But perhaps it was just as well. I was old enough to sense the genius, to relish the amazing illustrations and to savour the puns. I was also old enough not to let the story distract me from the various strains of pure genius in the books – the art, the story-telling, and the translation.
I love the series because it’s irreverent (none of Tintin’s right-wing politics here) and intelligent (what a range of puns!). It has a lovely sense of being anti-establishment. But what really makes it tick in English is the brilliant translation. I read a French Asterix some years back and I know now what most readers sense – that creating the English versions must have been almost like writing the stories from scratch! Puns have been reinvented, and names have been changed, adding a whole new dimension to the characters.
Like the chief’s name in the original is ‘Abraracourcix’, which I read somewhere means with your fists at the ready, sort of cocked for a fight. Now that changes to ‘Vitalstatistix’ in English, setting off a whole paradigm change. To us the chief is an important man, but one who is also being ribbed for his girth – his statistics. His willingness to fight isn’t foregrounded here, though we do know that he is brave. To our minds, he is, above all, a fat, important guy! The gentle ridicule starts off here.
I love all of them but my favourites are:
Asterix and the Normans (especially that scene when Justforkix looks up and sees all these horrifying, blue-eyed Vikings staring down);
I love Obelix and Co. (unforgettable slimy management-type, with his lovely pidgin and his full-on, MBA-style condescension);
Mansions of the Gods is my fantasy-favourite – imagine a whole tract of forest being cleared for a gated township, and then being reforested magically overnight – sigh;
The Soothsayer I adore for its brilliantly cinematic illustrations – especially stunning is the scene where the soothsayer enters dramatically with thunderclaps in the background;
Another all-time hit is
Cleopatrafor her nose, and Squareonthehypoteneuse, the architect!
René Goscinny died early, at 51. That must have left Uderzo, his comrade-in-arms, with so much artistic energy, but no one to ideate with. So he’s been writing and drawing the books of late, and I must say – regretfully – that there’s a serious drop in the inventiveness of the stories. Which is an unbearably sad tribute to a brilliant writer…
Anthea Bell, one of the translators, has written a detailed article on the challenges of translating Asterix.
And for those of you who are interested, here are Bengali and Hindi versions!