Book Review – Asterix in Britain
Printed (in English) in 1970, four years after the original French publication, In Britain is the eight volume of the series, and as the name suggests has Asterix and Obelix travelling the English Channel to assist Asterix’s first cousin (once removed) in their battle against the Roman invasion occurring at the time.
This episode is one of the funnier books and is easily related to as the French obviously held the British in the same regard as the rest of the world and most of the mannerisms, colloquialisms and such are commonly perceived (either rightly or wrongly) the world over.
So the story happens when Anticlimax is sent to the Gaulish village (By his chief Mykingdomforanos, who looks very much like Churchill)to get help in their hold out of the invasion. Asterix and Obelix are duly sent to return with him looking after a barrel of magic potion made up for the Brits. But the Romans, as per clockwork, attempt to block their path and end up confiscating every barrel of booze in London in an attempt to locate the potion…it leads to funny anecdotes about prohibition, blackmarketeering, and the effects of alcohol.
While the story itself pans out to script, the many references to England and its ‘odd’ little ways is, like most volumes, the real fun in the story…finding them and understanding them. For example;
- reference to a Channel tunnel (which wasn’t even started until 20-odd years later)
- discussion about driving on what side of the road – the English on the right, the French on the left – in fact this issue didn’t actually arise until Napoleon so is more a dig rather than an accurate observation (at the time). There is also reference to the British pre-decimal currency and imperial measurements which is subtly humourous
- stopping for tea (and its discovery), and not working weekends – using these ingrained habits of the Poms is cunningly exploited by Caesar who only fights at 5pm and on weekends to defeat them.
- Rugby – read it and you’ll understand.
- continuous piss-taking of the English weather – “Do you often get fog?” “Goodness no, old chap! Only when it’s not raining”
- English equanimity “What, what?”
- The Beatles
- British cooking…boil everything and serve with warm beer
- aside of those mentioned already, the chief is also in charge of tribes from Ireland and Scotland, portrayed by McAnix and O’Veroptimistix – and reference is made to the tight-fistedness of the Scots.
- Stratocumulus, a returning Roman General
- Encyclopaedicus Britannicus – Roman Governor in London
- Dipsomaniax, of all things, an inn-keeper! Another inn-keeper is called Surtax.
In doing a little homework I found this little snippet of info which I found incredible;
- The authors worried that, as had occurred with some of their books set outside of Gaul, they might receive complaints from British readers about the portrayal of their country. The following message was included in the original English release:
- “As usual, we caricature what we are fond of, and we are fond of the British, in spite of their strange way of putting Nelson on top of their columns instead of Napoleon. However, when it comes to presenting this skit on the British to the British, we feel we owe them a word or two of explanation. Our little cartoon stories do not make fun of the real thing, but the ideas of the real thing that people get into their heads, i.e., clichés.
- “We Gauls imagine the British talking in a very refined way, drinking tea at five o’clock and warm beer at the peculiar hours of opening time. The British eat their food boiled, with mint sauce; they are brave, phlegmatic, and always keep a stiff upper lip. Suppose we were British, caricaturing the Gauls, we would say they all wore berets, ate frogs and snails and drank red wine for breakfast. We might add that they all have hopelessly relaxed upper lips, and that phlegm is not their outstanding characteristic. And most of all, we should hope that the Gauls would have as good a sense of humour as the British.”
- The authors reported that, in comparison with other countries that Asterix visited, they received no complaints from the Britons regarding the book.