by Michael M. Michalak & Elaine T. Adair Michalak
The year was 1967 and the tides of puberty rushed through my veins, instilling me with fearlessness and a sense of being superhuman. Nothing was too difficult for me, nothing was impossible – until I, a boy with little life experience, tried to translate Winnetou for my friends, who had never heard of Karl May.
Here I was, a newcomer, a foreigner, struggling to make myself understood in a country half a world away from Germany. Here, on the Australian continent in a little country town I made new friends – but my new friends did not know of the beloved characters I had known for most of my existence. We could not play at being Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, Old Firehand or Old Surehand, for our heroes were not the same.
In Germany there had always been two camps of Wild West lore. There were those who adhered to James Fenimore Cooper’s tales and those that adhered to Karl May’s narratives. But here in Australia, neither Fenimore Cooper nor Karl May was known, much less the characters that Karl May created and the ideologies that he instilled in them.
Thus I took down my Winnetou book, opened it to the first chapter and in longhand began to translate that tale into English. Having done just a few paragraphs, I ran into some severe problems. Here was a sentence that in German was fairly standard. It began with a concept, introduced another, made a reference to a third and finally came to a conclusion. I translated it to the best of my ability and then I re-read the German text and I checked my English translation . . . something was not right – but what?