets to know him, but even then she would butt heads with him over certain culturally-related things (and she's more right than he is); she avoids any Damsel in Distress situation, but she is brutally killed.
  • 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.)
  • Death by Adaptation: In the film Winnetou I, Santer (who here not only murders Intschu tschuna and Nscho-tschi, but also Klekih-petra), is dead by the end of the film. In the novels he survives, reappears in Winnetou II, survives Winnetou to steal his testament, and finally dies a Karmic Death towards at the end of Winnetou III.
  • Death by Irony: In the novel Winnetou III, Santer, the murderer of Winnetou's father and sister, is crushed by the very gold that he has been after since Winnetou I.
  • Famed In-Story: Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, most prominently, and people also know their horses and guns. They are respected wherever they go.
    • Occasionally subverted, at least temporarily. Not everybody appreciates having those two around, and we're not talking about the bad guys here. Winnetou and Old Shatterhand tend to steal the spotlight in whatever group they're in, and other westmen, either truly experienced or mere wanna-bes, sometimes have problems with listening to their advice, taking orders from them or accepting their merciful views in battle. It goes for both white people and native tribes, in fact some of the most interesting parts of the (unabridged) books are the ways they manage to deal with such situations. Just because they are pretty much always right does not mean they can always prevent others from doing stupid things and getting hurt while trying to make a point.
  • Flanderization: In Karl May's early serialized stories Winnetou had a distinct darker, more savage side, but at the years passed the author idealized his hero more an more until he finally became a Christ-like figure and the ultimate Noble Savage.
  • Going Native: Played straight with Klekih-Petra, Winnetou's teacher. Born in Germany, disillusioned with the world and even God, he finally settles with the Apaches, who treat him very kindly and respectfully. Even though he doesn't think the Native Americans have much of a fighting chance against the white people in the long run, he chooses to stay with them and help them as much as he can.
    • Happens to a degree to his spiritual successor, Old Shatterhand. Also a German, but much more younger, still full of optimism and wanderlust, he repeatedly refuses to stay with the Apaches permanently, despite having took to the native life Likea Fish Takesto Water.
  • 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 Dschermani ibn 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.
  • Loin Cloth: Subverted in the books. Even though the most frequently encountered tribes (Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches) all live in the South, they all wear leather pants.
  • Mighty Whitey: More so in the novels, but also included in the films.
  • Named Weapons: Old Shatterhand has two guns, one a rare, but at least theoretically not unique Henrystutzen (Henry short rifle), the other named the Bärentöter (bear-slayer). Winnetou uses the unerring Silberbüchse (silver rifle), so named because it was decorated with silver stud-nails all over. Sam Hawkens said he wanted to be buried with his rifle, the somewhat temperamental Liddy. In the movies the Silberbüchse is referenced most and the Bärentöter has very little screen time.
  • Numbered Sequels: Karl May wrote four books entitled Winnetou I (full title: Winnetou. 1. Band, i. e. "Winnetou. Volume 1") to Winnetou IV (full title: Winnetou. 4. Band, i. e. "Winnetou. Volume 4"), as well as three called Old Surehand I to Old Surehand III. As Winnetou is killed in Winnetou III and Winnetou IV is very different in tone and subject from the previous three volumes (it relates of how Old Shatterhand, now in his 60s, returns to the Wild West to help erect a monument to his old companion and to oversee what happens to his legacy), the publishers retitled the fourth volume Winnetous Erben ("Winnetou's heirs") in 1914.
  • 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.
  • The Quiet One: Winnetou. Pierre Brice at first complained that he had so few lines compared to Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand, but soon came to realize that by acting instead of speaking and by his dramatic presence he actually made a greater impression on the audience.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Lord Castlepool.
  • Sequels
  • Trickster Archetype: If you step back and take a really good look at Old Shatterhand, you realise he's this, especially after he grows up a bit. He's always much more clever than the people around him, he's a consummate liar with a frightfully innocent face, is a truly honest man who nevertheless is willing to occasionally use (somewhat) dishonest means to reach his goals (though usually only when lives are on the line), always favors cunningness and yes, trickery instead of brute strength, if it does come down to using brute strength he is always able to somehow defeat much more powerful adversaries, is using Obfuscating Stupidity as often as he can, mostly to obtain information, not admit to his true identity for various reasons, and sometimes just For the Lulz. He is often accused of having made a deal with the Devil/Evil Spirit because of how things always go his way. Both friends and enemies have called him "as cunning as a fox". (On a meta level, author Karl May must have been well-acquainted to the tales of Reineke the Fox, and was something of a real-life Trickster figure himself.)
  • 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.