Karl Friedrich May (1842-1912), very popular German writer who wrote a large number of adventure novels about journeys in exotic countries, without ever having seen them (he did get to see some of them, after his books made him rich).
His most famous stories are about Winnetou
chieftain, and his friend, the German-born adventurer Old Shatterhand
. These stories (and some movies made after them, which were shot in Yugoslavia
) have formed the image of the wild west
in the imagination of Germans, more so than all the hundreds of Hollywood movies.
Karl Friedrich May was born on February 25th 1842 in Ernstthal, Germany as the son of a weaver. His family was extremely poor and often lacked food, so that many of his siblings died before they were 1 year old. Karl himself lost his eyesight due to a lack of vitamins, but was cured later. He was forced by his father to spend his childhood getting an "education" that consisted of mindless repetition of any educationally-seeming books his father could lay hands on. Karl did manage to pass the entry exams for starting to train to become a teacher, but after he finished that training, he had some very bad luck and got in trouble with the law, living as a con artist for a while and spending some years in prison. Eventually, he formed a friendship with a publisher, recovered, and started to work as a lector for his friend. Then he started writing, and his stories started to become popular... He became the 19th century equivalent of a superstar, travelling across the country, giving autographs and letting (sometimes making) people believe that his stories were actually true, that he had actually lived through all these adventures. Perhaps he sometimes believed it himself, to forget the less than splendid reality of his childhood. Karl was not the most mentally stable man. In his later days, he tried to write more sophisticated stories and convey a strong pacifistic message. However, a legal disputes with a publisher who had modified and published some of his novels without his consent turned more and more into a vicious personal battle, which cost Karl May all his strength and probably contributed to his death on March 30th 1912.