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Asterix and the Goths is the third book in the famous series by Goscinny and Uderzo and was first published in 1963. The story follows on from the events of Asterix and the Golden Sickle and begins with a cheerful Getafix about to set off for the annual druids' conference in the Forest of Carnutes. Asterix and Obelix decide to walk with Getafix to the conference to make sure he arrives there safely but are told they must wait for him outside as non-druids are not allowed into this famous event. When they reach their destination, Getafix goes on to the conference where he meets all of his druid friends and they compete in a contest to see who has come up with the most extraordinary magic potion. Asterix and Obelix wait in the forest lazing around and munching wild boar while this event goes on but - unknown to them - a group of Goths have decided they will kidnap the druid who wins the contest to help them in their planned invasion of Gaul and Rome. After watching Getafix's super strength magic potion win first prize the Goths ambush him and make off with the druid. When Asterix and Obelix learn that Getafix has vanished they find a a Visigoth helmet nearby and quickly deduce what has happened before setting off to rescue him...
Although it begins wonderfully well, Asterix and the Goths is not one of the best entries in the series and becomes a little tiresome after a while. I did enjoy though the idea of the druids' conference in the Forest of Carnutes (which we first heard about in Asterix and the Golden Sickle) and it's great fun to see Gatafix mingling with all his merry white bearded colleagues with their cloaks, white robes and golden sickles. They have a big banquet in the forest and swap terrible jokes and talk shop ('I picked up this sickle in a little shop in Dariorigum. Look, it's got a safety-catch!') before the big event. This is great fun too and we see druids make flowers appear from nowhere and rain fall from the sky. One even invents powdered soup so that it can be carried in things smaller than a cauldron! The druids' conference in the Forest of Carnutes is so enjoyable you sort of wish the whole story had revolved around it but sadly it only lasts a few pages before the book turns into Asterix and Obelix wandering around the forest bashing Romans and looking for the Goths. A whole story set at a druids conference could have been really interesting.
Various capers ensue with Asterix and Obelix disguising themselves first as legionaries and then as Goths - which enables them to get into the Goth barracks and pose as members of the army. For some reason all of this was much funnier in Asterix the Legionary and I found my attention drifting once or twice. Albert Uderzo later expressed some regret at the way the Goths were depicted and said the story was drawn when memories of the war were not that old. The Goths have hats like nineteenth century German soldiers and are purely villainous and militaristic. There is even a Nazi type symbol when we see a Goth arena. There is just something a bit off about all of this even if we remember it was written and drawn a long time ago. The Vikings were depicted as villains in Asterix but in a much more interesting way. Other cultures are generally celebrated for all their quirks and customs in Asterix, be they Swiss or Belgian or Spanish, and it's unsurprising that when the Goths returned in later books they were softened and depicted as more likeable.
There is a lot of identity confusion in Asterix and the Goths with Asterix and Obelix posing as both Romans and Goths and creating much confusion. The comic elements never quite seem as satisfying as they do in many other Asterix books with all the plotting and playing off of different groups becoming a little wearing. One amusing subplot that is quite good fun concerns a Gaulish-Gothic translator named Rhetoric desperately attempting to get Getafix to talk and share the secrets of the magic potion. His life of course depends on making the druid spill the beans and it's quite amusing when he falls into the hands of Asterix and Obelix and pretends he can't speak Gaul in an attempt to save his bacon. The Goths speak in a bold font to indicate they are speaking in a foreign language and have names like Tartaric, Esoteric, Atmospheric, Prehistoric and Choleric. The story does have an interesting and clever final flourish where the Gauls decide they must come up with a preventive plan to stop the Goths from invading their country and we are treated to a one page comic within a comic called 'The Asterixian Wars'.
As this an early Asterix volume the art in my copy is a little less crisp and polished than the later Asterix books and gives the volume a slightly different atmosphere. There is still much to enjoy though like the opening panels of the little Gaul village where ducks swim in the stream, birds fly above the thatched huts and Cacofonix the bard sweeps musical notes from his tree house onto an annoyed neighbour below! The panels depicting the annual druids' conference in the Forest of Carnutes are also very enjoyable - the druids competing for the Golden Menhir prize! The sections that have the characters in the Goth homeland are good too (Uderzo's dungeons and underground dwellings are always excellent) but although the Goth arena panels are fine they don't hold a candle to the spectacular and grand illustrations of Roman arenas in things like Asterix the Gladiator and The Mansions of the Gods. The recurring comic pirates who always end up scuttling their ship don't appear in Asterix and the Goths but I believe this was the first time that we see Cacofonix bound and gagged so that he can't sing at the traditional slap-up celebration banquet that is a favourite staple of Asterix books.
I found Asterix and the Goths to be a slight disappointment on the whole with the fantastic cover and early promise of the druid shenanigans leading one to anticipate a classic Asterix story. Sadly, the early promise was never quite sustained for me and this became one of the rare Asterix volumes where I found my attention wandering once or twice as the story unfolded. It's still good fun at times but Asterix and the Goths is perhaps not at the top table of Asterix stories where the likes of Asterix in Switzerland and The Mansions of the Gods take pride of place.