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!
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
Original Title: “Le Tour de Gaule d’Astérix”
There IS a Plot…
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:
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.
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…
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
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.
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 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.
The Roman general who picks this fight with Asterix is named General Overanxius.
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.
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.
— 2018.018 —