Asterix

From Academic Kids

"A shrewd, cunning little warrior; all perilous missions are immediately entrusted to him."
"A shrewd, cunning little warrior; all perilous missions are immediately entrusted to him."

Asterix (French: Astérix) is a fictional character, created in 1959 as the hero of a series of French comic books by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo (illustrations). Uderzo has continued the series since the death of Goscinny in 1977. The books have been translated into many languages (even Latin and ancient Greek) and are available in most countries. It is probably the most popular French comic in the world; probably, in most parts of Europe, a majority of the adult population has read an Asterix book at some point in their life. Asterix is less well known in the United States and Japan, which both have strong comic book traditions of their own.

The key to the success of the series is that it contains comic elements for all ages: young children like the fist-fights and other visual gags, while adults can appreciate the cleverness of the allusions and puns that sparkle throughout the texts.

Note: the names of the characters contain puns, and vary with translation into other languages. This article uses the names from the English-language translations of Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge.

Contents

Setting and characters

Asterix lives around 50 BC in a fictional village in northwest Armorica (a region of ancient Gaul mostly identical to modern Brittany). This village is celebrated amongst the Gauls as the only part of that country not yet conquered by Julius Caesar and his Roman legions. The inhabitants of the village gain superhuman strength by drinking a magic potion prepared by the druid Getafix (French: Panoramix—names of all characters, except usually Asterix and Obelix, vary from one translation to another). The village is surrounded by the ocean on one side, and four Roman garrisons on the other, intended to keep a watchful eye and ensure that the Gauls do not get up to mischief.

A recurring plot in many of the Asterix books concerns the attempts by the Romans to prevent the druid from making the potion, or trying to get the secret recipe for their own use. Such attempts are invariably foiled by the heroes of the Asterix books, the agile, clever and pint-sized Asterix and his clumsy, oversized, but good-hearted best friend, Obelix.

The humour encountered in the Asterix comics is typically French, often centring on puns, caricatures, and tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of contemporary European nations and French regions. Much of the humour in the initial Asterix books was French-specific, which delayed the translation of the book into other languages for fear of losing the joke and the spirit of the story. The newer albums share a more universal humour, both written and visual.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) this stereotyping and notwithstanding some alleged streaks of French chauvinism, it has been very well received by European and Francophone cultures around the world.

Humour: stereotypes and allusions

Everywhere they visit, Asterix and Obelix encounter people and things borrowed and caricatured from 20th century real life. In the early album Asterix and the Goths, for instance, the Goths are represented as militaristic and regimented, reminiscent of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Germans. The helmets worn by these Goths even resemble the German Pickelhaube helmets worn up to World War I and one of their leaders bears an uncanny resemblance to Otto von Bismarck. The British are shown as polite and phlegmatic, drinking warm beer or hot water (before the first tea has been brought to what would become England by Asterix); they boil all their food and serve it with mint sauce. Spain is the cheap country down south where people from the North vacation (and demand to eat the same food as they are used to at home).

Some caricatures of the traits of certain French regions are also used: the people from Normandy smother their food in cream and cannot give a straight answer; the people from Marseille play boules and exaggerate matters, and Corsicans don't like to do any work, are easily angered and have long-standing vendettas that they settle violently, and make cheese that smells so bad that it actually becomes an explosive.

Minor characters often resemble famous people or fictional characters, usually caricatures of existing French people of the same era, particularly from television and the spectacles. In Obelix and Co., for example, the young Roman bureaucrat is a caricature of a young Jacques Chirac. Those characters usually stick out visually, by not having the round, oversized noses otherwise typical of Uderzo's style.

(Obelix and Co. also includes two Roman legionaries drawn to the likeness of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.)

Other side characters allude to people related to the place Asterix is visiting. Notable examples include Britain's most famous bards in the story Asterix in Britain, who are four in number and look remarkably like the Beatles; a pair of Belgian warriors in Asterix in Belgium who resemble Thomson and Thompson of Tintin-fame, and both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are depicted in Asterix in Spain. More recently, this spoofing has occasionally extended to major characters as well: in Asterix and the Black Gold, a Roman spy is a young Sean Connery drawn in James Bond style, and in Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, the leader of the escaped slaves (named Spartakis, being Greek) is based on Kirk Douglas' Spartacus.

The stories also feature allusions to major artistic works (such as Pieter Bruegel's Peasant Wedding and Victor Hugo's story of the Battle of Waterloo from Les Châtiments in Asterix in Belgium), historical personalities (Napoleon, Louis XIV of France), famous places (Le Moulin Rouge)…. [1] (http://www.mage.fst.uha.fr/asterix/allusion/allusion.html)

However, in many other respects the series reflects life in the 1st century BC fairly accurately for the medium. For example, the multi-storied apartments in Rome—the insulae—which have Obelix remarking that one man's roof is another man's floor and consequently "These Romans are crazy": his favourite line. This line itself is also an intrinsic joke on Rome and the romans: its Italian equivalent being "Sono pazzi questi romani" abbreviates as "SPQR", which is the motto of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, though, the presence of chimneys in the Gaullic huts is not accurate, as they used gabled openings in the roof to let smoke escape; and menhirs are now believed to have been erected long before the Gauls.

The text also makes relatively regular use of original Latin proverbs and Latin phrases, and allusions to Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico, a book about the conquest of Gaul, later used as an introductory text to Latin. Some jokes are made about Caesar's use of the third person to write about himself. Such allusions were likely to be well-received by the better-educated sections of the French and Belgian public in the 1960s, when the teaching of Latin was still widespread in high schools.

Humour: puns

Missing image
Asterix-Main_Gaul_characters.jpeg
From left to right: Geriatrix, Unhygienix, Obelix (and Dogmatix), Asterix, Vitalstatistix, Getafix, Fulliautomatix, and Cacofonix (the porters are unnamed)

A key feature of the text of the Asterix books are the constant puns used as names of characters; The names of the two protagonists come from asterisk and obelisk, Asterix being the star of the books (Latin aster [star] and Celtic rix [king, cognate to Latin rex, Sanskrit raj, German reich, English rich, etc]), and Obelix being a menhir delivery-man. This is a double pun, since as well as meaning a stone monolith, the word obelisk can also refer to the typographical dagger (†) that is often used to denote the second footnote on a page after an asterisk has been used to reference the first. In fact, nearly all the Gaulish characters' names end in -ix, probably a reference to the real-life Gaulish chieftain such as Vercingetorix (though in life only the names of Gaulish kings—and not even all of them—ended in -ix, and if they did it was always -rix). English language examples include the chief (Vitalstatistix), the druid (Getafix), the fishmonger (Unhygienix), an old man (Geriatrix) with a young wife. Roman characters' names end with -us as in Noxious Vapus and Crismusbonus. Other nations have their own style of naming - Vikings use -af (Bathyscaf), Britons use -ax (Hiphiphurrax, Notax, and the notable exception Zebigbos), Goths use -ic (Tonnic) and Spaniards use Spanish-sounding names such as Huevos Y Bacon (Eggs and Bacon).

Many of these puns reflect the French original, in which, for example, the Egyptian in Astérix Légionnaire is named Courdeténis (court de tennis, i.e. "tennis court") in French and Ptenisnet in English. But the translation of puns is difficult, and Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge do a good job in the English language edition, and are sometimes said to improve on the originals. For example, the translation of Ordralfabétix (referring to ordre alphabétique, "alphabetical order"), is Unhygienix, given that this character is a fishmonger infamous for his rotting product. The original Panoramix, which perhaps represents the druid who sees the whole picture, is named Getafix in the English version, as "get a fix" conveys the fact he makes potent potions. Assurancetourix (assurance tous risques or "comprehensive insurance"), the ear-offending bard of the village, becomes the apt Cacofonix. Another clever translation is that of Idéfix. An idée fixe is a "fixed idea", i.e. an obsession, a dogma. The translation, Dogmatix, manages to conserve the "fixed idea" meaning and also include the syllable dog—perfect, given that the character is a dog who has very strong views on the environment (he howls whenever he sees an uprooted tree). Note that the American version of the comic was done by a different translator, and tends to use different names that are often considered less funny than the English puns.


Running gags

A number of running gags reoccur in various albums. One of these is that the bard Cacofonix wants to create a spontaneous song whenever Asterix and Obelix leave or come back for a grand journey, but is usually prevented from doing so by Fulliautomatix.

Another running gag is a group of pirates with the traditional peg-legged leader, that tend to get caught in the middle of conflict and have their ship sunk for a variety of reasons, such as a stray thrown menhir, though usually Asterix and Obelix boarding them. In one episode, they attack a ship carrying a Roman agent, who points at a random crew member and states he gave him a bagful of gold if he would not attack the agent. In the ensuing battle over the nonexistent bag of gold, the pirates sink their own ship.

List of major recurring characters

Name (English) Name (French) Description
Asterix Astérix Gaulish warrior
Obelix Obélix Menhir delivery man
Dogmatix Idéfix Obelix's dog
Getafix Panoramix Druid
Vitalstatistix Abraracourcix Chief of the village
Impedimenta Bonemine Wife of Vitalstatistix
Geriatrix Agecanonix Village elder
Cacofonix Assurancetourix Bard
Fulliautomatix Cétautomatix Blacksmith
Unhygienix Ordralfabétix Fishmonger
Bacteria Iélosubmarine Wife of Unhygienix

List of volumes

  • Year - Title in English (original title), plot , remarks and places visited

Goscinny and Uderzo

  1. 1961 - Asterix the Gaul (Astérix le Gaulois), first original where the main characthers are presented. The style of Uderzo's drawing changes a lot until it stabilizes in the end in the style he'll keep in the rest of the series.
  2. 1962 - Asterix and the Golden Sickle (La Serpe d'or) Asterix and Obelix go to Lutetia (Paris) to buy a new golden sickle
  3. 1963 - Asterix and the Goths (Astérix chez les Goths) On the tribes that will be Germany
  4. 1964 - Asterix the Gladiator (Astérix gladiateur) Rome
  5. 1965 - Asterix and the Banquet (Le Tour de Gaule) French cities
    • Unsuccessful at conquering the village, the Romans seal it in. Asterix strikes a bet that he and Obelix can travel throughout Gaul and back to the village without the Romans being able to stop them. The route is a parallel to the modern Tour de France cycle-event.
  6. 1965 - Asterix and Cleopatra (Astérix et Cléopâtre) Egypt
    • Caesar calls the Egyptians inferior to the Romans. Outraged, Cleopatra wagers with him that her people can build a grand monument in record time. The bumbling architect is basically asked to perform a miracle, thus asks his old friend Panoramix to send help. Meanwhile, Caesar's agents attempt to sabotage the effort.
  7. 1966 - Asterix and the Big Fight (Le Combat des chefs) no travels
    • The Romans co-operate with a Roman-friendly Gaulish village to declare a ritual fight between the village chiefs. One of Obelix's menhirs causes Getafix to lose his memory.
  8. 1966 - Asterix in Britain (Astérix chez les Bretons) England
  9. 1966 - Asterix and the Normans (Astérix et les Normands) Norway
    • The Normans hear of people 'flying in fear', and wish to discover this miraculous power of flight. Being fearless warriors themselves, they set out to find others and be taught the meaning of fear. They end up kidnapping a young and frightened bard, then Cacofonix comes to the rescue as everybody is afraid of him making music.
  10. 1967 - Asterix the Legionary (Astérix légionnaire) Africa, first appearance of Falbalah
    • Asterix and Obelix join the Stranger's Legion in an attempt to find the lost fiancé of Falbalah, a villager whom Obelix has a big crush on. They end up in a group of foreigners, including Goths and an Egyptian, have to endure military training and are sent to war.
  11. 1968 - Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield (Le Bouclier arverne) Cities in southern France: Acqua Calidae (Vichy), Gergovie, Nemessos (Clermont-Ferrand)
    • Caesar sends his troops to find the lost shield of Vercingetorix, while chief Vitalstatistix is forced to go to a health spa to cure his sore liver.
  12. 1968 - Asterix at the Olympic Games (Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques) Greece
    • In a revolt of the status quo the Gauls claim to be Romans, and therefore have a right to participate in the Olympic Games in Greece. When it appears that Asterix and Obelix, the athletes, are to use "drugs", they are excluded.
  13. 1969 - Asterix and the Cauldron (Astérix et le chaudron) no travels
    • Moralelastix, head of a neighboring village, asks Vitalstatistix to hide his village's money to prevent the Romans from taking it. Asterix is put on guard. Then Moralelastix steals his own money, putting the blame on Asterix. He leaves the village in search for the money, to recover his honor.
  14. 1969 - Asterix in Spain (Astérix en Hispanie) Spain
    • A young and spoiled child is taken from the Romans. He turns out to be Spanish, and held hostage in an attempt to get them to surrender. Asterix and Obelix escort the child back to Spain. A running joke in the book is people holding their breath to get their way.
  15. 1970 - Asterix and the Roman Agent (La Zizanie) no travels
    • A skilled manipulator is discussed in Rome; he was to be executed in the Colloseum, but is so conniving that he got the lions attacking each other rather than himself. Cesar sends him to the Gaul village in an attempt to destroy unity. He starts seeding distrust by giving a vase to Asterix, calling him the most important villager (thus insulting Vitalstatistix), then proceeds to get a lot of people angry ("He just called you a coward. Will you stand for that?")
  16. 1970 - Asterix in Switzerland (Astérix chez les Helvètes) Switzerland
    • A poisoned Roman politician seeks sanctuary in the Gaul village. Asterix and Obelix are sent to Switzerland to recover an Edelweiss, which is necessary to cure him. Before they reach the mountains, they encounter the Swiss's compulsive cleanliness, fondues, secret banking, and cuckoo hourglasses (basically, the innkeeper shouts "cuckoo" every hour, at which point residents are expected to turn over their hourglasses)
  17. 1971 - The Mansions of the Gods (Le Domaine des dieux)
    • A satire of real estate speculation; Caesar tries to increase tourism to Gaul by creating a vacation resort near the Village. The villagers sabotage the efforts, first by magically replanting the forest as soon as it's cut, and by creating a slaves' union; later by being obnoxious neighbors to the resident Romans.
  18. 1972 - Asterix and the Laurel Wreath (Les Lauriers de César) Rome
    • Thoroughly chagrined by his succesful brother-in-law, Vitalstatistix gets drunk and boasts to create a salad containing Caesar's laurel wreath. With Asterix and Obelix, he travels to Rome to retrieve it. Needless to say, Caesar isn't very cooperative.
  19. 1972 - Asterix and the Soothsayer (Le Devin) no travels
    • In the absence of Getafix, a fraudulent seer seeks shelter against rain in the Village, then ingratiates himself to everyone by predicting the futures they want to hear, asking no food or money, merely items to "read" the future in (mainly as food and money). One of his earlier predictions is that disaster would befall the village were he to be chased off. Shortly after, he is captured by the Romans who are under strict orders to execute any Gaulish witches, and he tries in vain to convince the Romans that he is, in fact, a fraud.
  20. 1973 - Asterix in Corsica (Astérix en Corse) Corsica
    • At Obelix's birthday, the Gauls raid one of the nearby Roman fortresses. A very stoic and composed prisoner is discovered, who reveals himself as a Corsican tribe leader. Asterix and Obelix accompany him back to Corsica, to unite the quarelling tribes against the Romans.
  21. 1974 - Asterix and Caesar's Gift (Le Cadeau de César) Rome
    • At the end of their career, legionaries are granted estate in the Empire to settle down. One particularly obnoxious soldier is given the Village, by Caesar's hand, which he promply sells for wine. Pushed by his dominant wife, the innkeeper leaves Rome and attempts to claim the village as his own. Rivalries ensue, temporarily splitting the village in half. The soldier returns and asks the local legions' aid in reclaiming his village, since he didn't get enough wine for it.
  22. 1975 - Asterix and the Great Crossing (La Grande traversée) North America
    • Brewing the magical potion requires fresh fish, and Unhygienix has none since he imports it from Parisium (Paris) (in spite of living near the sea). Asterix and Obelix sail out to catch fish, but become lost and end up on the other side of the ocean, where they eventually become a legend to the Indian populace. A Nordic explorer eventually discovers America, and captures the first natives he finds (e.g. them) and brings them home. A running joke in this comic is that none of the races are able to understand one another, the Nordic speaking with heavy umlauts which the Gauls are unable to duplicate.
  23. 1976 - Obelix and Co. (Obélix et Compagnie) no travels; a satire of economics
    • Caesar sends one of his advisors to the Gaulish village, in an effort to make them rich, decadent and utterly dependent on Rome. He starts by buying menhirs at ever-increasing prices, thus persuading most of the village to make useless menhirs, and in turn employing other villagers to hunt for their food. The plan goes awry when Caesar's treasury turns out insufficient to fund the menhirs, and a commercial campaign to sell them in Rome fails because of competition from Egyptian menhirs and slave-made Roman menhirs.
  24. 1979 - Asterix in Belgium (Astérix chez les Belges) Belgium
    • After conquering Belgium, Caesar states that the Belgians are the bravest enemies he's ever faced. Outraged, Vitalstatistix claims that his villagers are in fact the bravest, and travels to Belgium to rectify the matter. He and the Belgians turn this into a contest of raiding and destroying Roman camps, until Caesar comes to Belgium himself and proclaims both tribes equally stupid. About two-thirds through, the comic was interrupted by the death of Goscinny. From that point on, the weather becomes rainy and never clears up for the entire album.

Uderzo

These newer series are sometimes criticised for lacking Goscinny's humor and writing style, and some fans consider the series ended with Asterix in Belgium. However, sales figures have shown no indication of lesser popularity.

  1. 1980 - Asterix and the Great Divide (Le Grand fossé) No travels
    • Asterix and Obelix visit a village divided in half by its rival chiefs. However, one chief's son and the other's daughter are in love, and together with Asterix and Obelix, they reunite the village.
  2. 1981 - Asterix and the Black Gold (L'Odyssée d'Astérix) The Mid East, Jerusalem.
    • Getafix has run out of rock oil and sends Asterix and Obelix to Mesopotamia in search of it. They are accompanied by a Gaulish-Roman druid, who is really a double agent seeking to foul their mission.
  3. 1983 - Asterix and Son (Le Fils d'Astérix) no travels
    • A baby boy mysteriously turns up at Asterix's doorstep. No one in the village knows who he is, so Asterix is forced to be his adoptive father. Meanwhile, the Roman legions led by Brutus are after the baby, because in reality, he is Caesar's full-blooded son, Caesarion.
  4. 1987 - Asterix and the Magic Carpet (Astérix chez Rahazade) Ancient India
    • A fakir from far-away India travels to Asterix's village and asks him to save his land from drought.
  5. 1991 - Asterix and the Secret Weapon (La Rose et le glaive) a feminist satire
  6. 1996 - Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (La Galère d'Obélix) Atlantis
    • Left alone in Getafix's hut, Obelix drinks a whole cauldron-ful of magic potion. He first turns to stone, then into a small boy. Meanwhile, a group of men have escaped from Roman slavery on board a ship. Together, they travel to Atlantis to make Obelix a grown man again.
  7. 2001 - Asterix and the Actress (Astérix et Latraviata) no travels
    • A Roman actress pretends to be Falbalah in order to steal Asterix's and Obelix's famous weapons, which have originally belonged to Vercingetorix.
  8. 2003 - Asterix and the Class Act (Astérix et la rentrée gauloise) no travels
    • A collection of several short stories, including an experiment at different drawing and storytelling styles.
  9. Announced 2005 - not much is known about this album yet...

Films

Many of Asterix's adventures have also been made into films:

  1. 1967 - Asterix the Gaul (Astérix le Gaulois) (animation)
  2. 1968 - Asterix and Cleopatra (Astérix et Cléopâtre) (animation)
  3. 1976 - The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (Les douze travaux d'Astérix) (animation)
  4. 1985 - Asterix Versus Caesar (Astérix et la surprise de César) (animation)
  5. 1986 - Asterix in Britain (Astérix chez les Bretons) (animation)
  6. 1989 - Asterix and the Big Fight (Astérix et le coup du menhir) (animation)
  7. 1994 - Asterix Conquers America (German: Asterix in Amerika) (animation; produced in Germany)
  8. 1999 - Asterix and Obelix Take On Caesar (Astérix et Obélix contre César) (live action film)
  9. 2002 - Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre) (live action film)
  10. Announced 2006 - Asterix and the Vikings (Astérix et les Vikings) (animation)
  11. Announced 2006 - Asterix in the Olympic Games (Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques) (live action film)

Asterix movies tend to be divided into three clear groups. The early films (group-1) were a lot sillier and, in some instances, slightly more absurd. They have not always been approved mainly due to the limited animating.

Starting from 1985's (group-2) Asterix Versus Caeser the animation quality improved dramatically. The 80s Asterix-films are undoubtedly the more popular of the film adaptations. In the 90s Asterix films have received mixed reactions. Lacking some of their predecessors' charm Asterix Conquers America is not always considered a part of the second group.

In particular reactions have been mixed over the live action adaptations (group-3).

Video games

See also

External links

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