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Asterix and the Golden Sickle is the second book in the famous Asterix series by Goscinny and Uderzo and first appeared in 1960. The story begins with the little Gaulish village at peace and everyone quietly and happily pottering around until a great commotion is suddenly heard from a nearby oak tree. Asterix and Obelix, who had been enjoying an alfresco lunch of wild boar, rush over with the other Gauls to discover that the source of the fuss is none other than their druid Getafix who is clambering down from the tree looking highly annoyed. 'By Belenos, Toutatis and Belisama!' declares Getafix. 'I've broken my golden sickle!' This is a very serious development indeed for without his golden sickle Getafix can't cut the mistletoe for the magic potion which makes the Gauls invincible and keeps the Romans at bay. Asterix and Obelix are duly dispatched to Lutetia to buy a new golden sickle from Obelix's sicklesmith cousin Metallurgix but when they get there they find Metallurgix has mysteriously vanished and that something very strange and dodgy is going on in the golden sickle market...
I was a little underwhelmed by the first two or three Asterix books I read after returning to the stories after a long break but I'm starting to get to some of the really good stuff now and Asterix and the Golden Sickle certainly qualifies to be ranked alongside the better entries in the long running and popular series. There is a genuine plot and mystery for Asterix and Obelix to solve here which helps a lot with the strange disappearance of Metallurgix and the nervous and very secretive attitude of some locals in Lutetia towards them when they express their desire to buy a golden sickle building up a certain amount of curiosity in the reader as this intrigue abounds. The trip to Lutetia (present-day Paris) is fun with Asterix and Obelix stifling yawns as they duff up various bandits who try to jump them in the forest on the way and the panels that depict the approach to the city are nicely drawn. 'These Romans are ruining the landscape with all these modern buildings!' grumbles Asterix.
There are a lot of great jokes in Asterix and the Golden Sickle. The Roman Prefect of Lutetia is drawn to look like the actor Charles Laughton and is always lounging around incredibly bored picking at food as Asterix and Obelix keep being brought before him a recurring joke. 'All right, right, release these Gauls. I find them tiring. What a bore, what a bore...' One of the funniest running jokes in Asterix and the Golden Sickle is how Asterix and Obelix keep meeting the same drunken prisoner whenever they are put (or more accurately allow themselves to be placed) in Roman jail. This inebriated prisoner staggers around with a red nose looking completely confused and frequently becomes mixed up in the mayhem Asterix and Obelix cause although he is rather oblivious to it all naturally. The drawings of this character are very amusing and he has a great bit where he samples some of the magic potion with comical results.
Asterix plots are sometimes rather simple but I quite like the central mystery in this one where you are never quite sure who the real villain is until the end and travel along with Asterix and Obelix as they meet various shady characters and attempt to work out what has happened to Metallurgix. I love the underground cavern stuff and the stone structures of the strange forest that Asterix and Obelix venture into - despite it being a place everyone else desperately wants to avoid. The art is not quite so crisp and colourful here as it is in some of the later Asterix books but it's still highly enjoyable and inventive. One bit I was a little uncomfortable with though concerns a few panels where Asterix and Obelix shoo away some wolves in the forest by throwing them around by their tails and booting them away etc. There is a lot of stuff in Tintin and Asterix that you couldn't get away with today and these panels fall into this category and seem a little unnecessary.
There are a number of firsts in Asterix and the Golden Sickle. Obelix is now almost an equal character with Asterix and a vital part of the adventure. Obelix is a more human counterpoint to the shrewd and driven Asterix and - while more than willing to play his part in any quest - is often a bit slow on the uptake and has a recurring weakness for fighting and scoffing wild boar at the first opportunity. This story marks the first journey outside the village for the two characters and also begins the running joke where Cacofonix the Bard is tied to a tree or something to stop him from singing whenever the Gauls have their big slap-up celebration banquet. The big slap-up celebration banquet under a starry sky is one of my favourite parts of Asterix and always makes me smile. No sign yet of the comical pirates that are always scuttling their ship though.
While I found my attention drifting now and again with the first two or three Asterix books I dug out to read recently I really enjoyed Asterix and the Golden Sickle from start to finish. It has an interesting and well devised story, some great supporting characters, a few twists and turns and the usual amusing ruminations on Roman society as Asterix and Obelix attempt to complete their mission with intrigue, fights, bandits, spooky forests and plenty of wild boar. Perhaps not all of the jokes translate smoothly into English but there are still plenty of funny moments and panels and a good deal of invention and fun on offer here. This is one of the better of the Asterix books I've encountered since I began reading them all again and highly recommended. Asterix and the Golden Sickle is timeless fun for all ages.
For those who've never seen an Asterix book before, it's not about the adventures of an *. It's a comic book series (nothing like the Marvel comics, but it's cartoons in differentiated cells, so I guess it must be classed as a comic) about the adventures of the eponymous hero, Asterix, a cunning little warrior. He is always accompanied by his best friend Obelix, a menhir delivery man. While perfect for children, there is a lot about the books that can appeal to adults as well. The stories are set in Gaul (approximately equivalent to modern-day France) in the first century, where all Gual is under Roman occupations...
Well, all except one...
There is a little village in Gaul that remains undefeated by the Romans. This is due to the incredible strength they receive from magic potion brewed by the Druid Getafix. With the upcoming Great Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids coming up, now would not be a time to break his sickle which is of course what happens. And good sickles dont grow on trees, you know the only ones he considers worth using are those made by Obelixs distant cousin Metallurgix in faraway Lutetia. So, off go Asterix and Obelix to Lutetia but all is not what it appears and Metallurgix is nowhere to be found
Asterix and the Golden Sickle is classic Asterix. The drawing is well up to scratch and just as energetic as youd expect, and the humour consistently hits the spot. Early on when while walking through part of the forest known for dangerous bandits, Asterix and Obelix have a conversation while absent-mindedly bashing the bandits. On seeing an Aquaduct being built, Asterix complains that the Romans are ruining the countryside with their engineering. A Roman in a chariot rushing past on the road, only to be pulled up for speeding. Heavy traffic congestions pinch points are known as amphora-necks instead of bottle-necks. Obelix leaving his menhir in the cloak room with a dainty female attendant who surely couldnt have lifted it and poor old Cacofonix (the bard) continues to have his musical.. um genius unappreciated
Though the Asterix series is really seen as something for children, for a quick (okay, very quick), enjoyable read, its great for adults as well. There are many little things that you will notice (some of those mentioned in the preceding paragraph, for instance) that a child simply would not understand, or at least would fail to understand why it was funny. The attention to detail in these books is fantastic, and you may have to read it several times before every nuance of the text or tiny detail in the drawings will be apparent. Even the names are funny, but how funny they are depends on how much you know for instance, when I read this as a child, the name Metallurgix was just a name, but now of course I know that Metallurgy (Metallurgics) is the process of developing, testing, and refining metals. So if you ever read some of the Asterix books when you were young and still have them, try reading them again Im sure youll see them quite differently.
Theres nothing really that could have been better about this. Goscinny and Uderzos creations continue to be one of the most enduringly popular series of comic books (or, for that matter, any books) ever made and with good reason. Asterix and the Golden Sickle is another one no fan of the series would want to miss out on.
The RRP of £9.99 is pretty off-putting but Amazon does ave it for £6.99. Still, if you look through second-hand shops you might well be able to find one very cheaply in decent condition. The fact that you can re-read the book an almost infinite number of times and still enjoy it makes up for the cost though.