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I was attacked from the rear by some Goths who were invading the Goths…

Books

Asterix and the Goths
(1963)

 

(1961-2 Pilote/1974 English edition) The third Asterix adventure, and we’re seeing Goscinny and Underzo hitting their stride, both in terms of wit and plotting. The Annual Druids’ Conference that was mentioned, almost as if continuity were going to be a thing well before Uderzo’s solo efforts, in Asterix and the Golden Sickle is on, where they – all looking very similar, in terms of beards and robes – gather “to compare notes, meet old friends and hold a contest to elect the Druid of the Year”. All fine and dandy, but the Goths are simultaneously planning to abduct the crowned druid, intent on utilising his magical powers for their planned invasion of Gaul and Rome.

The Goths, of course, speak in a Gothic script font. They are also prone to such collective proclamations as “To the greater glory of the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths and any other sort of Goths!” Obviously, being from Germania, they’re a warlike lot, eliciting the occasional indignant remark from a (relatively) sensitive one of their number: “What’s up? I can like flowers even if I am a barbarian, can’t I?” This band of barbarians succeed in kidnapping a druid well enough – Getafix, naturally – and escape thanks to scrupulous Roman ineptitude. 

Unfortunately, Goth Chief Metric makes the schoolboy error of threatening his interpreter Rhetoric with death along with Getafix if the latter won’t comply. Getafix’s plan, aided by the now arrived Asterix and Obelix, is to nix any invasion by creating infighting. To which end, a last meal is prepared – a magic potion soup – and Rhetoric is the eager recipient. Formerly protesting a delicate constitution (“Why, even damp weather and roasted cheese make me feel ill”), he now has at Metric, and the fickle Goths are instantly on side (“That’s the stuff! Down with Metric!”) 

However, after also plying Metric with potion – notably, this means the opponents are equally matched, something that will remain lore, when one might have expected the naturally stronger one to maintain the advantage – and then a selection of random Goths, the Gauls ensure the Asterixian Wars kick off, distracting the Goths to “go on fighting each other for centuries”. This part is consequently not entirely dissimilar in thrust to “Asterix and Getafix mess up their captors’ plans” in Asterix the Gaul. As I understand it, the Visigoths are stand-ins for West Germany and the Ostrogoths for East Germany.

Non-druids aren’t allowed to the Annual Druids’ Conference (the Goths, unsurprisingly, have little appreciation of such rules). Getafix’s pal, British druid Valueaddetax, proves his magic mettle to a doubtful Roman by making one of his legionnaires bray like a donkey (“It hasn’t made that much difference!”) Gathered together, the druids distinguish themselves with their indulgence of jokes and puns (so rather like the authors, then). We learn from one, “I turned him into a menhir”, and other potions variously produce flowers, weather control (rain, so getting the edge on both Wilhelm Reich and HAARP there), offer powdered soup and a powdered cauldron to complement the former, and render Valueaddetax immune to pain (and hopefully to burns too). Getafix wins for his peerless potion and shows an amusing line in shameless immodesty: “It was so unexpected” (before exclaiming “I’m the greatest!” in triplicate). One has to wonder, though, given his age: has he never attended the convention before? If so, has he somehow refrained from entering his potion all this time? Unless he enters it every year?

The Romans are so dependably useless that even General Cantankerus is given to bemoaning the Empire’s lot (“They’re all quite thick, and I’m their leader” with an additional “Sob! Sob!”) Such an inept lot, how they ever assembled an Empire is beyond me… Oh wait… Two such of their ranks misidentify Asterix and Obelix – “You’re a horde of Goths!” – so leading to protracted failures to apprehend anyone amid costume changes on our heroes’ part and Roman laziness (two apprehend Obelix and Asterix’s bound-and-gagged victims, one of whom has been left in leopard-pattern underwear, since the Gauls are now disguised as legionnaires. The legionnaires are promptly labelled Visigoths. Until they’re able to speak, that is, and… “That’s funny! I can understand Gothic now!”) Complete – and inspired on Goscinny’s part – chaos results from the directive to seek out Goths disguised as Romans. 

Plays on the general theme of customs are in abundance: “How tedious these border formalities are!” observes Asterix. Even the returning Goths are stopped by their fellow countrymen: “You realise you’re importing foreign goods” (namely, a Gaulish druid). A hapless Roman border guard incites his superior’s scorn when claiming “I was attacked from the rear by some Goths who were invading the Goths…” and later follows it up with a similar protest of “Gauls invading Gaul”.

Obelix, in particular, is coming into his own (he joins the trip because “Menhirs are out of season at the moment”). Asterix tells him that, seeing as they’re dressed as Romans, they will have to refer to themselves as Obelus and Asterus and say such things as “By Jupiter” and “Ave”. However, Obelus can muster little more than fits of laughter when they’re required to present themselves to fellow legionnaires. Later, confronted by Goths, he gets it “right”, announcing themselves as Asterus and Obelus, so the Goths inevitably assume they’ve got Romans on their hands (consequently necessitating Asterus and Obelus disguising themselves as Goths). He also finds Asterix’s “free hand now” quip (on releasing Metric from his bonds) a hoot and can’t stop repeating it, even to the point of the final feasting panel. On the continuity front, one wonders how the ingredients for the potion were delivered to the prisoners without Getafix requiring the mistletoe to be cut with a golden sickle (unless he already had some on him). 

Contemporary gags include songs Oh Grand Old Alaric (Visigoth King Alaric I) and It’s a long way to Aquarium. The Gauls play Battleships (well Quinquiremes and Galleys). There’s an extended bit of business involving the repeated smashing down of a cell door (“Will you leave that door alone!” fumes the Goth jailor). The attempt to draw Rhetoric between four horses fortunately occurs after he’s had his potion (“Fetch wilder horses!”) Later, he plans Metric’s torture and the Gauls’ too; his advisor suggests putting them in a pressure cooker (“Hee hee! You can’t stop progress”). Also: translated swearing, from Gothic to Gaulish (replete with a swastika in the former!)

And there’s a host of winning names thrown about, courtesy of Bell and Hockridge. In the Roman camp are Arteriosclerosis and Gastroenteritus (two legionnaires who first encounter some Goths), Legionary Cadaverus, General Cantankerus, and the not-Goths Marus Ubiquitus and Julius Monotonus. Druids include Suffix, Prefix and Botanix. On the Goth side are Choleric, Chief Metric (“This is bad for my system”, he observes at one point during the Wars), Rhetoric the Interpreter, “Euphoric for chief!”, Satiric and Electric (“I’m going to be a general. General Electric!”) I think I like Valueaddetax the most, though. 

Uderzo later apologised for the “Germanophobic” tone, but nothing here really comes across as particularly harsh or egregious (perhaps the swastika is a little insensitive, but the pickelhaubes are most amusing). Sure, the Goths like hitting people, but it would be asking a lot to offer comedy based on nationalities without a modicum of affectionate stereotyping. At least, not if you want it to be funny.

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