Why Donald Duck is the Jerry Lewis of Germany
April 6, 2011 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Dr. Fuchs’s Donald was no ordinary comic creation. He was a bird of arts and letters, and many Germans credit him with having initiated them into the language of the literary classics. The German comics are peppered with fancy quotations. In one story Donald’s nephews steal famous lines from Friedrich Schiller’s play “William Tell”; Donald garbles a classic Schiller poem, “The Bell,” in another. Other lines are straight out of Goethe, Hölderlin and even Wagner (whose words are put in the mouth of a singing cat). The great books later sounded like old friends when readers encountered them at school. As the German Donald points out, “Reading is educational! We learn so much from the works of our poets and thinkers.” posted by cgc373 (15 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I did not know this (and I grew up reading my share of Micky Maus comics). Thanks!
posted by _Lasar at 5:44 AM on April 6, 2011

I grew up reading my dad's collection of old Scrooge McDuck comics from the '40s and '50s (which, being a careless child, I damaged severely - I still feel bad about that) and even in the original English they were pretty special. There was a sense of wonder and mystery to them which, with the generally unsentimental and amoral Scrooge as a main character and often the protagonist, made them completely foreign to the blander Disney output of today. I almost wish I could read German because these translations sound great.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:22 AM on April 6, 2011

Puts an interesting gloss on "Der Fuhrer's Face".
posted by briank at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2011

Just as the French are obsessed with Jerry Lewis, the Germans see a richness and complexity to the Disney comic that isn’t always immediately evident to people in the cartoon duck’s homeland.

Donald Duck is also a cultural icon in Sweden. Watching "Kalle Anka" on Christmas eve is as Swedish as meatballs. It's certainly not because the Swedish people see a richness and depth in Donald Duck, but for the rather more prosaic reason that it was for a long time the ONLY foreign cartoon broadcast on Swedish television in the 1950s and 1960s.
posted by three blind mice at 6:33 AM on April 6, 2011

Donald Duck -> Osamu Tezuka -> Hayao Miyazaki -> John Lasseter -> Buzz Lightyear.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:45 AM on April 6, 2011

Yeah, the same applies in Iceland. Andrés Önd, as he is known, is chockfull of literary (and other cultural) references. For example, at one point, the greatest Icelandic poem of the 20th Century, Tíminn og vatnið (Time and the Water) by Steinn Steinarr is parodied expertly. In the original it goes:

Tíminn er eins og vatnið
og vatnið er djúpt og kalt
eins og vitund mín sjálfs

Time is like the water
And the water is deep and cold
Like the consciousness of my self

Which goes thus in the Donald Duck version (where it is recited by a poet named Steina Steinsnar):

Síminn er eins og hakkið
og hakkið er allt í steik
eins og símtal til mín sjálfs

The phone is like the ground beef
And the groundbeef is all fried
Like a phonecall to my self

If it is in the German and Icelandic translations, I suspect that it's in the original as well. It's been a while since I've read any Don Rosa or Carl Barks in English, so I can't say for certain.
posted by Kattullus at 7:12 AM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

Donald Duck ought to be more of a cultural icon here in the US, too. Carl Barks is an unmitigated genius. It's no wonder that even in translation his comics are highly intelligent, beautifully imaginative tales.
posted by koeselitz at 7:18 AM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fascinating! Great post.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:33 AM on April 6, 2011

It's probably not the intent, but I don't like the way the article (accidentally?) implies that the American Donald Duck is not well-read and that the text isn't full of literary references. It's awesome that someone put so much thought into translation- but the translation wouldn't have worked if the original version wasn't already so strong.
posted by Secretariat at 7:45 AM on April 6, 2011

The great books later sounded like old friends when readers encountered them at school.

We have a similar thing for children in episodes of "The Jersey Shore."
posted by codswallop at 9:08 AM on April 6, 2011

Thanks, this is interesting.

I'm always impressed with how kids are allowed access to difficult thoughts in Germany, and I generally get the impression that they aren't talked down to. I'm not always impressed with how they run about in cafes but I expect the issue there might be with my own stuffiness.

I was once in the back of a taxi going to the airport in Dusseldorf and there was a programme on the radio that was encouraging children (by the sound of them younger than 10 or so) to dial in to tell the presenter why it is that jam doesn't go bad quickly. He walked a small girl that dialled in about osmosis of water through cell walls and it was all so kindly and neatly done.

(I know nothing about bacteria and jam so if I've got it wrong, it's most likely my memory or bad German rather than the programme)
posted by calico at 2:56 PM on April 6, 2011

It is Scrooge McDuck, not Donald, who is prominently featured on the cover of Disney comics in corner shops in Germany these days (these days being the last time I was in Germany, which was a couple of years ago, if it hasn't changed since).
posted by ovvl at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2011

We had a Dr. Fuchs in Denmark - her name was Sonja Rindom, and most probably, she was the creator of the "cultural" European Donald. 40 % of the world's Disney for-print cartoons are produced in Denmark. Apart from the US, the other countries are Italy and the Netherlands. As it says in the article: Egmont is a Danish company.
Sonja Rindom died at almost 100 years in 2004 - having "translated" Donald Duck from 1949 till 1982. She was of the firm conviction that children (and their parents) would have fun from her play with words and literature.

And yes, Carl Barks.
posted by mumimor at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2011

I love this article and I love Donald Duck.

Although I really do like his quacky voice in the cartoons, it's the comic book stories that I love the most. He is a most nuanced character even though people think he's just bad tempered, and the comic book stories really show this to the best advantage. It doesn't surprise me that he's been used as a conduit for philosophical thought. He questions things that his rodent friend just accepts and he is mostly unsatisfied with the answers but he keeps on going, which resonates with me. He is flawed but loyal.

The whole alternative universe of Duckburg, most particularly Donald's interactions with Uncle Scrooge and all his adventures, is wonderful.

I should learn German so I can read these comics, I think my love would become even more perverse.

Seriously, I won't ever eat duck because of my love for Donald.
posted by h00py at 7:24 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

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