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Asterix was born and raised in a small village in the region of Armorica in Gaul. His parents, initially inhabitants of the small Gaulish village, eventually left the region and settled in the city of Condatum. Asterix, meanwhile, remained behind alongside his friend Obelix, and began working as a warrior.
Asterix and Caesar's Gift is the twenty-first book in the famous series by Goscinny and Uderzo and first appeared in 1974. The book begins in a bar in a 'disreputable part of Rome' where a drunken soldier named Tremensdelirious celebrates his last night in the army before a discharge for having completed twenty years of service. After getting a bit too loud and insulting Julius Caesar he is put in jail for the night but the next morning attends the discharge ceremony where Caesar himself will present the retiring soldiers with shares in land in the form of stone tablets. Caesar has been told about the permanently sozzled Legionary Tremensdelirious and how he insulted him the previous night and decides to play a joke on him. He gives Tremensdelirious a 'little village by the seaside in Armorica' at the passing out ceremony - the 'little village' being of course the very one where Asterix and all the invincible magic potion enhanced Gauls happily live. Tremensdelirious though is completely uninterested in any gift he can't drink and offers to swap his stone land deed tablet with a tavern landlord named Orthopaedix for a few more drinks.
After consulting his wife Angina, Orthopaedix agrees to the swap and they sell up and set off with their daughter Influenza for the village they now apparently own. On arrival, Orthopaedix asks to meet Chief Vitalstatistix and tells him that they must all leave as he now owns the village. His stone tablet with Caesar's name though is met with howls of laughter by the Gauls who wish them farewell and tell them they've been had. However, when Vitastatistix overhears the humiliated Orthopaedix being berated by his angry wife Angina it reminds him of his own occasional troubles with his family and he decides to help Orthopaedix by offering him an empty house to move into and open up as an inn. However, this move rebounds on him when Angina and Vitalstatistix's wife Impedimenta begin a frosty rivalry that leads to Angina making Orthopaedix stand to be the new leader of the village. Can the Romans take advantage of the resulting chaos caused by this village election?
Asterix and Caesar's Gift is another story in the series that is set in and around the Gaul village and these are always good fun I find. There are many great characters in the village and once again we get to see much more of them as the arrival of Orthopaedix and his family eventually causes a great deal of turmoil. The proposed election battle between Orthopaedix and Vitalstatistix is a gentle parody of real political campaigns and Angina is soon courting the villagers to secure potential votes for her husband. She buys smelly fish off Unhygienix which she tells him look delicious (her husband is given a spade and ordered to bury them in the back garden later) and compliments his wife on her 'elegant' fish gutting apron! Obelix is smitten with their daughter Influenza ('Zaza' for short) and therefore seems to side with the family while Geriatrix - the Alf Garnett of the village - sides with Vitalstatistix against these 'foreigners'. 'You know me, I've got nothing against foreigners, some of my best friends are foreigners, but these particular foreigners aren't from the village!'
The antics of the villagers as they begin to split into groups and debate the forthcoming vote makes Asterix and Caesar's Gift a very entertaining and amusing book in the series. I particularly enjoyed Cacofonix deciding to support Orthopaedix after Chief Vitalstatistix insults his singing yet again and the gossiping of the wives. It's always quite funny in Asterix how Geriatrix, despite being the oldest and grumpiest man in the village, has the youngest and most attractive wife in the form of the statuesque Brigitte Bardot lookalike Mrs Geriatrix. Mrs Geriatrix (who made her first appearance in Asterix and the Roman Agent) was never given a name but finds her position as the undisputed beauty of the village under threat here with the arrival of young Influenza and doesn't like it at all. 'As for that girl. She has the most appalling taste!' Yet again Asterix and Getafix the druid find themselves standing somewhat apart as the village goes bonkers with Getafix - of course - deciding that he must not interfere with the contest. 'There's a lot of bad feeling in the village.' Asterix tells Obelix. 'We musn't forget that we're still entirely surrounded by Romans.'
The art seems to be especially colourful and enjoyable in Asterix and Caesar's Gift and the opening page has a wonderful panel of a candle lit bar at night surrounded by cobbly streets and a small water fountain. I loved too Orthopaedix and his family in their horse drawn cart high on a hill and looking down at the Gaul village they believe is theirs for the first time. Smoke rises from the little chimneys and beyond the village are the blue waters of the sea and puffy clouds on the horizon. Uderzo's interiors are always a delight with the details of huts and inns with vases, stoned walls, barrels, flickering candles and fireplaces. I did find myself dwelling on some lovely panels in this one like Fulliautomatix pushing a cart of silver anvils and Vitalstatistix knocking on the door of Getafix's hut. In this latter panel the background includes a tiny waterfall, a thatched roof and birds swooping in to land on a little bird table.
I loved too the wonderful illustrations of huge Roman catapults and assault towers and it's fun to see Asterix get trapped in one of thse towers by the Romans without his magic potion. A brilliant line here too for Cacofonix when one of the stone boulders from the gigantic Roman catapults narrowly misses him and others during a public village debate between Orthopaedix and Chief Vitalstatistix. Asterix and Caesar's Gift is an excellent entry in the long running and popular series and proves to be consistently entertaining and enjoyable for readers of all ages. This is one of the better Asterix books and the lovely art and amusing political subtext makes it a lot of fun.
Many fans of the famous comic books starring the indomitable Gauls, who hold out against the Roman invasion in 50BC, would hold that there are 24 "real" books in the Asterix series - which is to say, those written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, rather than the later books entirely produced by Uderzo after Goscinny's death. "Asterix and Caesar's Gift" (Dooyoo's title is mis-spelt!) is number 21 in the series, having been published in France in 1974 and the UK three years later. As always, the English translators were the excellent team of Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, who deserve a huge amount of the credit for the series' success in Britain.
Unusually, this particular story does not open in the familiar surroundings of the village of the Gauls. Indeed, for the first few pages we follow events only in Rome, where a group of soldiers is about to receive their demob from Julius Caesar after twenty years' service in the army, together with deeds to plots of land. These soldiers include Tremensdelerius, a boozy fellow who by the second page of the book is already behind bars for making drunken insults of the Top Man just as a patrol enters the bar in which he is holding forth. I'd actually have liked to have seen more of the disreputable area of Rome in which this bar is situated, as the opening panel in particular is superbly evocative.
Caesar, who seems a considerably more likeable character by this stage in the series than he was in the earliest Asterix books, decides to deal with Tremensdelirius in an imaginative way. Rather than punishing him directly, he simply awards him a very special title deed: that to a certain Gaulish village in Armorica! However, cunning as he is, the dictator has reckoned without Tremensdelirius's willingness to sell anything in order to get his hands on a drink, and so the deed ends up in the possession of unsuspecting innkeeper Orthopaedix, his strong-willed wife Angina and their bored teenage daughter Influenza ("Zaza").
After some behind-the-scenes bargaining, the family open an inn in the village, a situation which does not please Vitalstatistix's wife Impedimenta: the tension between the two women becomes a running theme in the story. Orthopaedix himself is mostly shown as a basically sympathetic character too weak to influence his wife, perhaps rather an old-fashioned portrayal nowadays but effective nevertheless. Obelix, meanwhile, falls for Zaza in a big way, even taking her to the forest to pick boars, but she seems to prefer Asterix instead. This leads to some spikiness on Obelix's part, and indirectly to a brilliant Shakespeare-inspired sword fight scene later in the book, which also references another very well-known character from outside the Asterix universe.
Eventually things come to a head, and Vitalstatistix and Orthopaedix face off in an election for the post of village chief - even though they can get on quite well when their wives are out of the way - and only Geriatrix seeems to care very much about the village keeping its own head! This leads into some great parodies of electioneering, and in particular a very funny and well-observed scene of a public debate, which may well have been modelled on the real general election taking place in France in the year of this book's publication. In the background, however, the Romans are lurking, and they have not been idle in devising new ways to attack the Gauls...
"Asterix and Caesar's Gift" was not a particular favourite of mine when I first read it at the age of eight or so. I suspect, though, that this had more to do with my inability to appreciate the quite sophisticated and sly references to politics (both electoral and sexual!) than with anything else. These days I have a considerably higher regard for it and read it quite often. I wouldn't say it was in the very top rank of Asterix books, as it lacks the energy and spark of the elite - perhaps because the Roman legions play less of a direct part than normal until late on in the book - but it's a solid and enjoyable entry in the series.
The year is 50BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely
One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium
When Roman Legionaries come to the end of their twenty years service, they are given a gift from Caesar before they start life as a civilian. A nice little plot of land, maybe. Two soldiers, a Centurion called Egganlettus and a drunkard called Tremensdelerius, are celebrating the night before they receive their gift. As usual, Tremensdelerius has had a little too much to drink and is shouting JULIUSH CAESAR! HUH! WANT TO KNOW WHAT I THINK OF JULIUSH CAESAR? just as a General comes through the door
What will Caesar do to him? Throw him to the lions?
No, worse hes going to GIVE HIM A PRESENT!
But the present doesnt stay with Tremensdelerius for long he doesnt see the point of being the proud owner of a little Gaulish village. (Whats the good of a Gaulish village? Cant drink a Gaulish village, can I?) So it goes to landlord Orthopaedix, who travels there with wife Angina and daughter Influenza to claim whats his.
Only its that little village of indomitable Gauls mentioned earlier
This is one of the best Asterix books around. It has everything excellent, energetic, and inventive drawings by Uderzo, and witty text by Goscinny that has plenty to appeal to both adults and children. The plot is perhaps the best of any Asterix book Ive read, there is actually a lot of characterisation in here (I cant believe Im saying all this while reviewing what is essentially a comic book ), and there are some tremendous punch-lines throughout the books. Uderzos drawings really shines when it comes to portraying the character Termensdelerius he looks absolutely repulsive!
Two other things that make Asterix and Caesars Gift particularly stand out are the prominence in the plot given to Chief Vitalstatistix and his wife Impedimentia (both of whom are regular but underused characters in the books), and the rare use of a love interest for and subsequent rivalry between Asterix and Obelix. Occasional references to other literature / films (such as Asterix cutting a Z in someones tunic) also help keep it amusing and entertaining.
Asterix and Caesars Gift is a wonderful book for children and adults alike and the kids might even learn something from it! (Just dont tell them that )
As with all the Asterix books, the RRP is a rather pricey £9.99, with Amazon's UK site selling it at £6.99. On the Marketplace it's available from a little under £4. Look out for it in second hand shops or in part of a collection to get it cheaper.