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Asterix and the Magic Carpet is the twenty-eighth book in the famous series by Goscinny and Uderzo and was first published in 1987. This is the fourth book Uderzo wrote and illustrated alone after the death of Goscinny and, like the previous entry Asterix and Son, is a far cry from the glory days of the series. The story begins with Chief Vitalstatistix making a speech at a big banquet to celebrate the rebuilding of the Gaulish village after the dramatic events of Asterix and Son. The Chief is just getting into his stride when he is interrupted by the famously awful singing of the bard Cacofonix. It appears that Cacofonix can now make it rain instantly when he sings - the terrible din coming from his hut sending the sun behind the clouds and opening the heavens. The resulting burst of heavy rain fells Watziznehm, an Indian fakir who had been flying overhead on his magic carpet.
Watziznehm is delighted to have landed in the village because he has been sent to find it. 'The Gods are with me! I've dropped in on the very village I was looking for. The village of madmen where a voice makes rain!' Watziznehm explains that he is from the distant Eastern Kingdom of Rajah Watzit, a place that has suffered from a terrible drought. If it doesn't rain there in 1001 hours then the evil Grand Vizier Hoodunnit plans to sacrifice Princess Orinjade, daughter of Rajah Wotzit. Hoodunnit pretends this sacrifice will end the drought but really has designs on the Rajah's throne and getting rid of the only heiress is vital to his plan. Watziznehm needs Cacofonix the bard to go to India with him and make it rain with his dreadful singing - thus ending the drought and saving Princess Orinjade. Chief Vitalstatistix agrees to help out and Watziznehm, Asterix, Obelix and Cacofonix duly set off on the magic carpet...
Asterix and the Magic Carpet is another disappointing solo Uderzo effort after the mediocre Asterix and Son and never really all comes together into a satisfying book. It opens nicely with a lovely panel of the village with birds flying ahead and the sea in the background. It's funny when the (somewhat pompous) speech of Vitalstatistix is interrupted by Cacofonix and I love the look on his face when he first hears the singing. He (amusingly) decides to take an axe to the famous tree house of the bard! 'This would try the patience of Toutatis himself! Right, I said come down!' The fact that Cacofonix can now apparently induce rain with his singing is a new development and seems slightly contrived for plot purposes. This and the arrival of Watziznehm the fakir with his magic flying carpet makes the book very fantastical and rather silly. You never quite feel convinced that characters like Watziznehm and flying carpet capers really belong in an Asterix story.
The idea of an Asterix adventure in India is an interesting one but it doesn't work terribly well in the end. The book has more of an Arabian atmosphere if anything, as if Uderzo got slightly mixed up with periods and locations. The second half of the story soon becomes slightly tiresome with Cacofonix kidnapped in the jungle and Asterix, Obelix and Watziznehm flying about on the magic carpet. I could have done without Obelix biffing various animals in the jungle too - a running joke that isn't very funny. Asterix and the Magic Carpet is more fun early on when they all fly over Rome (a magnificent panel of the city from above) and say hello to a feverish Julius Caesar as he looks out from his balcony. Is it my imagination or is Caesar always drawn to look like James Coburn in Asterix?! He's very Derek Flint here.
There is yet another encounter with the Barbe Rouge inspired pirates (nice visual joke here as one of the pirate crew seems to be Frankenstein's monster!) and it's funny when the always peckish Obelix turns up for the start of their trip with a trailer full of roast boar and goes into a sulk when he is told there will not be room for such lavish provisions on the flying carpet. Despite a few amusing moments and a scattering of inspired panels that catch the eye though, some of these solo Uderzo books feel very uninspired and lightweight in comparison to the vintage Asterix volumes and Asterix and the Magic Carpet is a case in point. Despite the dark central McGuffin (plans to sacrifice Princess Orinjade), the book is rather daft and feels somewhat juvenile compared to the likes of Asterix in Switzerland and The Mansions of the Gods. Uderzo never really makes the most of the idea of setting part of one of these books in India either, certainly not compared to the way Herge would have done in Tintin.
One nice addition is an Indiana Jones type map of the world with a red arrow marking their journey from Gaul over Italy, Greece, Mesptotamia, Persia and through to India ('Here we are! The river Ganges!') but Asterix books - like James Bond films - definitely work better with European locations and settings. You do rather miss the Romans here. Although some of the individual panels are really good, the art here feels slightly different at times too, a result I presume of Uderzo working with different people on the books through the phases beyond Goscinny. Some panels are superb, some feel less substantial than usual, and a couple have a strange, slightly 3-D polish about them, reminiscent of that Tintin film book Tintin and the Lake of Sharks.
Asterix and the Magic Carpet feels like an unnecessary addition to a classic series rather than a proper part of it and makes you wonder if they shouldn't all have called it a day after Land of Black Gold. Asterix fans will enjoy some of the panels and early village scenes here but, on the whole, this is a rather weak and forgettable entry in the series.