Asterix v5: “Asterix and the Banquet”

Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Colorist: Marcel Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1965

In this volume, Asterix and Obelix make a run around France, picking up items of specialty cuisine from towns along the way.  Plot wise, it’s a weak volume, but there’s still lots of funny moments. And I made a map!

 

There IS a Plot…

The Romans build a crazy wall

The Romans have the grand idea to erect a wall surrounding the village to basically starve Asterix and friends out.  That’s the kind of thing the Romans liked to do in those days.  Seriously, they’d just build a bridge or a fortress or an encampment overnight or something, then tear it down after a good siege and march off along their merry way.

(I’ve been studying this era of Roman/Gallic history recently, and it’s fascinating. Stay tuned to The Asterix Agenda for more of that in the coming weeks…)

Asterix laughs at this move and makes a bet with the local Roman leader.  He’ll get out, get specialty foods from all around Gaul, and return to prepare a banquet with all those goods for the Romans.

What we get is a book with Asterix and Obelix running around France, stopping at towns along the way, and narrowly avoiding the Romans at each stop.  They take some specialty foods from each area with them.  If this book was made today, they’d call it “Asterix the Foodie.”

 

…But It’s Missing Something

Since Asterix has his potion with him, there’s never any danger of them being caught.  This is pure running-and-gunning.  Some of their old tricks still work in this book, such as when Obelix surrenders to get sent to prison to catch up with Asterix so they can break out together.

In the other volumes, this pattern works because Asterix needs to do something else besides just get away. In “Asterix and the Goths“, he starts The Asterixian Wars to cover his path. With “Asterix the Gaul,” he and Getafix outwit the Romans and give them crazy beards.  And in “Asterix the Gladiator,” Asterix finds a way to escape that entertains the masses and wins him (begrudgingly) Caesar’s approval.

In this book, he breaks out of jail and keeps going.  It’s anti-climactic.

So, yes, this is the first book in the series that I don’t think is the best so far.  It’s a little too simple.  There are lots of good laughs to be had along the way and it’s still entertaining as all get out.  But the bigger drama and story is missing from it, and that’s a shame. After awhile, the repetition of running to another city, getting in and out, and defeating a few Romans along the way starts to bore.

What’s even scarier is that there were another eight cities considered for this book.  They were left out for a lack of space.  If this story appeared in a serial today, the people would cry out for a Director’s Cut of this story that would make it completely unreadable…

 

Mapping the Banquet Trek

Since Goscinny documents every destination clearly along the way, we can draw up a map of their journey.  Here you go:

A map of France with Asterix and Obelix's journey from Asterix and the Banquet

 

Click on the map for the full-sized image. Make it your wallpaper. (Updated 21 Feb 2018 to put the Village closer to the right spot.)

I included Uderzo’s hand drawn map in the upper left corner for comparison.  It’s rougher and hand-drawn, so I made my own with a real map or France.

I grabbed that map, drew the course over it myself, and now can present to you this map of “Asterix and the Banquet.”  I used more modern names for the cities with my key, and I threw in a few images of how Asterix and Obelix got from place to place, whether that’s sailing down a river, around the country in a boat, or charging down a bumpy road with a horse and wagon.

This is really “Asterix and the Tour de France.” Take a look at the map for that annual bicycle race, and you’ll see some similarities…

Ah, heck, I just looked up the original French title for this album.  It is a much more delightful “Le Tour de Gaule d’Asterix.”  This is the best case I’ve seen yet for where the English translation of Asterix is far inferior to the French.

 

The Debut of Dogmatix!

You almost don’t notice him. He’s so small.

Dogmatix's first appearance in Lutetia/Paris before he runs away with Obelix

But there he is, in Paris sitting outside one of the butcher’s shops that Asterix and Obelix visit.  If you aren’t paying attention, you won’t notice him, but he follows Asterix and Obelix for the rest of the book and all the way back to the village. There is not interaction between the dog and our two main characters.  He’s just always there, running to keep up.  Or swimming. Or catching a ride.  He’s a cute visual gag in the book.  That’s all he does.

In the long out of print “The Complete Guide to Asterix” book, Uderzo admits that that’s all the dog was: a (literal) running gag.  He was visual spice on top of the story.

There was no intent to keep him around.  But, the readers loved him and Pilote Magazine (which ran “Asterix” serialized in its earliest days) held a contest for the readers to name him.

So they did — Ideefix.  It’s a name that means, literally, “fixed idea.”  Whether it was Anthea Bell or Derek Hockridge who came up with “Dogmatix” as the English translation, I don’t know.  But it’s perfect and brilliant.

Uderzo and Goscinny will eventually concoct a personality for the dog that will play well off Obelix, in particular, and we’ll get to that when the time is right in a future volume…

Dogmatix meets Obelix for the first time on the last page of Asterix and the Banquet

Here, on the last page, is the moment where Obelix and Dogmatix meet for the first time, after Dogmatix ran after them through the entirety of France. As a bonus, there’s a good Asterix gag in the foreground.

Cultural References, Cross References, and Random Fun

Asterix and Obelix visit the Gaulish (French) Riviera

I’m sure people in France loved this book. Name-checking all the towns and giving them food specialties and stereotypes is sure to be a crowd-pleaser in all those places.  Many of those references are lost on me.  I get what Goscinny is going for, but I don’t have that knowledge beforehand to make me chuckle with the necessary, “He’s so right about them!”

I’m not going to pretend to know the stereotypes of which townsfolks do what.  Reading around a bit, I also see there are some serious French movie references in this story that I’ll never get.

It looks like France is a great place to eat if you like cheeses, Parisian ham, sausage and meatballs, fish, more sausages, and some wine.  Lots of wine.  I can deal with that.

Continuity in Asterix and the Banquet calling back to Asterix the Gladiator

We also get a bit of continuity in this book.  When the Roman leader makes his bet with Asterix and Obelix, he says that if he loses, he’ll head back to Rome to tell Julius Caesar that he failed.  Obelix  asks him to give their regards to their “old friend,” Caius Fatuous.  Fatuous was the man in the previous volume, “Asterix the Gladiator,” who arranged the gladiatorial games for Caesar’s amusement.  Asterix took special joy to teach him a lesson at the end of that book.

The pirates who Asterix and Obelix quickly dispatched of in the previous volume show up again in this book.  Despite their best efforts to stay clear, they get too close and Asterix and Obelix take them out again.  The running gag has begun…

And, of course, the traffic jams in Lutetia/Paris that we saw in “Asterix and the Golden Sickle” return.

Obelix is not fat

Obelix insists in this book that he is not fat, which is another running gag throughout the series from here on out.  We also get a couple variations on “These Romans are crazy” in the book, too.

There’s so much great stuff in this book, but it just never comes together for me as well as it did in the previous volumes.

Anachronism?  Continuity, Who Cares?

Anachronistic goof, maybe? Asterix and Obelix head out to Lyon, which road signs along the way mark as “Lugdunum.”  Lugdunum was an important city for the Romans.  It became a major city for them during their rule of Gaul.  The city wasn’t founded until 43 BC, though, seven years after the events of “Asterix.”

But, really, who cares?  Also, every “Asterix” book says it’s set in 50 BC.  I’m not sure if you took the timeline of every book that it would be possible to fit everything into the same year.

Continuity is for suckers; give me the good stories.

(If you did want to bring up logical questions, maybe we should ask how they kept the meat products fresh during their time running around the country. That ham and those sausages spent a lot of time at room temperature before being cooked for the banquet!)

Best Names of the Book

Dogmatix wins in a runaway this month, for reasons we already covered.

But, given the number of locations we travel to in this volume and the number of people we meet from each location, this book is a treasure trove of names.

Overanxius in Asterix v5

The Roman general who picks this fight with Asterix is named General Overanxius.

Introducing Uptotrix -- his name says it all

Perhaps the most blatantly obviously named person in all of “Asterix” is the man who so clearly is trying to trick Asterix and Obelix into something bad.   He’s Uptotrix. Asterix saying, “Let’s be careful” cracks me up every time.

And then there’s the potentially drunk inn owner, César Drinklikafix, and the chariot owner whose ride the Gauls steal named Nervus Illnus. No, it has nothing to do with his character, but I giggled at the name.  (The French version, Tikedbus, sounds like it might fit in better with the scene.)

There’s a dozen other great names in this book, but those are my favorites.  Chime in with your picks in the comments below.

 

Recommended?

Asterix and the Banquet v5 review in the Asterix Agenda

I wouldn’t recommend this as your first Asterix book. It’s harmless and it has lots of the Asterix trademarks in it.  Plus, with the addition of Dogmatix, at last, the cast feels complete.  We have lots more to learn about the villagers and plenty of new characters yet to come, but the core feels complete.

There’s a missing element in this book that makes it feel less clever, but the pieces are there. That excites me for the future of the series.  I can’t wait to read the next one, “Asterix and Cleopatra,” which I know is a favorite of many.

— 2018.018 —

 

Buy It Now

26 Comments

  • JC LEBOURDAIS February 13, 2018 at 9:44 am

    I can offer an explanation about the title. At the time, le Tour de France (the great cycling competition) was at the peak of its popularity in the country, but not that well-known outside of continental borders. Well into the seventies, competitors were mostly French and Belgian, with the occasional Dutch. It’s only in the late eighties early nineties that some Brits and Americans would pick up the gauntlet and try it out.
    Oh and by the way, before the invention of the refrigerator, for many many centuries meat was typically preserved in salt or in a saline bath which ensured conservation for months. sort of like pemmican, for you north americans.
    Yes this is the first appearance of Idefix in the book, who, for some, became the true hero of the series (heck, he even had his own line of children’s books and toys). He will hit his stride when Cleopatra takes a liking to him in the eponymous album.

    Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS February 13, 2018 at 9:56 am

    You may have guessed that Uptotrix is based on Sean Connery/James Bond. The original french name if I remember well is Zerozerosix (guess the name change is a copyright issue, Brits are way touchier than we are about satire). He will show up again in later volumes.

    Reply
    • sverrirb February 13, 2018 at 12:03 pm

      I guess you mean Dubbelosix, a character in a later book, Asterix and the black gold. According to the official site, Uptotrix´s original (french) name is Odafix. But maybe your´e right, he does look very much like Sean Connery.

      Reply
  • JC Lebourdais February 13, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    On the official website, I just found a complete layout of all the characters, per album, with all the references, in an english version!!! This is too easy :
    http://www.asterix.com/the-collection/albums/asterix-and-the-banquet.html

    Reply
    • Augie February 14, 2018 at 9:37 am

      I admit it — I used that page when I was writing this review up. There were SO MANY names thrown out in this book that I couldn’t remember them all. I used that very page to refresh my memory. Then I had to go back and scan a panel for a couple of them to illustrate it all.

      Reply
    • dancondonjones February 14, 2018 at 9:42 am

      Nice site – but I’m sure he pirate is called Aberdeen Angus – though he’s not listed as that on that page.

      Reply
      • dancondonjones February 14, 2018 at 10:08 am

        Ah – I just found the line in Asterix and the Roman Agent, which I’d always misread as calling the pirate Aberdeen Angus. I think that’s actually the name of the ship that the Roman agent is travelling on.

        Reply
        • dancondonjones February 14, 2018 at 10:09 am

          Oops – I mean the captain of the ship.

          Reply
  • dancondonjones February 13, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    I gave this one 3.5/5. I remembered this as my least favourite of the Goscinny penned books (along with Asterix the Legionary), but it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. It does have the serious plot problems that you mentioned – the repetitiveness and the fact that there was never any possibility that they’d lose their bet.

    All that said, there were some genuinely funny moments. Also, it’s my nine year old daughter’s favourite Asterix book (but clearly only because she refuses to read Asterix and the Roman Agent).

    Overanxius and Uptotrix are great names (though the latter is a tad too similar to the previous Navishtrix), but I really hate Drinklikafix. ‘x’ just doesn’t sound like ‘sh’, so the whole pun is ruined. See also, Codfix from Asterix and the Great Divide (and probably Boneywasawarriorwayayix which I should hate, but just love too much).

    Reply
    • Augie February 14, 2018 at 9:45 am

      I liked Drinklikeafix just because it’s a half step away from the perfect pun. It’s rhyming an ‘ish’ word instead of an ‘ous’ word. It’s a little surprise that made me smile. Or I’m possibly overthinking it. Occupational hazard.

      Also, am slightly mad at myself for forgetting to mention the Roman honeymooners named Ulna and Radius..

      Reply
  • Colin Taylor February 14, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    As a kid reading this for some reason I always thought this was a really special book, like it was elevated above others and had some special significence. The reason to my tiny 6 year old brain (I think) was it was the only volume we had in hardback, I think we got it when it first came out (the editions we got came out in a very weird order). Anyway this tricked me into thinking it had a superior story also. Alas subsequent reads have revealed it for what it is, possibly the weakest of the bunch, or on a par with Golden Sickle at least – so on that basis on my Asterix Scale this one scores

    6 out of 10

    I pretty much agree entirely with Augie’s review on this one. The plot feels forced and is pretty weak, the humour feels diluted by it repetition. It has some glorious moments, I adore the scene where Obelix ‘gets arrested’ and I think Dogmatix’s introduction is a stroke of pure genius. The moment where Obelix clocks him at the banquet (as shown in Augie’s review above) is just comic perfection, tossed gloriously into the background just as he had been throughout the volume. There are many more moments as well, but that’s the books big problem it works as a series of moments, not as a cohesive whole.

    Still the continuing evolution of ongoing themes and gags continues to charge on with this one, again Augie has more than covered this, but its a delight. Must admit I’m still surprised we only have Compendium and the other forts haven’t appeared yet, think that must happen time after next?

    Anyway I’ve always wondered if this volume suffers most from my ignorance and with a better knowledge of France and its towns the characteristics of the places visits would really add to story? Who knows I am alas largely ignorant.

    Reply
    • dancondonjones February 14, 2018 at 2:03 pm

      “Alas subsequent reads have revealed it for what it is, possibly the weakest of the bunch, or on a par with Golden Sickle at least”

      That’s a really harsh thing to say about Asterix and the Golden Sickle, which is one of my favourites.

      Reply
      • Colin Taylor February 14, 2018 at 5:12 pm

        Yeah that’s one of the things I’m loving about this. A shared love of Asterix, yet I don’t think we’ve (those of us rating) have had the same order since the start. Great to get different views and perspectives, makes me think all the more about this glorious stuff I’m reading.

        Reply
    • JC LEBOURDAIS February 14, 2018 at 6:12 pm

      Well, first you have to remember that the first dozen volumes or so were produced as weekly serialized installments, the fact that they would be collected into albums was an afterthought. Not all Pilote series were turned into albums. It was just disposable entertainment for kids.
      Second, yes Asterix is the epitome of Frenchness in the sixties. This is the time when Paul Bocuse reinvented Nouvelle cuisine, based on traditional dishes, so having the heroes traveling around the country gathering ingredients for a giant meal was spot on, in sync with the era, which is the reason why it resonates so much with us.
      Goscinny is very much a man of his time and finds his inspiration around him. The next story is based on the Liz Taylor blockbuster that was a massive hit in the country and after that he goes mostly for politics and societal issues as a starting point. Reading Asterix is a master class in social studies of the French people of the sixties and seventies. After Goscinny’s death in ’77, it’s just a cash machine that keeps the engine running somehow.

      Reply
  • Colin Taylor February 14, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Oh sorry meant to say if I’d thought to include Dogmatix as my favourite name it’d have won. Alas I didn’t so I went for Jellibabix, not because its good, its not, its terrible, it the pure cheek of using it I admire!

    Reply
    • dancondonjones February 14, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      Yeah. See my comment about Drinklikafix. It just doesn’t work at all.

      Reply
  • Jerome Saincantin February 14, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    The Village is in Britanny, a little to the north-east of Le Conquet (#12) – not in Normandy. Check out this map from “The Best of Asterix”: http://www.canalbd.net/img/ope/comment/asterix-voyage-carte.jpg

    🙂

    Reply
    • Augie February 15, 2018 at 11:26 am

      Ack! I liked my guess, too. They take the river to Lutetia, which would flow from #1 to #2 very easily. Going from #12 to #2 would mean a longer land trek before hitting the river, which I assumed was the Seine.

      But, then, I look up Armorica and see that the “borders” for that region would encompass both #12 AND #1, and I don’t feel so bad.

      In the end, I can’t argue with that map you linked, which is really cool, too. =)

      I’ll update the map this weekend to reflect all this. Thanks, Jerome!

      Reply

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