Artist: Albert Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion Books (a division of Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1963
Time for misunderstandings, mistaken identities, magic potion, and a war that causes peace. “Asterix and the Goths” is the next book on The Asterix Agenda.
The Continuing Story of Asterix
“Asterix” isn’t a serialized adventure. Every book stands alone. That isn’t to say there isn’t some continuity.
In the second volume, “Asterix and the Golden Sickle,” Asterix and Obelix headed to Lutetia (Paris) to get a Golden Sickle for Getafix ahead of his big Druid Conference.
In “Asterix and the Goths,” the book starts with Getafix heading off to that conference.
Don’t worry; that’s about as far as continuity goes, this early in the series. Later on, you’ll see the occasional recurring character or addition to the mythology, but you can still read these in most any order and get something out of it.
Once again, Asterix is protective of the Druid. The conference is in the middle of the forest and, Asterix says, it’s a long and dangerous road to get there. While only Druids are allowed at the conference, Asterix and Obelix accompany Getafix to the edge of the woods, to make sure they deliver him there in one piece and get him back afterwards.
There are two things which should help ensure a peaceful conference. First, the Romans have guards at the border of the Gaulish region and Germania, the Goth’s region. Second, there is a truce with the Romans during the conference.
What could possibly go wrong?
For starters, the Goths have a plan to kidnap the Druid of the Year from the conference to give them the upper hand in their dealings with Rome, amongst others.
And, long story short, they are successful. Since Getafix is named the Druid of the Year (see image above), Asterix and Obelix are called to duty.
What follows is a whole section of the book that feels like a Keystone Kops movie gone awry. It’s a crazy race through the forest, with everyone trying to capture someone different.
With Asterix and Obelix playing dress-up to look like Romans at one point and Goths at another, the whole thing gets very confusing, very fast. (It’s confusing for the characters, not the readers who get to enjoy the antics.)
It’s confusing for Obelix, too, which is a bit troublesome.
Nobody knows who they’re looking for or who they are even after they’ve found them. The Romans drive themselves so crazy in their attempts that they wind up at war with themselves, and their leader can only bang his head against the wall for letting it get out of hand.
There’s lots of great physical and verbal humor in the sequence, which is probably my favorite part of this book, and my favorite sequence in the series so far.
Echoes of Story Past
As with “Asterix and the Golden Sickle,” there’s a running gag where Asterix and Obelix are thrown into jail repeatedly, only to break out whenever they want. In the last book, it happened in Lutetia. Here, it’s deep in Goth territory, so it’s not like the same characters are making the same mistake twice.
There’s a clever inversion of a gag from “Golden Sickle” in here, too. Druid tricks the jailers into bringing him ingredients for his magic potion. In “Golden Sickle,” he was faking them out and making soup. In “Goths,” it’s the reverse: he’s actually making magic potion, but under the guise of making a soup as his own last meal.
The Mad Genius of Goscinny
Here’s where Goscinny’s genius shines in this book. It isn’t enough that our three favorite Gaul villagers are free to leave the Goth camp and return home through their own power. They know the Goths are strong enough to come back after them. While they’re easy enough to defeat, who wants that kind of constant hassle?
No, they need to distract the Goths into finding a worse enemy so that they stay busy elsewhere and leave Gaul alone.
With the careful application of Magic Potion, they are able to basically start a Civil War in Germania. The Goths are a power mad people, as it turns out. Give enough of them some power, and see what they do. As soon as they think they’re invincible, their immediate plan is to raise an army and take control. But if multiple people get that same dose of magic potion, how many factions might be willing to fight? It’s the start of a whole new war.
In fact, there’s one memorable page near the end with 12 panels on it, where Goscinny lays out how The Asterixian Wars played out, pitting one side against the other against the other against the other. He packs in more puns, in addition to everything else. He really milks the Electric and Metric jokes….
It’s a clever commentary on war and the madness of power hungry people, while also being an ingenious plan on Getafix’s part to “spread a bit of disorder and confusion.”
Hyperanalysis: Some More Genius of Uderzo
This panel jumped out at me. It’s so deceptively simple, yet says an awful lot about Uderzo’s skills:
It’s just three people walking towards the reader, isn’t it? Yes, it is. But Uderzo isn’t boring with it.
Each of the three characters in the panel is walking in a different way. You could throw a mirror between Asterix and Obelix and see that their legs are mirror images of each other. Even with that, their arms are different, their heads are pointing in different directions, and they’re even tilting differently.
Getafix and Asterix are gesturing with different hands in different positions, while their back hands are doing different things, too. Asterix is holding his behind his back, while Getafix’s back hand is kind of clawed up and out to the side a bit.
Getafix’s back foot angles differently from the others, too. You can see the little motion lines by his feet, almost as if Uderzo is showing us that his walk is a little unsteady in comparison to the two younger people in the panel.
Getafix and Asterix are both walking straight ahead, but are tilted on opposite axes. Obelix is actually walking straight up, maybe with a bit of a tilt forward. Three characters, three different walks.
There’s a term in animation called “twinning.” It basically says that a character’s body should never be symmetrical. That’s boring. Here’s a great explanation of it, and here are some great “Emperor’s New Groove” examples. None of these characters are twinning. There are angles all over the place.
Uderzo would repeat this kind of skill on 12 panels every page and 48 pages in every story. The math is mind-boggling.
Obelix still hasn’t talk about those crazy Romans yet, but the hand gesture he uses for that shows up twice in this book.
This is the first book in the series the doesn’t mention the fear of the sky falling in it. It’s mentioned in the first two books, as I remember, by different people. It’s a gag that Uderzo would expand on for his final book before retirement, “Asterix and the Falling Sky.” That one’s a doozy, but we’re quite a ways away from it, thank goodness. Don’t worry, we’ll get there…
Best Names of the Book
Goscinny (and Bell and Hockridge) load this book up with new names. It’s a treasure trove of puns. We are first introduced to the Goths who have names like Atmospheric, Prehistoric, Tartaric, and Esoteric. They are led by the great and wonderful Choleric.
My favorite names from the lesser characters, though, are the pair of Roman soldiers we first meet on the Germanic border, named Arteriosclerosus and Gastroenteritus.
After that, the first new Druid we are introduced to has to be given credit, as well:
Valuaddetax! “VAT’, for short, I’m sure.
Cursing in Asterix
Here’s one that wouldn’t slip by today:
Look, Goscinny went relatively light-handed in the German references in this book. Later in the series, Goscinny would push harder to put in as many cultural references as he can to the country that Asterix is visiting.
Here, we have a sight gag involving a swastika in reference to a German character swearing.
I just hope Germany doesn’t block my IP for pointing this out…
OK, One Continuity Question
Obelix fell into a vat of Magic Potion as a baby, so he has full time strength. Everyone else needs to drink it to get the power. If the Magic Potion existed when Obelix was a baby, that means it’s been around for at least, what, 20 years?
Getafix is the only one who can make the Magic Potion.
In this volume, he’s sure he’s going to win the Druid of the Year competition —
— and Asterix comments that the Magic Potion will be the reason:
Shouldn’t Getafix win every year with that same old trick? It’s a very impressive one.
It sounded to me like they all thought he was going to win because the potion was new since the last conference. Assuming the conference is annual, why does Getafix think this year is different than the last bunch of years he also had the poison?
Or is this the kind of question that Goscinny or Uderzo will answer in a much later volume, like maybe the one where we find out how Obelix fell into the Potion? It’s been too long since I read that one…
Yes! Eventually this won’t hold true, but right now every book is better than the last.
While there is some repetition in this storyline from previous ones, it’s only minor points. The things that Goscinny and Uderzo do with recurring characters and running gags are all valuable things. The scenes of everyone running around the forest trying to find each other still makes me laugh. And Goscinny’s end game with “The Asterixian Wars” is so inspired, it’s crazy.
— 2018.011 —
Buy It Now
The original British edition:
The new American English edition:
We march on to “Asterix the Gladiator.” Be prepared for lots of fighting. The Romans are going to feel some pain….