In a sort of random walk through the internets this morning I bumped into this photo essay on the popularity of Indian clubs in European countries. The origin of these is usually ascribed to the enduring popularity of a series of fifteen western novels written in German by Karl May in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
This reminded me of an excellent essay in the New Yorker from 2012 by Rivka Galchen on the Karl May phenomenon, I had always meant to blog about. It discusses the cultural position of the novels as well as the annual Karl May Festival, attended by hundreds of thousands, where May’s stories are presented as a series of plays in a vast outdoor amphitheater.
This continued interest by Europeans in stories of Indians and the American West has helped our friends Mike and Kathy Gear whose prehistoric Indian-themed novels sell well there. Mike recounted to me that they had had dinner once with a person who had translated several of their books into a European language (I won’t say which one). He asked the translator, “Our books refer to lots of North American trees and other plants that don’t occur in your country and don’t have names in your language. How do you handle naming those plants in the translation?”
The translator replied, “Well, if I don’t have a name for a plant, I just pick a random European plant name and go with that.”