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Literature / Orient Cycle

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The Orient Cycle is a series of adventure novels by Karl May. They are narrated in the first person by a German adventurer called Kara Ben Nemsi (approximately "Karl, son of Germans"), who travels through the Ottoman Empire with his servant and friend Hadschi Halef Omar.

The protagonist-narrator of this series went on to feature in the Winnetou series, in which he has adventures in The Wild West. In-story, our hero's first adventure takes place in the Wild West, where he first meets Winnetou and learns the necessary hunting skills from him. After that, the travels to America alternate with the ones to the Orient.


This series contains examples of:

  • Action Duo: Kara Ben Nemsi and Hadji Halef Omar. Though that temporally changes to Kara Ben Nemsi and Ben Nil.
  • Action Dad: Hadji Halef Omar becomes a father pretty early on, but he continues to go on adventures with Kara Ben Nemsi. And when his son is old enough (roughly 9 years old), he brings the kid along as well — much to Kara Ben Nemsi's initial misgivings.
  • Action Girl: Amscha, daughter of a Beduin chief, is described as an Amazon. She and Kara Ben Nemsi talk about other women who had led Arabic tribes as sheiks, officially or not. And Ingdscha and Shakeera are at least implied to be able to handle themselves in difficult circumstances, even if we don't get to see them in action much.
  • Action Mom: Amscha.
  • Action Pet: Kara Ben Nemsi's dog, Doyan.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Kara Ben Nemsi has his Indiana Jones moments, though his interests are based in genuine scientific curiosity and he never brings stuff home for museums. On the other hand, Sir David Lindsey originally wants to do exactly that, lacking the actual knowledge, and ends up doing more of the adventuring as a result of events happening around him (not unwillingly).
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  • All Deserts Have Cacti: Averted. You can consider yourself lucky if there are cacti or other desert vegetation around, since that means water.
  • Ancient Africa: Kara Ben Nemsi's other destination of choice, after the Wild West.
  • Ancient Tomb: Kara Ben Nemsi stumbles across a few of these.
  • And the Adventure Continues: There is almost no finality to any of the books, they either blend one into the other, or are left open-ended, with a few mentions regarding some of the characters.
  • Archangel Gabriel: Mentioned in a few theological discussions about the Quran. Including a hilarious one between Kara Ben Nemsi and Hadji Halef Omar about whether the Archangel might have made a mistake when he gave Mohammed instructions about the interdictions on eating ham and sausages.
  • Arc Symbol: The Silver Lion.
  • Astral Projection: Kara Ben Nemsi. No, really. This is how he solves half of the plot in The Reign of the Silver Lion. While he is convalescing in bed.
  • Author Avatar:
    • Kara Ben Nemsi, who is German and has a name that is a transliteration of "Karl", and recounts his adventures in the first person.
    • In his later years a more self-conscious Karl May also interpreted Kara Ben Nemsi's sidekick Hadschi Halef Omar as a personification of his own anima.
  • Authority in Name Only: The occasional sheik or even pasha.
  • Badass Boast
  • Badass Bookworm: Kara Ben Nemsi is very much a badass, and very, very much a bookworm. To the point where he once refused David Lindsay's offer of an adventure because he wanted to go study the local dialects of the Balkanic region.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Arabic tribes are viewed as semi-civilised in most cases, but never as malicious on their own. Individual evilness is a different issue.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Kara Ben Nemsi's confrontation with the spirit/energetic vampire/sorcerer in The Realm of the Silver Lion.
  • Bifauxnen Amscha, the Beduin.
  • Best Friend: Kara ben Nemsi and Halef. It is never quite explicitly stated and Halef is often portrayed in a comical light, in stark contrast to our narrator's main best friend Winnetou. But it is quite implicitly present in the books if you read them all. Kara comes visiting Halef almost as often as he comes to the Wild West, and clearly values him highly despite Halef's reckless tendencies and their difference of religion (or possibly even precisely because of it, as they both seem to relish their arguments). Morever, he exchanges letters with Halef (semi-regularly, due to the distance and Halef's nomadic lifestyle), something he never seems to do with Winnetou. So it's probably safe to say Halef is Kara's second best friend, and his only best friend after Winnetou's death.
  • Big Good: Marah Durimeh.
  • Bold Explorer: Kara ben Nemsi, of course. Sir David Lindsey also applies.
  • Born in the Saddle: The Arabs, especially the Beduins.
  • Caper Rationalization: Done occasionally by Kara Ben Nemsi. Mostly to himself, though. Halef's attempts are much more... vehement.
  • Character Overlap: "Yes, I was Old Shatterhand. Yes, I was Kara Ben Nemsi. Now, I am 'me'."
  • Child by Rape: Amscha got kidnapped by a pirate, and wanted revenge and justification for her child... This aspect of her daughter Hanneh's background is never brought up again, though, and she's a completely positive character - probably because with Halef, she gets a loving husband and as good a home life as it gets.
  • Coffin Contraband: In "The Realm of the Silver Lion". Some coffins in the "Death Caravan" do not contain rotting corpses...
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Some Arabic tribes have their moments as well, especially cruel when it involves a mother and her blind baby, and it's done without a specfic reason; she just happens to belong to the wrong tribe.
  • Cool Horse: Rih, the Arabian black stallion Kara Ben Nemsi rides during his Oriental travels. Taken up to eleven with Syrr, the horse he eventually receives as a gift from the Shahanshah in The Realm of the Silver Lion - like many things in the later parts of that book series, Syrr is bordering on supernatural.
  • Corporal Punishment: Done as an institutionalized form of punishment in the Ottoman Empire.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Sometimes appear in the regions controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
  • Crossing the Desert: So many times, in so many different directions... In the Sahara, there is less "crossing" and more "travelling all over" the desert, with occasional double-backs to earlier locations.
  • Cultured Badass: Karl May presents his Avatar Kara Ben Nemsi that way: Fluent in too many languages to number and well-versed in the cultures of people all over the world, he takes it good-naturedly when comical relief characters mock him as a "bookworm".
  • Cycle of Revenge
  • Darkest Africa: Kara Ben Nemsi eventually makes his way south of the Sahara and ends up here.
  • Desert Bandits: The slave caravans in the Sahara feature prominently.
  • Desert Skull: The occasional unburied remains of both people and animals are likely to show up.
  • Disney Villain Death: The Schut, eponymous villain of the final volume of the first Orient Cycle, falls to his death with his horse while trying to escape by jumping across a canyon.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Kara Ben Nemsi, though most of the time he is too proud to point it out to the culprits. His friend Halef is a lot more vocal on the subject.
  • Due to the Dead: In "Durchs Wilde Kurdistan" (Through Wild Kurdistan), a religious leader of a zoroastric sect is killed and everybody helps in building a cairn, sort of, to bury him. This includes the very pious muslim Hadschi Halef Omar.
  • Epilogue Letter: Halef's hilarious letter in the first Orient cycle.
  • False Flag Operation
  • The Fatalist: A staple of most Arabs and Turks. Kara Ben Nemsi is not impressed by it.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Slavery, for one. Profound humiliation is a close second.
  • A Father to His Men: Pretty much every honorable leader.
  • Fictional Country: Ardistan and Dschinnistan from May's later works. Set in the Orient cycle, with some of the same characters, but entirely fictional.
  • Forced to Watch: In the second Oriental cycle, an imprisoned and heavily chained Kara Ben Nemsi is forced to watch as an entire African village (one he was acquainted with, no less) is captured and slaughtered, while he is helpless to either warn or help them fight. And then, the slave-traders select the children. The ones considered too weak have their throats slit, while Kara is again forced to watch, by being whipped across the face.
  • A Friend in Need: This is generally enough to set Kara Ben Nemsi going faster than lightning.
  • Friend Versus Lover: In Halef's case, best friend versus beloved wife. When Kara isn't around, Halef misses him; when he's adventuring with Kara, he pines after Hanneh. Eventually Kara and Hanneh come to an understanding behind his back, that while Halef will clearly always rush off to be with Kara whenever he visits, he will also always return to Hanneh in the end, and that in fact both men value her highly for her role as a steady presence in Halef's life.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Sir David Lindsay.
  • Glory Days: In the distant past of the Arabic cities.
  • Glory Hound: Quite a few leaders of various Arabic tribes.
  • Graceful Loser: Kara Ben Nemsi, though he practically never loses a contest or battle (except on purpose). But as a comic example, during "In the Reign of the Silver Lion", a convalescent Kara Ben Nemsi goes out for a ride; his Cool Horse gets irritated by a bunch of local kids riding goats and donkeys, and by the time the encounter is over, Kara is on his ass in the dirt, completely stunned that something like this could happen to him. The kids, naturally, make fun of him, but then again, so does he — and he gets up laughing and throwing them money. And he has no qualms telling Halef and his family about it, either, showing that his amusement wins over his pride in this case.
  • Haunted House: Some poor fools try to scare Kara Ben Nemsi with one of these. Unfortunately, not only does he not believe in ghosts who wear white sheets, he also believes in kicking the crap out of them.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Kara Ben Nemsi and Hadschi Halef Omar.
  • Honorary Uncle: Kara Ben Nemsi is as close as it gets with a Muslim family to being Halef's son's godfather, and the boy is named after both of them: Kara Ben Halef. They get along very well.
  • I Have Many Names: 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, even before you get to all the names he acquires in the Winnetou novels.
  • Impersonating an Officer
  • Mummy: Kara Ben Nemsi stumbles across some interesting (and smelly) ones in "The Land of the Mahdi".
  • Numbered Sequels: Im Lande des Mahdi I, II and III, and Im Reiche des silbernen Löwen ("In the Empire of the Silver Lion") I and II.
  • Overly Long Name:
    • Hadschi Halef Omar Ben Hadschi Abul Abbas Ibn Hadschi Dawuhd al Gossarah. Normally he is just called Hadschi (Hajji) Halef Omar, but reciting his full name is a shibboleth among readers. If you can't pass the "Hadschi Halef test" you're not a true Karl May fan. There's a song Hadschi Halef Omar by Dschinghis Khan to help you learn to recite it.
    • Some of Kara's Arabic aliases, such as Scherif Hadschi Schebab Eddin Abd el kaderben Hadschi Gazali al Farabi ibn Tabit Mrewan Abul Achmed Abu Baschar Chatid Es Schonahar.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Hadschi Halef Omar.
  • Prayer Pose: The buried statue in "The Realm of the Silver Lion".
  • Proud Warrior Race: Most of the Arabic tribes, the Kurds, various African natives, and a couple of fictional ones.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Karl May lived at a time when wealthy British globetrotters were a common trope, so some characters of this type appear in his works. The most well-known example in the Orient Cycle is the Englishman Sir David Lindsay.
  • Rape and Revenge: Amscha
  • Sherlock Scan
  • Shout-Out: There are several references to the Arabian Nights, usually with an eye on realistic contrast by Kara Ben Nemsi, and with as much panache as possible by Halef, who often compares Kara Ben Nemsi with a glorified Harun Al-Rashid, even when under enemy interrogation. (They actually believe him for five minutes or so, while Kara is fuming in his hiding place and contemplates leaving Halef to his fate for telling them he was looking for a suitable princess to marry.)
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Sir David Lindsay has his moments, but then again, so does Kara Ben Nemsi.
  • Sympathy for the Hero: Something that happens to Kara Ben Nemsi in "The Realm of the Silver Lion".
  • Tampering with Food and Drink
  • A Taste of the Lash
  • Thirsty Desert
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: "Kara Ben Nemsi" is, more or less, "Karl, son of Germans".
  • Threatening Mediator
  • Was Once a Man: The "energetic vampire".
  • Whip It Good: Don't give Halef any excuse to reach for his whip.
  • Win Your Freedom

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