Recap / Asterix in Britain
In the eighth Asterix
volume, Goscinny and Uderzo turn their satirical eyes to their neighbours across the Channel.note
After conquering Gaul, Gaius Julius Caesar
set his sights on Britain (taking out Redbeard and his pirates along the way). The Britons, who are similar to the Gauls (they are descended from Gaulish tribes who crossed the water centuries earliernote
and who speak the same language as their Gaulish cousins, but with some peculiar idioms of their own, eh, what), frustrated the Romans with their tendency to stop a battle to drink cups of hot water and their refusal to fight on weekends; Caesar decided to only attack during hot water breaks and weekends, and the Britons under their chief Cassivellaunos were defeated. Now, only one village in Cantium (known as Kent today) is still fighting the Roman Empire, aided by such visiting chieftains as O'Veroptimistix the Hibernian (Irishman) and McAnix the Caledonian (Scotsman). The chief of said village, Mykingdomforanos, knows they can't hold out against the Romans forever without help. Warrior Anticlimax mentions that the village of his Gaulish cousin-once-removed Asterix has a magic potion that grants super-strength, and volunteers to retrieve it.
Asterix and Obelix are more than happy to help Anticlimax bring a barrel of magic potion to Britain, and offer to come along (in a reference to contemporary British animal quarantine laws, Dogmatix must stay behind). Before leaving, Asterix notices some herbs at Getafix' house, and the druid tells him he's welcome to take some along - they might come in handy in Britain. En route to Britain, the three warriors come across a Roman galley on its way back to the continent, some of the passengers on which, including centurion Tullius Stratocumulus, were previously posted to the fortified camp of Aquarium near the Gauls' village. Anticlimax gets his first experience of the magic potion's effects as the trio board the galley and thump everyone aboard, but Obelix lets slip that they are carrying a barrel of magic potion, and once the trio have returned to their boat and moved on, Stratocumulus orders the captain to return to Britain to warn the local Roman legions of the Gauls' plan.
Problems set in quickly for our heroes once they land in Britain; aside from weather that alternates between rain and fog, food that revolves around boiling everything until it has no flavour left and serving it with bitter mint sauce, and beer served at a far warmer temperature than the Gauls can stomach, they have the Romans trying to chase down the barrel of magic potion, and soon they are caught between two patrols on the road to Londinium (called London today), forcing them to cut across country and wait until fog sets in before entering the city. Once there, Asterix, Obelix, and Anticlimax try hiding in the Jug and Amphora, a pub run by Anticlimax' friend Dipsomaniax, with the barrel of magic potion disguised as one of his barrels of wine, but the Romans have orders to raid every inn in the city and confiscate every barrel there, and Dipsomaniax is powerless to stop them.
The local legionaries are instructed to sample every barrel they have confiscated until they find the magic potion - which inevitably leads to the entire garrison becoming fall down drunk. When one legionary does stumble on the barrel and is surprised to suddenly gain superhuman strength, he is too soused to report to his superiors, and when Asterix and Obelix arrive, Obelix knocks out the now belligerent drunk before he can tell them which barrel he sampled. Obelix tries the "sample every barrel" method, with predictable results, and Asterix is forced to load all of the barrels from Dipsomaniax' inn and the plastered Obelix onto an ox-cart borrowed from the publican. As they pass a Roman patrol, Liquid Courage
sets in and Obelix gives his and his friends' identities away by jumping down to bash them in; Asterix and Anticlimax have no choice but to join in, and while their backs are turned, a thief steals the cart. Obelix passes out, and Asterix and Anticlimax leave him at Dipsomaniax' pub to sober up while they look for the cart.
But as the only barrels stolen back from the Romans belong to Dipsomaniax, the local garrison know exactly where to continue their own search, and after a few hours' unsuccessful searching for the stolen cart, Asterix and Anticlimax return to find Dipsomaniax' pub burned to the ground, and one of his neighbours tells the duo that the publican and "a fat man asleep under a pile of helmets" were taken prisoner. Specifically, they were taken to the Tower of Londinium; by now, Obelix has sobered up (though he is suffering from Hangover Sensitivity
) and easily breaks himself and Dipsomaniax out of first their cell, then the tower itself... just as Asterix and Anticlimax break into
the tower to rescue them. A few misunderstandings later, the four are finally re-united.
Dipsomaniax takes our heroes to a pub run by his friend Surtax, who reveals that a strange man sold him a barrel of wine with Dipsomaniax' name on the side; he had the man followed and gives Anticlimax and the Gauls his address. Now that they know where to look for the thief, they drop by his house and shake him down until he gives them a list of the names and addresses of every pub to which he sold one of the stolen barrels. The trio promptly tour the pubs on the list, though they only sniff the wine rather than tasting it; unfortunately, this attracts the attention of a Roman patrol led by a decurion with more intelligence than is usually seen in the Asterix
series, and he tails them in the hopes of being led to the magic potion. The publican of the Dog and Dux, the last pub on the list, reveals that he did buy one of Dipsomaniax' barrels, but he sold it to the rugby team from Camulodunum (now Colchester), who are playing a big match the next day against Durovernum (now Canterbury).
The Gauls and Anticlimax go to the rugby match the next day (as do the surprisingly intelligent decurion and his men, disguised in civilian clothes), and discover that the Camulodunum team now has the barrel of magic potion when a player named Hipiphurrax is given a sample and single-handedly runs roughshod over the Durovernum team. Our heroes rush the pitch and steal back the barrel (Obelix proves to be quite adept at rugby in the process, foreshadowing the game's future popularity in France), while the Roman decurion and his troops try to follow them but get caught up in the rugby match. However, when the Gauls and Anticlimax try to escape on the Tamesis river (called the Thames nowadays), the Romans are waiting for them, and one boulder from a catapult later, the barrel has been splintered into fragments and the contents lost in the river.
Nonetheless, they continue on to Anticlimax's village. There, Asterix gets the idea to brew a potion from the herbs Getafix gave him - he doesn't know if they'll be magical, but it might encourage the village's warriors. Sure enough, the placebo effect works, the Romans are routed, and Mykingdomforanos decides to make the concoction the national drink. He invites the Gauls to join in a celebratory banquet, but Obelix has had all he can stomach of boiled boar, and he and Asterix bid farewell to Anticlimax and return home (passing Redbeard and his pirate band again on the way back; the Gauls completely ignore them, though, and Redbeard is so relieved he accidentally runs the ship aground) to a reunion with Dogmatix and a celebration with boar cooked as it should be - roasted over an open fire. Meanwhile, Asterix asks Getafix about the herb. The druid reveals that they came from a plant in barbarian lands.
The name of the plant? Tea.
Tropes present, "what".
- Affectionate Parody: In the first edition of the English translation, Goscinny and Uderzo felt compelled to include a note to British readers insisting that they really were fond of the British ("in spite of their strange way of putting Nelson on top of their columns instead of Napoleon"), and that they were as much making fun of French perceptions of the British, including their Stiff Upper Lip tendencies and fondness for tea, warm beer, and boiled food with mint sauce, as they were making fun of the British themselves; they added that were they British artists writing a comic about the Ancient Gauls, they might show them all wearing berets, eating frogs and snails, drinking red wine for breakfast, and being highly emotional. The note was dropped from subsequent editions; British readers found the jokes just as funny without it.
- Alcohol Hic: Thanks to all those confiscated barrels of wine.
- Animated Adaptation: One was released in 1986.
- Artistic License – History: Julius Caesar did not conquer Britain as such during his two campaigns there, but rather installed a client king named Mandubracius in what is now Essex, and the real Cassivellaunos was made to submit to Mandubracius. The actual Roman conquest of Britain happened a century later under Emperor Claudius. But then, without a Roman conquest of Britain, Asterix and Obelix would have had no excuse to go there.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Towards the end of the Animated Adaptation, the Pirate Captain takes this attitude toward his ship, and sinks it himself to keep Obelix from sinking it.
- Bilingual Bonus:
- Anticlimax describes his jolly boat as "smaller than the garden of my uncle", but "larger than the pen of my aunt". French speakers may recognize these as English transliterations of the sort of phrases used to teach elementary French in British schools at the time Asterix in Britain was translated (in particular, "pen of my aunt" = "plume de ma tante"), and their use here parodies just how useless they really are in conversation.
- Mykingdomforanos' name in the original French version is actually an English pun - probably the only character in the original language books whose name isn't French. His name? Zebigbos.
- Blatant Burglar: The thief of the magic potion barrel and other wine barrels. Luckily, the receipts he gives make it easy to track down.
- Boisterous Bruiser: The Animated Adaptation demonstrated how the whole village qualifies perfectly. The usual argument over the quality of the local fish starts the usual brawl between the blacksmith and the fishmonger, with half the village running to join in just because it's an excuse to fight. Obelix not joining in because of his suffering Roman Withdrawal disrupts it, but then there's the following conversation:
Unhygienix: Now, where were we?
Fulliautomatix: Um, your fish stink?
Unhygienix: Oh, yes. MY FISH ARE FRESH! (Everyone resumes fighting)
- Comically Missing the Point:
- Culture Clash: Obelix isn't happy to learn how the Britons prepare their boars.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Once Hipiphurrax has been given some magic potion, the Camulodonum-Durovernum rugby match quickly turns into one of these. Although Durovernum are the first team to get on the scoreboard, the final score is a thoroughly lopsided Camulodunum DCCCIV (804), Durovernum III (3).
- Dub-Induced Plot Hole: Inverted; the French version of the comic refers to Londinium (London) as the capital of Roman Britain, which was incorrect; while it was the biggest city in the country, the actual capital was Eboracum (York). The English version fixed this by just saying that Londinium was a big city.
- A Foggy Day in London Town: At sea the Gauls and Anticlimax are suddenly caught up in fog and can't see anybody or anything. Anticlimax says it is a natural phenomenon in his country. Or, as the animated adaptation put it:
Asterix: Is it always this foggy?
- Foreign Queasine: Even Big Eater Obelix finds British food and drink revolting; one mug of warm beer and a meal of boiled boar and mint sauce, and he loses his appetite completely until the return to Gaul.
- Gratuitous English: Mykingdomforanos' original name was Zebigbos.
- Hangover Sensitivity: Poor Obelix and the legionaries, especially the latter being yelled at by a centurion.
- Magic Feather: With no potion, Asterix tries to lift the spirits of the Britons with a cauldron of water and some herbs Getafix gave him. It works, and Mykingdomforanos plans to make the concoction the national drink. What plant did the herbs come from? Tea.
- Mary Tzu: Parodied when the narration declares Caesar a brilliant strategist for only fighting the whole day for two days in the week and after five PM the other days.
- Mid-Battle Tea Break: The Britons were in the habit of stopping a battle just so they could have a cup of hot water with milk. This, added with their refusal to fight on two days out of the week, led to their defeat when Caesar (unsporting chap that he is) launched attacks at 5:00 and on weekends.
- National Stereotypes: The Britons are depicted as calm, polite, reserved and imperturbable.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: The barrel of magic potion ends up in a cellar full of wine barrels. Hilarity Ensues.
- Out-of-Character Moment: Anticlimax, normally calm and imperturbable, gets very excited when the rugby players arrive on the field. It even surprises Asterix and Obelix.
- Oxbridge: Anticlimax belongs to the Oxbridgienses tribenote , "famed for their skill in rowing".
- Punny Name: Zebigbos ("The big boss"), Anticlimax ("anticlimax", though in the French version he is named "Jolitorax" ("nice thorax").)
- Reference Overdosed: As with most Asterix stories this one is full of references and shout-outs too. Several things Great Britain is famous for are referenced: rain, fog, their eccentric cuisine, tea, inns, darts, the Tower of London, double decker buses, The Beatles, umbrellas, gardening, driving on the left side of the road, imperial measurements and rugby.
- Rugby Is Slaughter: Even before Magic Potion is used. Obelix approves.
- The "four most popular bards of Britannia" are caricatures of The Beatles.
- When Anticlimax knocks on Dipsomaniax' door, he taps out the "Beethoven's Fifth" rhythm that forms the Morse code for the letter V, used to represent "victory" during World War II. Similarly, after winning the battle, Anticlimax makes the "Victory" sign with his fingers, in reference to Winston Churchill.
- Spot of Tea: However, the Britons didn't have tea until Asterix unwittingly introduces it to them at the end of the story, so they had a Spot Of Hot Water.
- Stiff Upper Lip: The Britons. Even their displays of fear or anger in the face of adversity are usually subdued; when Asterix, Obelix, and Anticlimax cut across a Briton's immaculately kept garden, he simply grumbles, "Oh, I say! That's a bit off!" When a Roman patrol follows seconds later, the Briton doesn't even raise his voice as he points a spear at the offending Roman's breastbone and asks him to "keep off the grass".
- Thrifty Scot: On learning that Asterix, Obelix and Anticlimax only want one cup of wine for three, the barkeep caustically guesses they're Caledonian.
- Time Marches On: As they arrive in Britannia during rainy climate Obelix suggests building a tunnel between Gaul and Britannia. In the original version Anticlimax told them that they were working on the idea, but it might take some time. Back in 1966 the underlying joke was that the idea of a tunnel between both countries ever being built seemed highly unlikely. Plans had indeed been made in previous centuries, but always abandoned again. Since 1994 a tunnel has been built between both countries, thus changing the original meaning of the joke.
- Vacation Episode: Asterix and Obelix travel to Britannia, aka Great Britain.
- Verbal Tic: In the English version Anticlimax and all other Britons add "what" to the end of their sentences.
Obélix: What do you keep on saying what for?
Anticlimax: I say, sir, don't you know what's what, what?
- Which was a splendid Woolseyism, as the original version had the Britons speak a form of literally translated English, peppering their speech with literal translations of "isn't it", "I beg your pardon", "I say", and occasionally, "what". Goscinny and Uderzo also reversed the word order in the sentences to make the French languages appear more "English" - they used the English grammar rule of adjectives always being placed before the name in French, where it may be grammatically incorrect - "magique potion" instead of "potion magique", "chaude eau" (hot water) instead of "eau chaude", and so on.
- In the original version, the quote above had Obélix asking Anticlimax why he reverses his words? (the position of the adjective and noun is often inverted between French and English).