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The Mansions of the Gods is the seventeenth book in the Asterix series by Uderzo and Goscinny and first appeared in 1971. The story begins with Caesar unveiling his latest plan to defeat the invincible village of Gauls who continue to resist Roman rule with their magic potion that gives them superhuman strength. Caesar intends to level the forest that surrounds the Gaul village (and of course provide them with boars to hunt and eat) and turn it into an estate made up of vast blocks of flats with Roman tenants that he intends to call The Mansions of the Gods. 'These Gauls may be crazy,' says Caesar over a grand model of his plans. 'But they'll have to adapt to our ways.' Caesar assigns the project to Squaronthehypotenus - one of his most talented young architects - and work soon begins in the forest at night (for fear of meeting the Gauls) with an army of slaves tearing down trees under Roman guard.
When the Gauls get wind of this destruction they are naturally annoyed and worried but their druid Getafix solves the problem by planting instant-growth trees with one of his potions - restoring the forest again each day after the Romans have gone. However, when Asterix decides to give the slaves some of the magic potion so they can rebel his plan backfires when they continue clearing the forest as they have been told they will all be free after completing the first building of The Mansions of the Gods. The Gauls decide to help the slaves by letting them work until they are free but the eventual trickle of Roman tenants has a very strange effect on the village...
The Mansions of the Gods is one of my favourites in the Asterix series and is one of the stories where Goscinny laces the plot with satire and a topical subtext. The targets in The Mansions of the Gods are the new high-rise building projects of seventies Paris, bombastic advertising and young architects blighting the landscape with their grand urban projects and ideas. The book begins with a wonderfully detailed panel of The Mansions of the Gods surrounding the little Gaulish village before revealing that this is a model Caesar is making use of to explain his scheme to his inner circle in Rome. I do think the best Asterix stories involve the Romans attempting to use unconventional means to conquer - or at least divide and rule - the village that has given them so much trouble and refuses to buckle under them. I suppose one could say there is a fairly obvious ecological message here too and it's good fun when Getafix perplexes the Romans with his instant-growth trees. A great joke occurs here when Obelix drops one of these magical seeds in Asterix's house!
I really like the panels near the beginning of the book here that depict the Roman slaves in a darkened forest under flame attempting to clear the forest and then the Gauls starting to be erroneously woken at some unearthly hour by their cockerel and going about their business under moonlight. 'We might have known it!' says Chief Vitalstatistix waking up under darkness but thinking it is in fact dawn. 'The sky's fallen on our heads!' These blue tinted night scenes in the village - with flickers of orange flames and yellow glows from houses and windows - are lovely panels and wonderfully atmospheric. The lack of sleep for the Gauls naturally leads to a comic free for all brawl. The story here is a good one as it is rich with satirical possibilities and also gives Asterix, Obelix, Getafix and co a puzzle to solve where they have to save both the forest and the slaves. Amusingly, the incompetent pirates who feature in many Asterix books as a running joke make a cameo as some of the slaves charged with clearing the forest.
When Roman tenants arrive they start visiting the Gaulish village to look around and shop and unwittingly trigger the transformation of the peaceful village into a market town where everyone is at each other's throats and competing against one another to sell goods to the Romans. They have started to adapt to Roman life without even realising it - just as Caesar planned. These barbs at capitalism add to the story and provide some funny panels of the boisterous Gauls competing for business. Asterix is concerned though and consults the druid Getafix. 'I didn't expect this,' says Getafix. 'Some Romans even tried to buy my cauldron!' Their solution to The Mansions of the Gods problem is a funny one and involves one of the characters from the village.
There is a great full page panel near the end of one of the Roman buildings which is great fun too and a funny bit where a Roman - much to his dismay - wins a flat in The Mansions of the Gods at the Circus Maximus and is forced to accept. The (stone) brochure he is given is reprinted over two whole pages for us to see for ourselves. 'For those who have had their fill of the pollvted atmosphere of the vrbs, the preassvres of the rat race, pvre and sweet air awaits them in a vast, svperb natvral park...' This interlude is very clever and quite funny in a deliberately anachronistic Flintstones sort of fashion. I actually find this book surprisingly poignant near the end as one of the main themes of The Mansions of the Gods is holding back the passage of time and progress and celebrating this while you can. The last page is perhaps the greatest single one in any of the Asterix books.
The Mansions of the Gods is one of my favourite Asterix books and has some lovely art, an interesting and well developed story and some great comic set-pieces. The final page in particular is wonderful. This is one of the best examples of the work by Uderzo and Goscinny and is highly recommended.