Language insights

Who is the World’s Most Translated Author?

Carl Hill 23 May 2015
Who is the World’s Most Translated Author?

There is no doubt that the Bible and the works of Shakespeare are among the world’s most renowned books. They are fundamental, iconic, historically and culturally significant and so there is no doubt that they are among the most read and translated globally. Shakespeare’s works are about 420 years old and their first translations appeared in the early 17th century. The Bible’s age is between 2700-1700 years and it was first translated to Latin in about 360 AD. This is really impressive but only until you find out that the world’s most translated author is pretty far from being that old and monumental – it is the twentieth-century English detective stories writer, Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie is a UK novelist who wrote sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections. Currently, she holds the Guinness World Record as the most translated author globally as verified by the Guinness World Record Adjudicators on 7 March 2017. The number of translations of her books is astonishing – 7236. But where did this number come from?

Index Translationum – Translation Record Database

Translations are believed to have been produced even before the common era. However, there was no system of their record until 1932. The League of Nations has created Index Translationum, the database of translations that was later assigned to UNESCO. As per their catalog, Christie is the most frequently translated author and she considerably outnumbers the second one on the list, Jules Verne, by almost 2500 translations and number three, William Shakespeare, by nearly 3000.

most translated books

What about Commercial Success?

Apart from being the most translated, she is also one of the best-selling authors of all time with more than 2 billion books sold. This is 4 times as many as the worldwide sales of J.K. Rowling and over 6 times as many as those of Stephen King. She was only outsold by the already mentioned the Bible and Shakespeare. Considering today’s world population, 2 billion books are a clear demonstration of the unprecedented success of Agatha Christie’s literary works.

How Come She Is the One?

Probably the most precise explanation as to why is Agatha Christie the most translated and one of the best-selling authors would simply be that readers love her detective stories. She is the only mystery novelist who has managed to create not one, but two most famous and recognizable detective characters – Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple. Their attention to details, wit, presumed naïveté, and the sharp mind excite and thrill the readers.

Another feature that makes Christie’s detective stories remarkable is the abundance of unexpected twists. Every time the reader thinks “a-ha”, on the very next page all of their guesses are in pieces. The plots of her stories are full of mysteries and the resolution is often twice as exciting. The tangle of all the storylines always unravels in a possible and logical explanation.

Haters Gonna Hate

Of course, Christie was not immune to criticism. Some would immediately say that her works are simply popular mass-market literature. It is because the detective is considered a low genre devoid of any literary value, which is the reason why some scholars and even literary schools ignored the works of Christie for a long time.

Even some other mystery writers would sometimes criticize Agatha Christie for the simplicity and flatness of characters. However, these words do not really matter in the face of the facts – her books are translated in Arabic, Icelandic, Malaysian, and over a hundred more languages. She is often referred to as “Queen of Mystery” and her readers are counted in billions.

most translated books

Some More Mysteries?

As much as her detective stories, the life of Agatha Christie often defeats expectancy. One of the interesting facts about her is that she never went to school. She was taught by her mother and by governesses. Another one is that, surprisingly, but she never meant to become a writer. Christie wrote her first detective story because her sister Madge dared her to write one.

The prototype for the character of Miss Marple was Christie’s own grandmother. The name “Marple” was most probably inspired by Marple Hall, a mansion nearby the place where Madge lived. As for Hercules Poirot, Agatha Christie claims to have “seen” him twice. Once she saw him at the Savoy and then one more time when she was in the Canary Islands. What a mystery!

The fact that Agatha Christie is the world’s most translated author is not just the world’s record – it is the testimony of her talent. Edgar Allan Poe may be called the “Father” of the detective, but Christie is its “Queen”. 


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