Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods Review (Rene Goscinny, Albert Uderzo)

Caesar has a plan to defeat the rebel Gaulish village once and for all - if they won’t fall in line, he’ll build Roman civilization around them and force their culture upon them! His brilliant young architect Squareonthehypotenus will build... The Mansions of the Gods! 

I always liked Mansions of the Gods but re-reading it today I didn’t realise how damn funny it is! The characters’ reactions are very extreme which helps. The centurion tasked with helping the architect is superstitious and terrified of the Gauls so he demands the slaves only work at night - except all of them sing LOUDLY while they work. He becomes a nervous wreck as one group of slaves bursts into their nation’s music after the other and he’s so scared the Gauls will be woken up and punch him! 

Getafix has magic acorns for re-growing the trees the slaves uproot in the night (poor Dogmatix - he loves trees and hates seeing them uprooted!) so night after night the Romans work and the next night discover the trees have regrown. The architect slowly becomes a nervous wreck and it’s glorious! And later on in the book, Cacofonix, the village bard… oh, big belly laugh on his scene! 

There’s some subtext I didn’t notice when reading this as a kid: Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo appear to be criticising trade unions as they’re portrayed here as greedy and encouraging laziness in workers. The influx of Roman tenants nearby turns the Gaulish village into a gaudy tourist trap, the creators criticising modern tourism and what it does to beautiful rural communities. 

There are A LOT of racist caricatures here so heads up for that. It’s a comic from 1971 and it’s so good - well written, wonderfully drawn, and so, so funny and clever - but, yeah, it’s kinda racist and that’s a shame. I don’t think the creators meant it in any hateful way and black people aren’t portrayed any more negatively than other slaves but there’s no escaping those red, red lips. Le sigh. 

The Mansions of the Gods is another great Asterix comic that reads just as well - maybe better? - to grown-up audiences as it does to kids. It’s a good laugh and an excellent comic. If, like me, it’s been a while since you read these books, they’re well worth a re-read. New readers are in for a treat!

Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods

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