When I was a child a trip to the library meant a beeline to the low-lying shelf that, if you were lucky, would have an Asterix book or two. I discovered many a fantastic tale there, and years later I’ve steadily been rediscovering them by buying the modern re-coloured versions published by Orion. I’m finally up to what couled be, quite possibly, my favourite, so thought I’d share it, just on the off-chance you’d never come across it yourself.
From the outset, the very title stands this book aside from all the others in the series as the focus is very much on Asterix’s rotund friend Obelix. If you’re not aware of quite who Obelix is all you need to know is that he’s very fat, he delivers menhirs, and that he fell in the cauldron of magic potion as a baby so is immensely strong. The book opens with the Roman camp of Totorum in a very relaxed attitude. So afraid of the local Gauls that they rarely stray from the walls, they instead pass their days within the safety of the fort in a very casual manner whilst waiting for their relief, which, when it arrives, comes with a centurion keen to make a mark for himself and who is disgusted by those his small force is replacing. The new Romans head straight for the Gaulish village, but because they’ve been spied in advance Asterix has arranged a little birthday surprise for Obelix and gives the entire garrison to him and him alone. Delighted, Obelix makes mincemeat of them all and the Romans return to Totorum to wait for their relief.
To Caesar the Gauls are an impossible task until a young man by the man of Preposterus, from the Latin School of Economics, suggests that they can beat the Gauls with commerce. By tying them up in the knots of supply and demand they’ll be too busy to think about fighting. So Preposterus is duly sent with plenty of gold to break the Gauls, and the first Gaul he encounters is Obelix delivering one of his menhirs upon his back. After a brief and somewhat confused exchange Preposterus presents himself as a menhir buyer and that he needs stock. So Obelix begins to supply, and every time he delivers the price appears to rise and the quantity increase so in no time at all Obelix is employing staff to assist and men from the village to hunt boar. Suddenly he’s the richest man in the village and other villagers decide they want in on the act, and true to Preposterus’s word, the Gaul’s are soon tied up in a competitive race to supply menhirs. Asterix, and the druid Getafix, watch from sidelines bemused. Inevitably it all needs to come to a head as saturation point is reached.
So why is this possibly the greatest Asterix book ever? It’s a brilliant study of uncontrolled greed, unchecked capitalism, and one-upmanship. It’s told in such a clever way that I got it as an eight-year-old, but what really makes it are the brilliant character studies and repeating beats of the humour that drive on the farce throughout the book. Whether that’s the recently broken Romans slowly becoming more and more blasé about the ‘big fat brute’ that so recently pummelled them, or the skewed language of business parroted down from one new expert to the next, or the absurd finery the villagers end up adopting to cement their status, it’s all great, and it’s all delivered with a brilliantly tight and witty script and some of Uderzo’s finest panels.
If you’ve never indulged yourself with an Asterix book before then this isn’t a bad place to begin. It’ll tick all the boxes and I guarantee you’ll be smiling.
And if you liked that: Then take a peek at the new book, Asterix & The Missing Scroll