“Asterix and the Normans” is a silly outing for the series, but still a lot of fun. Goscinny sets up a little dramatic premise, and then milks it with comedic bits for all its worth.
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion (Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1967
Original Title: “Astérix et les Normands”
Expanding the Village
This book starts in Asterix’s village, with a nice down angle wide shot and an introduction to the village’s mailman, Postfix.
It almost feels right off the bat like Goscinny is going to expand the Village a bit here. While we’ve had cameos from other Villagers over the first eight volumes, we’ve not yet met most of them. The stories tend to concentrate on the core four — Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, and Vitalstatistix — and everyone else falls into the background.
Unfortunately, the scope of the village doesn’t expand past Postfix. We meet some pretty young ladies who like to dance to popular music, but they don’t get names or anything. Putting a bigger spotlight on the rest of the villagers will have to wait for another album, I’m afraid.
By the way, take a look at that image of the village above. I have an unnatural love for this type of architecture. I’ve compared it to the Smurf Village before, because Uderzo has similar influences, but this is just so cool to look at.
Check out the thatched roofs and all the wooden pieces drawn in to the roof to keep the house in shape. Check out the different designs of just the houses we see in this panel. We get triangular and circular and square-ish homes all along the same walking path.
Uderzo adds in the little details, like the flowers in the window box, or the laundry hanging out the window (on the area where glass would go, if they had it at this point.) The alternating wooden sticks at the crest of the roof at the bottom of the panel is even interesting to me.
Who Are The Normans?
They’re Norse. They like proteins of all kind, so long as they come with a with a cream sauce. And they drink lots of cider as if it were a magic potion.
They are brutal, violent aggressors. But they can also be polite and informative, willing to share in the good times.
But they know no fear. That’s their problem. Though they’re feared by everyone else, they think that their own lack of fear might be a weakness. This book is about their attempt to learn about fear.
They figure they’ll just grab a random Gaul and get a quick introduction to the concept. As plans go, it’s not terribly well thought out at any level.
As a character type, I love them. They’re not exactly big dumb galoots. They are big and powerful and they don’t think things through, but they’re also deeply curious and trying hard in the course of this book to improve themselves. They want to learn something, but they’re going about it in the wrong way.
All of the Normans alternate between polite and informative, and then brutish and violent. It’s a great combination, perfect for a comedic presentation like this one.
Unfortunately for them, they’ve picked the wrong way to learn their lesson. They’re so ignorant about their problem, they don’t realize that they’ve picked the last person in the world to help them solve it.
Who’d They Pick?
The storyline in the village has to do with Chief Vitalstatistix’s nephew, Justforkix. He’s spending a few weeks with his uncle in the village to help toughen up.
But he doesn’t quite fit in. He tries to bring rock n roll music to the village, which gets a mixed reaction. Things go really south when he spots the Normans coming in from offshore. He finds this to be a reason to panic.
I can hear Justforkix delivering that line of dialogue so clearly in my head, though it’s usually with a period after each word, not so much the dashes.
Meanwhile, the village is ready to start a celebration, tripping over one another to go meet the Normans to pummel them.
But the Normans capture the fleeing Justforkix, and Asterix and Obelix are suddenly on a rescue operation. And as much fun as everything in the book leading up to that was, the Cray-Zee stuff starts there. The climactic concert scene cracked me up so much that I had to go back and read it twice for fun.
Oh, and there are some Romans in this book. They’re merely a running gag, showing up in places to get beaten up. It’s very funny, but not worth talking about much past this paragraph.
But here, Obelix doesn’t mind sharing with the Normans in the midst of battle agarke:
The Gauls and the Norman get along very well, when you think about it. They’re not that different. They’re both warriors who don’t like the Romans. They have bushy mustaches. I’m surprised they didn’t find a way to get along better in this book as the brothers they truly are.
Now, for some random thoughts from the issue:
Dogmatix Gets a Personality
In this book, we learn that Dogmatix is an environmentalist. He cries when Obelix accidentally uproots and tosses a tree.
I’m not spoiling anything. This is not a plot point.
It’s just something that happens suddenly, as Goscinny realizes Dogmatix isn’t going anywhere and he should graft a personality onto him.
Just thought I’d take note of it here.
The Chekov Factor
Here’s a strange scenario. I’m stretching on this one, but you never know….
There’s an old story (Apocryphal? I don’t know.) about the addition of Chekov’s character to “Star Trek” in its second season. It goes that he was added to appeal to a younger, female demographic that was more likely to be tuning into “The Monkees” than “Star Trek.” He was young, good looking, and had a trendy floppy haircut.
There’s a part of me that wonders if the publisher of “Pilote” didn’t send a memo to Goscinny that, while Asterix is excellent, he’s not appealing enough to the same kind of bubbly teenage fangirl that drove the success of The Monkees or The Beatles.
“Could you include a young, floppy-haired teenaged boy into the next Asterix adventure for me?” the memo would say.
And then Goscinny goes on to make him the butt of all the jokes and the wimpiest idiot in the book.
I’m making this all up, but it would be a great story, wouldn’t it?
This book (2004 print edition) has the worst reproduction problems of the series so far. There are panels in the second half of this book that look un-inked. The black linework is so shaky and unfinished that it’s distracting. Some pages also look like slightly out of focus, like they were photocopied from the original books and not rescanned or re-imaged from the original film.
Look at Cacofonix on the left panel in the 2004 edition of the book. His hair and shirt look so rough that you’d think they were still in pencils. They cleaned those up dramatically for the remastered 2010 edition on the right. The same goes for the line across the right side of the bagpipes.
The colors are a lot better, too. My scan takes a little bit of the saturation out of the colors on the left, but the colors in the new (digital, in this case) edition are bolder and work better. Also, Cacofonix’s hair is back to being its correct yellow, instead of white in this panel. And his shirt goes from something close to a plaid design to a polka dot pattern. That’s probably the biggest change, and part of me wonders if it was done like that because it’s an easier pattern to reproduce.
I also like that the patch on his bindle is a different color than the rest of the bag. It’s a small detail, but all those small details are what make the difference.
Punniest Name of the Month
Once again, you can’t go wrong with a new chief’s name. The Norman Chief Timandahaf wins this book. It’s particularly funny because I didn’t get it at first. I misread that “i” as a short “i” sound instead of a long “i.” “Tim and a Half” is only funny if you’re a fan of Dorf on Golf, and that’s an old and obscure joke now.
If you want to pick Justforkix as a name for a lazy spoiled teenager who drives a fancy Italian chariot and always wants to have a good time, I wouldn’t argue with you.
This book doesn’t have as many great names it as previous volumes, but it does use them to great effect. My favorite is near the end in this panel:
There’s also a bit of a repeated joke in this book about how the villagers find it funny that the Normans have names with a definite pattern to them. They find this laughable. That hypocrisy is what makes it so funny.
Yes, it’s a sillier story and the whole thing balances on your buying one crazy part of the premise — that they’d kidnap the kid, of all people — but the rest of it is good fun. The battle between Asterix/Obelix and the Normans works particularly well, both the mental and physical parts of it.
The solution to the problem is particularly ingenious, which is what I’ve come to expect from Goscinny.
This book is also the basis for an animated feature, “Asterix and the Vikings.” Check out The Complete Asterix and Obelix Streaming Guide to see where you might be able to watch that today.
One topic for discussion: Who would win in a fight? The Normans or the Goths?
— 2018.027 —
Buy It Now
The new editions have a dramatically different cover, not just a recolored one. It’s a bit busier, but I think I do like it more. Also, Justforkix’s hair is the correct color on this newer cover.
The tenth book in the series is perhaps my favorite, “Asterix the Legionary“. It’s silly, it’s goofy, it has a dash of history to it and a lot of familiar faces. It’s a romance, a war story, an office comedy, a buddy movie, and ten other things beautifully wrapped up into one 48 page package.