Asterix v17, "Mansions of the Gods" cover detail
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Asterix v17: “The Mansions of the Gods”

Julius Caesar unleashes his most clever and diabolical attempt to force the Gauls out of their village yet: He’s going to NIMBY the hell out of them!

Volume 17: “The Mansions of the Gods.”
Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion (Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1970
Original Title: “Le Domaine des Dieux”

A Caesarian Subdivision

Julius Caesar has tried the force thing.  The spy thing didn’t work the first time or the second time.  Abductions don’t last very long.  Jails can’t hold the Gauls.

What’s a Caesar to do?  How can he possibly conquer the last corner of Gaul?

He’ll force them out! What if he made their village so uncomfortable to live in that they’d quit fighting back and finally submit to Rome’s will? (And wouldn’t it be easier if they did?)

Caesar plans to do it with the most dangerous tool of all. It’s the one that’s brought whole economies and civilizations crashing to their knees.

Real estate!

Caesar makes a model of the Mansions of the Gods

He’ll build a development right outside the village, destroying the forest and the source of all those wonderful boars the villagers like so much. They’ll have no choice but to give in to Caesar’s progress.

And it almost works!

This is a great book.

Why I Like It So Much

This book is going near the top of the list of “Favorite Asterix Books,” for sure.  I love this one for a lot of reasons.

First, it feels new.  While it is, once again, Caesar trying and failing to conquer Asterix’s village, it’s coming at it in a brand new way.  It’s not even a direct attack. Why fight the magic potion? Caesar’s plan is to get rid of the Gauls as a healthy side effect of a successful new business venture.  Capitalism FTW!

Second, it is not just a comedy.  It’s a satire.  There’s a little of everything in this book, from Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) to urban planning to the side effects of upscale populations to how Main Street changes to accommodate the buyers to the unionization of workers.

Third, this is a book about a domino effect.  The way the Mansions of the Gods almost destroys the village is from within.  As the village becomes a tourist destination, of sorts, the village changes to serve the local clientele.  These changes, hilariously turning every house into either an antiques shop or a fish store, nearly rip the village apart.  Caesar, perhaps without completely realizing it, plays to the weakest spots of the village: the villagers and their self-interests.

Fourth, Albert Uderzo draws some “epic” stuff. There are large architectural renderings and larger environmental panels.  There are massive piles of logs, and village huts seen from the sky.  The book opens on a series of half page panels setting the scene for what’s to come. Julius Caesar has gone so far as to build a scale model for his Mansions of the Gods.  (See image above.)

The slaves are pulling up a lot of trees from the forest around the village

Everything is just bigger in this book.  The panels are bigger.  There’s a full-page splash at the book’s climax.  The word balloons are bigger as lots of people are yelling at each other.  The buildings are as big as they’ve ever been drawn.  With the Mansions of the Gods, Uderzo even draws something that more closely resembles modern architecture, and he doesn’t miss a perspective line on the whole thing.

If ever I wanted an Artist’s Edition of an Asterix book, it’s this one!

Fifth, we get to read the brochures for the Mansions.  It’s reminiscent of the other times Goscinny and Uderzo have gone off format, like the description of the Asterixian Wars or the Battle of the Village. This is a beautiful two page spread meant to mimic the sales pitch for the development.  

Uderzo not only includes a whole series of paintings across the double page spread, but also draws the hands holding the brochure.  The map layout of the Mansions looks like the layout of a major international airport.  The initial plan for the place was quite detailed and a lot of work to build.

Sixth, there’s real danger in this book.  Asterix and Getafix let the Romans build away.  They weren’t sure what they were up to, but they knew they’d figure it out and find a way to beat it.  But the truth of it all temporarily stuns Asterix, who has to ponder why his initial plan didn’t work, and what his new angle towards the same end goal will be.

But Asterix and Getafix are not in total control of this story at all times.  People surprise them.  Ultimately, their final plan works to save the day, but some of the earlier plans sowed the seeds of doubt.  This was a pretty close shave.

Seventh, it’s a village story, not an adventurous trip to another country story.  As much as I like those, I think I’m a bigger fan of seeing the villagers more.

The Gauls Drive the Romans Crazy, Of Course

A big part of the first half of the book is the story of the Romans clearing out the forest to make room for construction.

They try to get it done without interference from the villagers, so they only work at night, and very quietly.  The slaves are also not in alignment with the goals of the Romans.  They’re more interested in doing less work, since they’re not getting paid.  They’ll fake out the rooster to wake everyone else up early if it fools their bosses into thinking the night is over so they can go to sleep.

The problem they have to face is that Getafix has magic seeds that instantly grow into full-size trees.  It’s a good trick to have, and one that’s super convenient for the plot.  It drives Squaronthehypotenus mad.  He has a full squad of slaves at his beck and call, and they just can’t get the work done. Even worse, every time he thinks they’ve finished the job, the trees immediately return.

Uderzo goes to town in drawing the mental breakdown of Squaronthehypotenus

Goscinny’s scripts always do a great job at laying out the slow burn of driving Romans mad, and this one is no exception.  Uderzo’s acting skills with a pencil shine, as Squaronthehypotenus overacts and emotes with all his body over how frustrating the whole thing is.

Then, there’s the political side of the story.  I have to think the next bit is Goscinny’s commentary on the French working class, particularly in light of the May 1968 uprisings in France which happened shortly before Goscinny would have been writing this.   I should write an article about the May 1968 events someday.  It is a fascinating story and there are lots of little stories in the course of it that are worth talking about…

The Slavery Issue is More a Union Issue

The Romans kept slaves of all colors, shapes, and sizes

There’s some modern sensitivities mixed in with cultural commentary on this book. I think it might be a potentially ugly little mixture in these modern times for some people. I also think they’d be reacting without thinking it totally through, so let’s see if I can explain this all.

Asterix’s first plan to stop the destruction of the forest is to arm the slaves with Magic Potion.  (Yes, it’s the old “arm the rebels” technique that works so well for governments so often…) With that in hand, they might easily rebel, throw the Romans aside, and leave for their own freedom.

The slaves don’t.  With the Magic Potion as their tool, they demand a fair wage and their freedom in return for completing their job.  Squaronthehypotenus is so desperate to get the job, he agrees to the deal.  Armed with interests that are more aligned with the Romans now, the slaves’ production increases greatly.

The slaves’ leader at one point mentions how tired he is and how he longs for the crack of a whip to get over being tired and hungry.  There’s a one-liner that I bet wouldn’t go over too well in North American today.  (He’s also wrong earlier in the book when he said that there’s not much of a future in slavery.  So terribly, terribly wrong…)

The slaves, in this case, include people from Belgium, Spain, Gaul, and Numidia (Algeria/Tunisia) — all countries Asterix has visited before.  They’re part cast of characters for the series now.  The slave trade was less of a race thing than in America. It was more a power and an economic expediency thing.  Romans would enslave everyone they could fight because it was good money. It’s a large part of the reason for the Gallic Wars — Caesar needed money and selling people he captured along the way was very profitable.

I can already see the outrage from a 2018 point of view for the slaves acting like they’re OK working for their owners, and negotiating as a group for a better deal when the opportunity presents itself.

But Goscinny isn’t making a commentary on slavery in this book.  This is Goscinny commenting on Unions — collective bargaining! — and the working class of France, which seems to have a major strike every year.  (It’s usually in one of the transit unions, it feels like.)

Goscinny pushes it further.  The Roman legionaries in the area get wind of the fact that the slaves are now paid better than they are, and they go on strike.  There’s a series of negotiations they have with their leaders to get the demands they want.  It’s funny stuff, with echoes of modern life reflected in Ancient Roman times.  Much like what happens in the “real world,” one successful negotiation prompts another one. If that group is getting more money, why isn’t mine? Human nature is a timeless thing…

The bigger problem than the storyline is, as usual for much of the art at the time, the depiction of the Numidian.  His caricature is not something that would fly today. It’s an over-exaggeration that wouldn’t go over so well.  The good news is, the accent he had in earlier English translations has been replaced by a more standard British style of speaking.  As at least they were able to clean up that part of it.

The Pirate Question

When the slaves are freed, they’re off to sea.

The freed slaves set off to sea

Wait a minute — are those the pirates whose ship Asterix tends to sink in every book?

If so, is this book actually set in the past?

But the Numidian doesn’t really look like the scout on the pirates’ ship.  And the rest of the freed slaves in that group don’t look like the pirates that we know and love, either.  They’re kinda similar, but not the real thing.

What’s going on here?  I’ve read a lot of references to this on-line, and everyone else is just as confused.

Other Random Things

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but Caesar’s journals during the Gallic Wars were written in the third person.  Goscinny continues that joke in this volume, and points it out directly.

Caesar talks about himself in the third person, confusing those around him.

To quote the great Daffy Duck, “Pronoun trouble!”

Dogmatix feels earth's pain

Goscinny hasn’t forgotten that Dogmatix is very in tune with the earth. All this digging up of trees and destruction of the forest have very anxious throughout the book.  The poor guy barks more here than in any other book so far, I’d have to think.

And, yes, they did make a CGI animated movie of this book a few years ago.  I have the Blu-ray.  I reviewed the movie here.

Best Name in the Book

This was a gimme. There’s not much serious competition vying for the honor in this book.  The architect, Squaronthehypotenus, wins it in a laugher.  Again, it’s a long name and it has the perfect meaning, given the person’s career choice.

Caesar's architect, Squaronthehypotenus

Also, there’s a character named Showbisinus that works well. He’s clearly a caricature of someone in particular.  I just looked it up.  That’s Guy Lux, a TV host at the time.

Recommended?

Asterix v17, "Mansions of the Gods" cover

I even love that cover.  It’s so good that they didn’t need to change it for the recent remastering.  Everything stays the same.

Yes, this one is definitely recommended!  This is one of my favorites so far.  It’s a good commentary on modern life and a capitalist system, but it also feels different from so many previous adventures.

After reading 16 of these books in nearly as many weeks, this is a breath of fresher air.  Goscinny can still bring the puns and the wordplay, but here he brings the satire on a grand scale from many angles.  This book is an achievement.

— 2018.047 —

Next Book!

Asterix cues the flashback

Asterix and the Laurel Wreath,” in which a dinner with Vercingetorix leads Asterix and Obelix on a mission to steal Julius Caesar’s laurel wreath for the sake of a recipe.

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

42 Comments

  1. I’m curious as to how they translated one of my favorite puns in the book: after Asterix gives the potion to the slaves and then the Romans come to tell them to get to work, the head of the slaves, the Numibian, butts heads with the Roman who just gave them the order, then swats him and sends him flying. Now in French, when you say “a Numibian”, it sounds like “a humid.” So one of the Romans says, watching his friend take a hit, “Yep, you should never speak drily to a humid.” Anyway, I always thought that was one of the funniest lines in the whole series.

    Re. the pirates, it never bothered me, I just felt it was one way get them in the book, just a little wink in passing. They were also captured at some point and enslaved by the Romans, who presumably sank yet another ship of theirs, right after they had gotten it on the water again. We just didn’t see them in the slaves enclosure earlier, which probably would have interfered with all the jokes about different nationalities.

    1. Looks like they changed the dialogue entirely on that scene. In fact, the new dialogue is really weak. “Poor chap… How was he to know a Numidian wouldn’t necessarily be a blackleg?” I had to look up blackleg. It is a debilitating disease in cattle. So, yeah, they reached for anything, and didn’t find much.

      I may give you a patented Marvel No-Prize for your pirate explanation. It’s an explanation that makes sense for a gag that seemingly doesn’t. 😉 (Or, I’m just thinking too hard…)

      1. Oh, bummer about my favorite line. Some puns are just too language dependent to translate though, and a translator has to come up with someone entirely different. But this is weak indeed.

        Re. the pirates, I guess it’s just nice to see them smiling for once, since they usually have no luck with either the Gauls or the Romans. They get captured by the Romans in at least two other books coming up (two major classics as well).

        P.S.: the comments seem to appear and disappear on a whim here, have you noticed?

        1. Yeah, I typed a long reply earlier, which seems to have disappeared. The short follow up I added is still there, but now it’s against a different comment. If it doesn’t turn up I’ll retype it.

          1. I’m sorry, Dan. I don’t see it in the CRM behind the scenes. It’s not there. Sometimes, you might not see it because of cache reasons, but this time it’s just not there. I wish I knew why the comments system here was so buggy. It’s driving me nuts.

            In the meantime, if you have a longer comment, type it out in a different app — like Notepad or Textpad or whatever your text editor of choice is — and then copy and paste it in. This way, you’ll still have the original copy in another window if it doesn’t show up here. I hate that it’s come to that, but it’s all I have for now.

            And then, when you do submit a comment, give it a minute. They’re slow to post sometimes, and the pages is just as slow to refresh.

            1. Yeah. It’s possible I replied to yl my first comment too quickly and it hasn’t had time to post.

      2. Yeah have to be honest I also just assumed they were our pirates who’d been captured at some point. I hadn’t realised this was a thing. Interesting to hear it was.

      3. Re ‘blackleg’, sorry I’m a bit late to the party, but this word is very well-known slang in Britain for a worker who refuses to go on strike when his colleagues do so. Considering the emphasis on unions and labour relations in this story, that’s a pretty good pun (though of course not politically correct by today’s standards). I didn’t know ‘blackleg’ had any other meaning.

    2. Lots of jokes in Asterix don’t translate directly. Essentially the “translator” has to make up their own jokes instead. As a Welsh-speaker, I had the pleasure of reading both the English and Welsh translations, each of which has completely different jokes. (The Welsh translations are brilliant, by the way)

  2. Wow I love this book. So much so I was thinking I’d have loads to write up and say, but never has a review so perfectly captured my thoughts on a subject. Seriously Augie ticks just about every box I had in my head to comment on.

    Innovative ‘attack by the Romans making it a really strong story = check

    Strongest satire to date = check

    The epic scale of the piece, right from the off with the view of the future from the models = check

    The fact that this future vision and they way it impacts on the village and uses their oh so human weaknesses creates real danger and tension = check

    The fact that the village is beautifully developed, its now fully formed characters are they very heart of the story = check

    The way the slaves are actually analogue to the modern workforce rather than a commentry on slavery = check

    The fact that the representation of Numbrians is still problematic but improved, at least they are realised as individuals and the slavers leader is a strong character in his own right = check

    Even the gimme that Squaronthehypotenus is the best pun in the comic all I’m doing in nodding in dumb argeement before giving this, the best comic to date a solid

    13 out of 10

    In my head there is only one better than this and I’m really excited to see if that proves to be true.

  3. P.S. re. one of Augie’s comments: the “no future in slavery” bit is from the slave’s POV. In other words, a slave doesn’t have many prospects in life, which is sort of drily funny the way it’s said by the Numibian. Slavery itself of course would go on to prosper for centuries.

    And: the panel picturing the different nationalities is clearly a reflection on how the authors see each one, or at least how they believe these ethnicities are/were perceived. So it’s obviously a little offensive, since the Spaniards are portrayed as a very proud people, the Germans very rigid and organized, and the Africans and the Portuguese… broken and resigned. So not politically correct, but funny in its use of cliches. And as Augie says, the Numibian chief is given dignity, and the issue of slavery / freedom is actually brought up (the discussion about it in the village, about how the birds are more free than the slaves), so I guess they make up for their cultural insensitivities that way.

    Anyway, the gentrification attempt is all great, funny, clever stuff. And the bard gets to play a part in saving the village. How often does that ever happen!

  4. It looks like short posts make it through, so attempt six…

    Right, let’s type this again…

    This book is awesome. An easy 5/5. It’s really a toss-up whether this or Asterix and the Roman Agent is my favourite so far (and probably over all).

    My assumption about the pirates is pretty much the same as Montana Kane, so I’m fine with that.

    I’m surprised that the recent remaster still has the Numidian’s lips coloured in bright red. It would make the art a lot less offensively stereotyped if they just coloured them brown. My copy lists the English translation as from 1973 and lists the first printing as 1975 – though it doesn’t say which year it was printed. The Numidian slave leader is written as reasonably clever and articulate with no noticeable accent, so that’s something.

    One intersecting thing. In two different depictions I’ve seen in the last few years of the famous World War 1 football match between the Brits and the Germans, the whole thing started with the Germans singing Silent Night – which is exactly what the Goths sing in this. I’m assuming that wasn’t a deliberate reference, but you never know.

  5. Part two attempt three:

    My favourite gag in the book is Obelix pointing out that he’s never seen a tree grow. That made me chuckle out loud.

    There’s some great character design in this book for Squaronthehypotenus. I’m always impressed at how Uderzo manages to give different characters their own physical mannerisms.

  6. Part three attempt seven!!! (ever shrinking parts):

    I’ve just noticed that from Asterix and Spain right through to the end of Goscinny’s books, this alternates between travelling stories and village based stories. I’m not sure if that was a plan or just how it turned out.

  7. AAAAARGH – I’ve got one paragraph left and it just won’t go through.

    Basically it was pointing out how a later book (the one about money and menhirs) expands on a part of this one.

    I am really beginning to hate WordPress

    1. Here is the offending paragraph backwards. If this is works, it’s the only thing that will:


      .oC dna xilebO fo sisab eritne eht hcum ytterp si siht sa ,oot sgel dah aedi taht thguoht ynnicsoG ylraelC .noitasilaicremmoc eht otni dekcus gnitteg detrats egalliv eht woh dekil I

      1. My guess, from various attempts (and failures) to post in the past is that there is a timeout. If the comment takes too long to write, the page won’t react properly.

  8. Hi everyone — I’m extremely sorry about the comments situation around here. I’m not happy about it, to say the least. The comments that are disappearing never even show up on the back end. I wish it was the case that they were being held for moderation or something silly like that. I think it might be the theme code. I might test a different theme just to see, so if the site looks weird at all in the next couple of days, that might be it. There are other settings I’ve changed in the back-end that aren’t showing up in practice on the site right now. It might be theme-related.

    Yeah, and in the meantime, as annoying as it might be, try spreading your thoughts across multiple posts, one paragraph per post, until this is straightened out. As annoying as that is, it’s better than losing lots of text.

    I’ll update you with whatever I find.Hopefully, I’ll find something, even if I have to change themes to fix it.

    1. If it helps, I seem to have the same problem whether I post through your website or through the WordPress app. I would guess that the WordPress app bypasses the theme, but I might be wrong.

      You have my sympathies. I’m a software developer too. My experience is mainly Oracle and C#. I have dabbled in websites a bit though and in my experience, websites are really weird.

      1. Technically, my job description is “Senior Web Developer,” but I don’t touch PHP in the day job. The more worrisome thing now is that comments get lost in the app, too. Then I have to wonder if it’s not my server at fault. I’m using cheap hosting, but it should still be strong enough to handle small text comments on pages like this. The API the app uses shouldn’t have timeout issues. But, you know how it goes: You can only test for one thing at a time. So I’ll try a little of everything. 😉

  9. I’m trying to remember what was in my original post, so bear with me.
    I was following up on Montana’s original remark, that at this point Goscinny fires up on all cylinders with the puns, mostly based on topical French language references, and litteral antique-isations/translations of anglicisms that were beginning to creep up into our vocabulary (conduisez-dedans = drive-in, amphoreville = bidonville = slum). As a consequence, that must be extremely hard for Bell and Hockridge to keep up.
    At the same time, Goscinny addresses very deep societal subjects; here the real estate development of massive blocks of construction in the suburbs of larges cities (especially Paris, but not just), similar to Council Estates in the UK and Projects in the US. The objective being to provide cheap housing to the masses of immigrants flowing from North Africa after decolonization/independence. Previous waves were essentially coming from the south of Europe (Italians, Portuguese and Spanish, with a sprinkle of Poles), so this one is a big cultural difference. The term ‘Numide’ specifically identifies someone coming from Algeria or Tunisia, so mostly arabs but also Kabyles and some christians. A true melting pot. But as you see, caricaturing ethnical differences was not the touchy subject it is today.
    This album also uses as a backdrop the concrete-ification of the French Riviera (Nice, Cannes, the whole coast down there) which by then was mostly small fishing villages fast turning into tourist traps and flashy-looking housing for semi-rich parisian yuppies. Headlines were made at the time with such projects crumbling down in bankruptcy or unfinished for lack of proper management or plain old crookedness from the developers.
    Goscinny will go further down on capitalism in Obelix & Co. soon.
    Have we ever explained the origin of the Pirates here? They come from a friendly rivalry between Goscinny/Uderzo and Charlier/Hubinon authors of the second most popular strip in Pilote, Barbe Rouge the Pirate. Qet in the 17th century, this series features Redbeard himself, his son Eric, Baba (The big black guy) and Triple-pattes (the old pegleg in blue).
    Here is a group picture on this page. (Scroll down a bit)
    http://www.dargaud.com/Le-Mag/Exclusivite/Pilotorama-cartes-de-voeux-les-bonus-Pilote

    1. This seems to confirm my timeout hypothesis. What I did here:

      1/ refresh the page
      2/ cut and paste the whole text from a notebook app
      3/ post immediately

      Still, this is annoying as hell but at least I have a workaround.

      1. I don’t know. I did that many many times yesterday and it still didn’t go through.

      2. Interesting. Thanks for the idea. I’m going to go dig into that. It might not be a coincidence that I’m only losing posts on longer articles… Theoretically, there’s a setting somewhere to extend that time out. I’m going to go dig through some WordPress documentation.

    2. I didn’t know that about the pirates. I guess that blonde guy who we only saw in the very first appearance of the pirates (and who looked really out of place) must be Redbeard’s son then.

      1. Actually yeah, he was whit haired, not blonde. That’s the guy I was thinking of. I can see why they didn’t use him past the first appearance.

      1. you’re welcome.
        For some reason, swashbucklers were very much in fashion in early 70s France; borne of the Burt Lancaster movies showing up on our TV screen on Tuesday nights in FR3’s ‘La Derniere Seance’ to the ‘Corsaires et Flibustiers’ TV show that was one of my favourites as a kid.
        It became sort of a running gag in Asterix everytime they were on water, in the same way that other Pilote series were immersed in a ‘bullpen’ atmosphere similar to early Marvel. For example Goscinny aand Charlier themselves were frequent guests in humour series like Achille Talon.

    3. I keep putting off doing a big explanation of the pirates, figuring eventually they’ll be an even bigger star in a book. Or, I’ll just do a post about the pirates all its own. But there’s not much I can add after “They’re based on this other comic from the time,” so I keep putting it off. There is a graphic I’ve seen floating around a few Asterix-related sites that show the two sets of characters next to each other, and that makes it obvious. Thanks for the link to the postcards. I loved seeing them all, but seeing the pirates alone like that is a little mind-blowing at this point. It’s like Uderzo’s drawings just matured, even though it’s really the other way around.

          1. Yup, that’s the one I was thinking about. And since it’s on Wikipedia, it’s likely free to copy and distribute, which explains why I’ve seen it elsewhere, too.