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In the bottom-right corner on page 34 of Walt Disney's Kalle Anka & C:o issue number 29, 16th July of 1990, there is this bizarre claim, translated here to English by me:

Disney news

Did you know that Disney comics are the world's most translated? On second place comes Lenin's collected works, on third place the detective story queen Agatha Christie, and on fourth place the Bible! All according to UNESCO!

I find this claim to be both ambiguous and weird.

First of all, "the world's most translated" what exactly? Apparently any kind of written word? Before they list the other ones, it sounds (both in Swedish and English) as if they are talking about the world's most translated comics, but that quickly falls apart when they talk about Communist leaders and the Bible!

Certainly the Bible must be the most translated work? Why would Lenin's works (I didn't even know he ever wrote anything until today) be of any interest to most of the world to justify so many translations? "Agatha Christie" rings a bell to me, but is hardly something that sounds more popular than the Bible.

I just can't take this seriously. I wonder if they misunderstood something. Or if I'm misunderstanding something.

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  • The UNESCO page for their Index Translationum is currently down for maintenance. There is a Wikipedia page about it, but that doesn’t give any way to check what the rankings might have been 30 years ago. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_Translationum I might try an actual answer when UNESCO put the page back.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 11 at 8:29
  • 3
    "Why would Lenin's works (I didn't even know he ever wrote anything until today) be of any interest to most of the world to justify so many translations?" Well, there used to be a global superpower based on an ideology to which Lenin significantly contributed, and not all of its sphere of influence was Russian speaking.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 12 at 11:12
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The sentence "Did you know that Disney comics are the world's most translated?", if it is a correct translation, means that Disney comics are the world's most translated comics. Whether that is currently true is not certain, but it may have been true at some point in the past.

UNESCO maintains an Index Translationum (currently unreachable due to maintenance works; another start page looks unmaintained), which celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2012; see UNESCO’s World Book Day celebrations to focus on translation (17.04.2012). At the time of that celebration, the world's most translated authors were Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare. Lenin was listed in fifth position, Barbara Cartland in sixth position, John Paull II in 22nd position and Franz Kafka in 40th position. There is no mention of comics or Disney.

The article The 20 Most Translated Texts in History by Ingrid Christensen (11.06.2014) provides a snapshot of the top-20 list from seven years ago. In this snapshot, the top-ten looks as follows: (1) The Bible, (2) The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, (3) What Does The Bible Really Teach? by Jehovah's Witnesses, (4) The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, (5) The Watchtower by Jehovah's Witnesses, (6) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, (7) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, (8) Andersen’s Fairy Tales, (9) Steps to Christ by Ellen G. White and (10) The Adventures of Asterix. Another comic strip series, The Adventures of Tintin, comes in at the 14th position. No Disney comics are mentioned.

The article The World’s Ten Most Translated Authors by Elisabeth Willner (21.02.2014) provides a different top-ten list based on the Index Translationum, because it focuses on authors rather than works, in which the top five consists of Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, William Shakespeare, Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland (with Lenin in seventh position). This author presumably excluded comics, collective works such as the Bible and religious tracts by Jehovah's Witnesses. However, this does not explain why Carlo Collodi and John Bunyan are not listed. [1]

The page Index Translationum on the site "The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia" gives top-ten rankings from February 2007, August 2008 and November 2009. These rankings are presented as rankings of the "10 most translated authors". In each of these, Disney Productions is listed first, ahead of authors such as Agatha Christie, William Shakespeare, Jules Verne and Vladimir Lenin.

Conclusion: Based on these findings, it seems possible to manipulate the search criteria for searches in the Index Translationum so that Disney Productions comes out on top. A ranking that does not document its search criteria (works or authors? genres?) withholds important information and can push specific works or authors up or down in the resulting ranking. It seems plausible that this was done for Walt Disney's Kalle Anka & C:o, published in 1990.

[1] Of course, if Pinocchio is Collodi's only widely translated work, this is the only work that can contribute to his ranking for "most translated author". Shakespeare and Jules Verne have a larger number of works that can be translated. If one Shakespeare play is translated into languages A, B and C and another is translated into languages A, B and D, that results in three languages per work but four languages into which the author has been translated.

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