Thank the heavens that my parents were readers.
My Mum always had a Catherine Cookson on the go, or a Mills & Boon until they went ‘mucky’ as she ended up declaring. Dad had the George Gilman’s Edge Westerns, also Louis L’Amour and Elmore Leonard.
I remember vividly being taken up the hill to the Andersonstown Library and being given my little cardboard library ticket which, at first, allowed me to take two books out, later on three. My Dad would pick his books and I would be rummaging around the kids’ section for ages, looking at the Dr Who books and the Tintin adventures.
But the one set of stories that were always guaranteed to catch my eye were the Asterix and Obelix adventures. When a new one appeared in the library (or one I hadn’t seen before) my excitement was uncontainable. To be fair, my sister Josephine first introduced me to them after she had been to France on an exchange trip. When she did, I was hooked straight away. The library then allowed me to plough through the back catalogue.
These graphic novels tell the adventures of two Gauls, best friends and brave warriors who live in the last tiny fishing village still holding out against the Romans and their legions. And how were they managing to hold out? With the aid of a magic potion that gave them indomitable strength! Fabulous and funny. So so funny.
Those books made me laugh out loud. I devoured them, loved them, re-read them. Still do!
I credit the work of Goscinny and Uderzo with two things.
First up: They imbued in me a love of puns. The character names were always genius. The druid was Getafix. The village fishmonger was called Unhygenix… they had a village bard who couldn’t sing a note without making children cry. His name? Cacofonix…you get the picture.
Every page, with their genius illustrations that contained little sight gags in the background, was littered with comic gems. To this day, I love wordplay, and I owe this to the Asterix books.
Secondly, they gave me a fascination for history. I wanted to know what life under the Ancient Romans was really like. How come they had manged to invade England but had to turn back at Scotland. And as for taking on Hibernia (Ireland)? Forget it! I learned from Asterix about how Roman roads were dead straight. About Caesar and Cleopatra and how they had had a romance! I know that Ancient Germany was a hodge podge of warring Tribes, all of them fierce and difficult to rule.
How could a series of drawn kid’s books achieve all this? Well, their imaginative approach sparked imagination and curiosity in this young Irish reader, so they were doing lots of things right.
No I know there are a few crude stereotypes when it comes to race and placing them in their context can also confer forgiveness, and I know the later books were never as good once Goscinny passed away in 1977, but still they are worth introducing your kids to even now. If only to hear them laugh once they really get into them. As an adult you can enjoy them too, especially for their knowing nods to Roman orgies, heavy drinking and the perils of falling in love.
If you are wondering, my favourite stories are Asterix and the Big Fight, The Mansions of the Gods, Asterix the Gladiator, Asterix and Cleopatra and Asterix in Switzerland (you’ll never think of fondue the same way ever again, I promise).
PS Alea jacta est (if you know…you know)
PPS That’s my dog Bobby at the top of the page