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Asterix in Britain was the first of the series to be translated into English, and has kept a consistent position at the top of the UK Asterix sales league ever since. This being so, it's many people's first experience of the indomitable Gauls, and for this reason it's important that they enjoy the ride. Which they will.
Julius Caesar's invading armies have occupied all Britain (largely by concentrating their attacks at the weekend), except for one small village in Cantium (Kent), which still holds out against the invaders (now, where have we heard that before?). That this village has survived thus far is largely due to its chief, Mykingdomforanos, and his brave band of Britons. However, it is clear that resistance cannot be successful for much longer without help, and so the chief despatches Anticlimax (who is, in fact, Asterix's first cousin once removed) to obtain a supply of the druid Getafix's magic potion. Asterix and Obelix accompany Anticlimax and the barrel back to Britain, but unfortunately the Romans get to hear about it....
Although the book was one of the earliest Asterix adventures to be written, Uderzo is already well into his artistic stride. There's none of the rather awkward drawing that can be seen in "Asterix the Gaul", and for the most part the main characters have adopted their familiar appearances, though the bard Cacofonix is still not quite right. Uderzo has reached the stage where he is comfortable with visual jokes - witness the gentleman tending the grass of his house, which just happens to have twin towers rather similar to (the old) Wembley's - and some of the conventions of the series, such as Obelix's pile of captured Roman helmets, have been established.
Translating "Asterix in Britain" posed a particular problem to Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. In the original French, the speech of the Britons had been marked out by having them speak using English word order and idioms - so that a Briton might say, "il est, n'est il pas?", a construction unknown in French. Hockridge and Bell have rendered these parts into deliberately stereotyped "what ho, chaps" English, to give the required impression of a stiff-upper-lip, slightly stuffy race (notice, too, the somewhat starchy appearance of all the Britons).
Making fun of regional and national characteristics is a constant of the Asterix series, and "Britain" in particular is a joy in this department, even if one can't help but feel that the Gaulish - ie French - view of our sceptred isle is not entirely a respectful one. Witness the double-decker chariots, the British version of a heated argument ("rather trying") or the British obsession for boiling any and every type of food (including, much to his dismay, Obelix's beloved boar) with mint sauce.
Every Asterix book needs at least one big set-piece scene, and in "Britain" it's a rugby match - with fairly accurate rules, although because of the book's age, a try only garners three points. The choice of rugby as the stereotypical British sport was presumably governed by the need to portray an activity which, though thought of as British in essence, was known to the average French person - so cricket had to be ruled out. As with all the best Asterix scenes, it's packed with little jokes and asides that can take several reads really to appreciate - I particularly enjoyed the banner reading "Durovernum for the Tribal Crown"!
Puns, jokes, knowing references? You bet. After Asterix comments on the smallness of the jolly-boat in which the Gauls are to cross the Channel, Anticlimax reassures him: "It is smaller than the garden of my uncle... but it is larger than the pen of my aunt". And one of my favourite exchanges of the entire series occurs in this book, almost unnoticed in the background: an irate shopkeeper demands "oh, so this melon's bad, is it?", to which his customer responds: "rather old fruit". Maybe it's just me, but it took me a while to recover after that one... as for the classic silly names, Asterix in Britain is one of the best books in the series for this - we have, among others, the publicans Tintax, Anthrax and (my favourite) Dipsomaniax, the Roman governor Encyclopaedicus Britannicus, and a housewife named Boadicea (a combative type).
So, what downsides are there? Well, the difference in British and French publication orders means that the pirates appear in this book before they've officially been introduced (in "Asterix the Gladiator"), and Julius Caesar makes only the briefest of appearances, which limits the number of classical allusions. Minor niggles, these, however, and Asterix in Britain is an excellent book. If you're not already a fan (whyever not?), this is a pretty good place to start.
Asterix in Britain is the eighth entry in the Asterix series by Goscinny and Uderzo and was first published in book form in 1966. Like many people I grew up with Tintin and Asterix but while I still love and read Tintin when the mood takes me I hadn't read an Asterix book for years until I dug this out of the cupboard. In Asterix in Britain, Julius Caesar has decided to invade Britain now that the Gauls (apart from one plucky magic potion enhanced village of course) have been conquered. Britain is soon under occupation except for one brave village which holds out under their boss Chief Mykingdomforanos. Chieftains from all over Britain meet in the village to discuss what to do as they can't hold out for much longer.
They decide to send one of the tribe, Anticlimax, to Gaul as Anticlimax is the first cousin once removed of Asterix. When he crosses the Channel and reaches Asterix and the Gaul village, Anticlimax requests the magic potion which Asterix and his tribe get from their druid Getafix - the potion giving them superhuman strength which enables them to hold out against the Romans. Chief Vitalstatistix agrees to this request and sends Asterix and the Boar guzzling Obelix back to Britain with him to help deliver the barrel of magic potion safely as those pesky Romans are everywhere...
The best thing about Asterix in Britain is the art. The backdrops are lovely at times and the details of cellars and Roman interiors are often very impressive. Old inns with candles and barrels behind the bar are wonderfully atmospheric too and there is good use of silhouettes at night, fog and rain. The opening page has some nice panels of ships and Julius Caesar's battle fleet - which a pirate ship bears the brunt of. These pirates were recurring characters in Asterix if I recall with their ship permanently running aground or being destroyed in a running joke. What wasn't quite so impressive I found - returning here to Asterix after a long break - was the story. Hergé constructed incredibly labyrinth plots for Tintin whereas here it's basically Asterix and Obelix losing the barrel and having to find it, beating up countless Roman soldiers in violent cartoon comic book style along the way. I don't know if it's just me but I started to feel sorry for these Roman soldiers after a while.
One thing they do do here though in Asterix in Britain to modestly amusing and pleasant effect is have some fun with British caricatures and stereotypes. The British infuriate the Romans by stopping battles at tea time to go and have a glass of hot water with milk (tea hasn't been introduced to Britain yet) and we see a pair of Britons react to the arrival of the Roman battle fleet with a very understated and phlegmatic air. 'This is a jolly rum thing...' The are jokes about driving on the wrong side of the road, fog, double-decker buses, the British obsession with gardens, warm beer and British cooking. Obelix is is dismayed to see that the British boil everything and serve it with mint sauce. 'Eat up Obelix and don't pass remarks,' orders Asterix in the face of this terrible grub. 'In Britain you must do as Britons do.' There are a lot of Carry On Cleo type jokes about being thrown to the Lions with mint sauce or something. It's all quite affectionate really with the Britons appearing rather noble because of their dry and understated response to everything. Chief Mykingdomforanos was apparently a caricature of Churchill although I only realised later on in the book.
One slight problem I have with the Asterix books - and I had this growing up too - is the magic potion which gives the Gauls super strength and enables them to beat up Legions of Romans as if they were batting away flies. It means that there is never any tension whatsoever and the characters never have to do or come up with anything ingenious or clever. Everything will be resolved by Obelix or Asterix beating the living daylights out of Roman soldiers with their augmented super strength. It always seems like a slight cheat and there remains a small part of me that wants Asterix to get caught without the potion and given a good going over! Tintin books still make me laugh but, although it's often mildly amusing, Asterix in Britain didn't really make me chuckle. The best joke in the book - and it makes a nice set-piece - occurs when the Romans are trying to find the barrel of secret potion in amongst numerous barrels of wine and order Roman soldiers to drink from each barrel until they find it. A boozy, drunken scene soon evolves with soldiers singing and fighting one another with comic bright red noses.
The most famous bits in Asterix in Britain are probably the Tower of London panels (which are wonderfully drawn) and the Rugby match climax. I think children would probably prefer Asterix to Tintin as it is more cartoonish and simplistic, the emphasis more on comedy and fighting than plot. Tintin still holds up when you read it (becoming even more interesting as an adult because you notice new things) whereas Asterix in Britain didn't seem as funny and magical as those Asterix books I remembered reading growing up. The art is still impressive though. I remember taking an Asterix book out of the library at Primary School, I think it was Mansions of the Gods, and being captivated by the drawings of all those Roman buildings. Children today I think would still enjoy Asterix on that same level.
I didn't enjoy Asterix in Britain as much as I expected to but the enjoyable art and general sense of fun on offer means that younger readers (I hope) would get more out of this than me and have a good time. These are still very attractive and colourful books to flip through and the attention to detail remains impressive.
This book is straight to the point: it is a French attempt at taking the mick out of the British.
Now all you over-patriotic nationalists reading this, don't get too upset. It is light-hearted and well meant.
How can this be so? Well (in the past) we tended not to work past five o'clock or at weekends. We also have a propensity to drink tea and warm beer - I can't say I am in the habit of drinking warm beer, but the myth remains, and if an author can have a bit of a laught about it, then so be it.
The story revolves around the Romans invading Britain. There is some mirth over the fact that we Brits won't fight past five or a at weekends. Ceasar decides this is the best time to defeat us.
Fortunately somewhere along the line one if us Brits is a cousin of Asterix. Anyone familiar with the Asterix series will know that they have a t their disposal a tool to fight the Roman, that is through the use of a magic potion. Anticlimax ( I love these names), a Brit, is despatched to Gaul to receive some of the magic potion, as britain is being over-run by the Romans, and his village is the only on left with any sense of independence.
And here the story picks up momentum, in the quest for retreiving the potion and using it to fight the Romans.
What happens to the potion I cannot say, it would just spoil the story for you.
Let us just say that (whether you believe it or not), this is the explanation why we Brits drink so much tea these days :))
The Asterix series of books, created by Goscinny (text) and Uderzo (drawings) and translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockbridge, are a light-hearted account of the Roman occupation of Gaul, and particularly one small village of indomitable Gauls. They are indomitable because they have a druid (Getafix) who produces magic potion that gives them super-strength, and two fearless warriors, Asterix and Obelix, the first of whom is cunning while the latter fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby and thus is incredibly strong. Oh, and Obelixs little doggy called Dogmatix, too.
Asterix in Britain has a distinct advantage for me in that it includes Britain, and mercilessly makes fun of our silly habits (such as drinking beer warm - ugh) at every opportunity. The story starts out with the Romans realising that the way to defeat the stouthearted British is to not play cricket, and fight after 5 and on weekends (whatre they trying to say about the British work ethic!?!?!?). Soon Britain is overrun all except one small village
One of their warriors, Anticlimax, is first cousin to Asterix so naturally enough, he travels to Gaul for help. Along with Asterix and Obelix, his mission is to bring back a magic potion to his village but the Romans get wind of the plan and, of course, arent too keen on the idea
Im not sure whether its the printing or the original drawings themselves, but the drawings in Asterix in Britain dont seem quite up to Uderzos usual standard, though this doesnt detract too much from the book. (Part of the reason is that more scenes are in the dark and the fog (English weather!), but that doesnt completely account for it. However the humour (especially if youre British) more than makes up for that, though Im not sure how many of the cultural jokes children would understand, even if they are British! (Incidentally, for those already fans of the series, the encounters with the Phoenician traders in this book are some of the funniest anywhere!)
Because the humour is slanted more towards adults who know something of British culture, it is probably the best Asterix book ever written for that section of the worlds populace. However its not worth a full five stars as the very same reason will make it less accessible to children (even though theyll still enjoy it).
Gaul was divided into three parts. No, four parts - for one small village of indomitable Gauls still held out against the Roman invaders. BOOK 8 The Romans have invaded Britain but one village still holds out against them. At his British cousin Anticlimax's request, Asterix and Obelix set off to help with a barrel full of magic potion.