Growing up, my favourite books to read were those in the ‘Asterix’ series. A sole village of Gauls had managed to repel the strength of Julius Caesar, against whom even the famous leader Vercingetorix had fallen. The focus was usually on the activities of Asterix and Obelix, though a robust assortment of characters surrounded them.
It is proof how an author, given the right ideas and abilities, can mix Historical Fiction in such a way to appeal to almost any audience.
Below are my thoughts on the series, and what it did well to keep a 9-year-old so enraptured.
Asterix was a quite vanilla protagonist. Something goes wrong, and he is the go-to guy to get things fixed. He is helped by the quality of supporting characters.
Obelix is his best friend, the local quarry man who makes menhirs. While hardly a fashion icon, with his armpit high pants and pigtailed red hair, he inadvertently received permanent super strength while a boy by falling into a cauldron of the magic option the village druid concocts. He is accompanied at all times by his little dog Dogmatix, loves eating wild boar, and is a childish hot-head.
Getafix (get it?) is the village druid, whose secret is the magic potion that grants its drinker super-human strength for a limited amount of time. He is involved in many stories due to someone trying to either steal his recipe, or a batch of his secret recipe.
Other notable characters include Vitalstatistix the village chief, Unhygienix the fishmonger, Fulliautomatix the smith, Cacofonix the (terrible) bard.
Then, of course, there is Caesar and the many Romans who serve as the antagonists throughout the series. The Romans, feared in their own time, are described and drawn as complete fools. That such bumbling idiots could become the most feared empire of their time adds to the comedic element of the stories.
The wide range of characters, with their quirks and hot-headed attitudes, make for much hilarity.
The two main recurring plots are the attempt to steal (or borrow, in some cases) the magic potion’s recipe, or to spoil Roman plans to conquer a particular setting. All the scenarios are varied just enough to keep the series interesting.
The books make use of all plot devices. Conflict is usually shown in rescuing someone from Caesar’s clutches, or protecting the village from Julius’ attempts to conquer or infiltrate. Plot devices range from finding a new golden sickle for Getafix, getting a batch of potion to other peoples opposing Caesar, or searching for a particular recipe item for the magic potion.
Over the course of the series, they have been pretty much everywhere. Asterix and Obelix, as well as other supporting characters, pay visits to Britain, Egypt, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Corsica, Switzerland, Greece, India, a less well-defined area in Africa, and even North America long before Columbus ever entered the equation.
Through the many locations, they meet some historical figures such as Cleopatra, Brutus and of course Caesar himself.
The series revolves around the age-old scenario of ‘little guy’ taking on the ‘big guy’, and winning against the odds. Asterix is very short, but is aided by magic potion and being very cunning. Making his success in outwitting his adversaries at every opportunity, Roman or otherwise, makes you cheer all the more for him and his fellow villagers.
The method of presentation ensures the suspension of disbelief, especially in the ways that Asterix and Obelix beat up on Romans or other antagonists. The tones of the stories are usually light-hearted; though they can involve quite grisly aspects such being thrown into the Roman Circus to battle lions, the ‘secret weapon’ ensures even the lions can be defeated.
All the stories are just under 45 pages, and drawn in comic form. Such a brief and vibrant method of storytelling is sure to keep the young ones entertained.
If you have young kids, and you want to give them stories than can be both entertaining while providing some insight into world history, be sure to give this series a try.