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Asterix and the Great Divide is the twenty-fifth book in the famous series and was first published in 1980. The book was the first to be devised and illustrated by Uderzo alone after the death of the great Asterix writer Rene Goscinny. While I feel that the Asterix volumes (Asterix and the Land of Black Gold apart which was surprisingly good) showed a steady decline after the death of Goscinny, Asterix and the Great Divide is a decent first effort by the now solitary Uderzo and by no means a bad book. The story revolves around a Gaul village very similar to the one in which Asterix and his friends live. This village though is split right down the middle, quite literally, by a ditch dug to divide both sides. The party of the right is governed by Chief Majestix and the party of the left is governed by Chief Cleverdix. The 'cold war' between the two different parts of the village is kept going by suspicion, bitterness and the occasional mass brawl between the followers of the two chiefs. However, there are two villagers who wish all of this nonsense would end.
Histrionix, the son of Chief Cleverdix, and the beautiful Melodrama, the daughter of Chief Majestix, are in love but, as they live on separate sides of the village divide and their fathers are deadly rivals, they can only meet in secret when Histrionix climbs up to her balcony in the moonlight. Matters become more serious when Codfix - the repulsive and untrustworthy advisor to Chief Majestix - tells his boss that he can bring the Romans in on their side and help make Majestix the one and only chief of the whole village. All Codfix wants in return is Melodrama's hand in marriage. Melodrama gets word of this worrying news to Histrionix who is then dispatched by his father Chief Cleverdix to the village where Asterix lives to ask for help. Cleverdix fought at Alesia with Chief Vitalstatistix and Vitalstatistix sends Asterix, Obelix and Getafix the druid to the troubled village to see if they can somehow restore order and keep the Romans from interfering.
Asterix and the Great Divide, as you'd probably expect, has a slightly different atmosphere to the previous books in the series. Although Codfix is quite a creepy character and responsible for much skullduggery, the story feels a trifle lightweight compared to some of the Goscinny books. Uderzo borrows heavily from Romeo and Juliet here and the divided village is an obvious metaphor for the Berlin Wall. The opening panels are a lot of fun as we are introduced to life in this village. Villagers from opposite sides blow raspberries at each other across the ditch and there is a recurring joke where a house has opted for neutrality and is split right down the middle with the ditch inbetween. The occupant of the house constantly falls in the ditch whenever he is told his dinner is ready by his wife on the other side!
The art isn't as memorable here as some of the best Asterix books and has a different feel at times with the anthropomorphic Codfix, who is drawn to look like some strange fish person. The moonlight panels of the clandestine balcony meeting between Histrionix and Melodrama are very pleasant though. Also of note is the panel where Histrionix rides away from the village on his mission to Chief Vitalstatistix and he stops his horse and looks back to see the white smoke from the little chimneys has all morphed into an image of Melodrama. Another thing I quite enjoyed about Asterix and the Great Divide was a slightly larger role for Getafix the druid. The story is almost like a battle of wits between him and Codfix with plenty of plots and plans and shenanigans over elixirs and the secret magic potion. There are one or two surreal flourishes that I could take or leave in the story where the various potions of Getafix are taken by the Romans, who promptly inflate like beach balls and then shrink until even little Dogmatix looks like a giant.
The story here is decent enough but far less interesting than some of the more memorable (and often darker) plots devised by Goscinny in classics like Asterix in Switzerland and Asterix and the Roman Agent. Asterix and the Great Divide lacks the flame flickering dungeons and cellars and the Roman intrigue that features in many of the very best volumes in the series. Another slight problem here is that with the introduction of the other village there are an unusually large number of characters for the story to juggle. This, plus Codfix and the Romans, means Asterix and Obelix are absent for pages at a time and don't really come through strongly as characters in the manner that they do in many other entries in the series. I quite like the Asterix books where we see more of the people who live in his own village - like Chief Vitalstatistix, Unhygenix the fishmonger and Geriatrix - as they are great characters but here they don't feature much after an amusing free for all brawl scene at the beginning of the book where several people get hit in the face with a wet fish in the traditional Asterix village brawl style.
Happily though, the comical pirates who feature in most of the Asterix books do return and are woven into the story a little more than usual. Asterix and the Great Divide is a decent first effort by Uderzo but is certainly no Asterix and the Golden Sickle or The Mansions of the Gods. I think Uderzo probably fared better with Asterix and the Land of Black Gold although he lost the plot completely with Asterix and Son. It's no classic but Asterix and the Great Divide has enough jokes and nice panels to make it a relatively enjoyable addition to the series even if it is never quite up to the work Uderzo did alongside the late Rene Goscinny.