Hitler's Favourite Cowboy

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20131202

Joe Queenan on the German Wild West novels that inspired Adolf Hitler throughout his life.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Karl May was in the process of selling more books than any other German in history - his 80 plus works have now totalled approaching 200 million copies. The most popular feature the character Old Shatterhand - a greenhorn German (supposedly based on May himself) freshly arrived in the Wild West - and his friendship with the Apache chief Winnetou. Among those gripped by the stories was the future leader of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, who from the point he first discovered them as a thirteen year old boy continually turned to them in his darkest hours - even to the point of sending copies to his field-generals to embolden them and offer fresh tactical tips. Joe Queenan heads to Germany to find out why May - who became a pacifist - was so appealing to Hitler, and also why such a popular figure in German life and letters remains virtually unknown in English speaking countries. Along the way he discovers that May's own story was every bit as interesting and fantastical as the Western tales he wrote.