The year is 50 BC. After a long struggle, the ancient Gauls had been conquered by the Roman Empire, with chiefs like Vercingetorix having to lay their arms down at the feet of Caesar. All of Gaul is occupied... except for one small village, who stubbornly hold out against the invaders. All efforts to subdue this village have failed, and Caesar himself asks "Quid?"
Our hero Asterix goes out boar-hunting, and bumps into a patrol of four legionaries — much to their pain. The patrol goes back to the Roman camp of Compendium to report their defeat, and the centurion Crismus Bonus wonders what secret the Gauls have that makes them so strong.
Returning to the village after a successful hunt, Asterix and his friend Obelix have lunch. Afterwards, Asterix goes to see the druid Getafix for another dose of magic potion — the potion makes its drinker invincible, but only temporarily. Obelix is denied any, having dropped into a cauldron of the stuff as a baby and becoming permanently enhanced.
At Compendium, Crismus Bonus decides to send in a spy to learn about the Gauls' strength. One Caligulaminus is selected, dressed up as a Gaul, and sent out in chains with some legionaries. Sure enough, Asterix and Obelix "rescue" "Caligulaminix" from his "captors" and take him back to their village. Playing on their sympathies, Caligulaminix is shown and given some magic potion. However, his disguise comes off during a village folk dance, and the exposed Roman uses his new invincibility to escape. Caligulaminus reports back at Compendium, and Crismus Bonus decides to use the potion to overthrow Caesar.
While out collecting herbs, Getafix is captured by the Romans. Asterix, while looking for the druid, learns from a ox-dealer what happened, and with the dealer's help sneaks into Compendium. There, Asterix overhears Crismus Bonus planning to take control of Rome from Caesar and finds Getafix. The two Gauls decide to have some fun with the Romans before leaving. Asterix "surrenders" and he and Getafix trick the Romans into drinking a potion that causes massive hair-growth. Crismus Bonus offers them freedom if they brew an antidote, and Getafix agrees; the potion will wear off, but they need to collect ingredients for the invincibility potion. Taking refuge in a private tent, Getafix brews two cauldrons — one full of "antidote" and a smaller one for strength potion. Asterix drinks the potion, and uses his enhanced strength to pound the Romans. But before the Gauls can escape, an army of legionaries shows up at Compendium. Reinforcements?
Actually, it's Julius Caesar himself! Caesar has come to see how Crismus Bonus is doing with the Gauls, and wonders what's going on. Asterix reveals that Crismus Bonus was planning to use the magic potion to overthrow him. Caesar has Crismus Bonus sent to Outer Mongolia to deal with a barbarian rebellion, and as a reward for exposing his treasonous intentions, grants the Gauls their freedom.
The album was adapted into an animated film in 1967, Asterix the Gaul.
Asterix the Gaul provides examples of:
- Agony of the Feet:
- The intropage shows Vercingetorix throwing his weapons at Caesar’s feet. Literally, as they land right on top of them, causing Caesar to scream in agony.
- Marcus Ginantonicus suffers this after pointing out to Crismus Bonus that there's nothing amazing about lifting a pebble. The Centurian disposes of it straight onto Marcus' foot.
- Art Evolution: As the Asterix adventures were published in serial format, Albert Uderzo's drawing style changes noticeably between the beginning of the book and the end of it as he settles into how he would draw the characters for the next few books in the series. For example, compare the drawings of Obelix and his menhir on the early pages to the panel on the last page where he sees Asterix and Getafix returning, or Julius Caesar's appearance on the first page with his visit to Compendium at the end of the book.
- Artistic License – History: In the comic book's original (French) version, Asterix tells Caesar that Crismus Bonus plans to use the magic potion to conquer "the Imperial Throne". This was in 50 BC, The Roman Empire was created in 27 BC.
- Butt-Monkey: The Roman army in the second half of the story, as Asterix and Getafix keep basically trolling them with them being none the wiser.
- Disproportionate Celebration: Currently provides the page image. When Crismus Bonus decides to test if the potion Getafix made works, he tries to lift up a fallen tree, only to fail. Thinking he set his sights too high, he tries and fails to lift successively smaller and smaller objects until he finally lifts a small rock with his natural strength, then begins to cheer, thinking he's obtained super strength.
- Early-Installment Weirdness:
- Cacofonix is allowed to sing at the banquet, though the Gauls sitting next to him aren't happy.
- Obelix is absent for most of the book. He only became Asterix's constant companion on his adventures starting with the next book, Asterix and the Golden Sickle. Oddly, he's also the more cautious of the two, warning Asterix to be careful of getting into trouble with the Romans, which Asterix casually shrugs off, convinced he's too smart for the Romans to be any danger. He also, for the only time in the franchise's history, carries a weapon (an axe tucked into his belt).
- Getafix lives in a cave outside the village. Later stories have him live in a hut within the village, which makes more sense given how he's a prime target for the Romans in many stories.
- The effects of the magic potion last for several hours in this story, and the Gauls apparently receive a daily dose simply as a matter of course. In subsequent stories they would drink it only when they needed it, with the amount of potion apparently affecting the duration of their strength (a standard drink lasts at least long enough for them to go from the village to one of the camps, and a suitably sized ladleful could give the subject superhuman strength from late at night until well into the next day).
- Foreshadowing: An unintentional example, but still; Getafix tells Obelix that drinking any more magic potion would be dangerous for him. Many years later, we see Getafix was right.
- Gone Horribly Right: In the Latin version, the constant rapid hair growth potion is called a baldness cure.
- Got Volunteered: Since none of the Romans want to spy on the Gauls, they play a game of musical chairs to determine who is the unlucky one to get this job. Caligulaminus thus gets volunteered this way.
- Hollywood Cuisine: Averted. Caligulaminus at one point states he will never eat tapioca again, with a foot note stating that spaghetti had yet to be introduced to Italy by Marco Polo, who brought the recipe from China.
- Hurricane of Puns: Asterix unleashes one on the unfortunate Crismus Bonus after he comes to them to ask about a cure for the hair growth potion.Crismus Bonus: You're making fun of me, Gaul. But I have to talk to you!
Asterix: Talk away, then! Let's not split any hairs. [Getafix is trying not to laugh]
Crismus Bonus: [jumping up and down with fury] WILL YOU SHUT UP ABOUT HAIR!!!
Asterix: [with mock indignation] Well, if you will beard us in our own tent... [Getafix laughs]
Crismus Bonus: No! Don't go!
Asterix: All right, keep your hair on! [Getafix laughs louder] Or this talk will bristle with difficulties. Go on!
Getafix: [falling off his sofa in hysterics] HA! HA! STOP! STOP! HA! HA! HA! HA!
Crismus Bonus: I give in! Give me the antidote and you can go free!
Getafix: [smirking] Try a hair of the dog?
Asterix: Getafix may not remember the antidote... he's a bit hare-brained sometimes! [Getafix bursts into laughter again as Crismus Bonus jumps up and down in another rage]
- Inconsistent Coloring: Compared to future books, this one barely has any consistent coloring, be it for the scenery or the characters' clothes (at least until the 2004 re-issue, where the coloring was completely redone to be more consistent with the later entries in the series).
- The sky and grass often have unnatural colors for one panel. For example, the sky may randomly turn pink or yellow and the grass may become red.
- The Roman legionaries' tunic color changes as the story goes on. At first, they all have pink tunics, later, they have yellow tunics except for a few who have orange or red ones. Starting from the third book, every legionary has a green tunic under his armor.
- Characters' red capes sometime turns into a shade of pink.
- Marcus Ginantonicus's cape, tunic and chestplate keep changing color as the story goes on.
- Inevitable Mutual Betrayal: Crismus Bonus tells his second Marcus Ginantonicus that with the magic potion in their hands, they will march on Rome, overthrow Julius Caesar and form a triumvirate. As they clink their glasses to this, thought bubbles reveal their true intentions:Crismus Bonus: I need you now, but afterwards I'll be the triumvirate on my own!
Marcus Ginantonicus: I'll have him thrown to the lions, and then I alone will be Caesar!
- I Surrender, Suckers: Asterix appears to give himself up when the legionaries of Compendium corner him outside the tent where Getafix is being held captive, but only so he and Getafix can put their plans to waste the Romans' time and resources for weeks on end into action.
- The Mole: Caligula Minus. He disguises himself as a Gaulish prisoner of the Romans, knowing the Gauls will free him and take him to their village.
- Mundane Utility: While in the Gaulish village, Caligulaminus sees the Gauls use their super strength for mundane tasks, like forging steel with their bare hands or pulling a cart full of wood.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Asterix insists on giving magic potion to the disguised Caligulaminus, and doesn't discover his real identity until after he's drunk it. Fortunately, Caligulaminus is too cowardly and stupid to cause any major damage to the village and just flees back to his camp, but it leads to the Romans discovering that the potion is the village's source of strength and made by Getafix, which will lead to problems in future stories...
- Oh, Crap!: Caligulaminus when he gets invited to join the Gauls for a dance, but then learns part of the dance involves pulling the mustache of your dance partner. Just like he fears, Asterix ends up tearing off the fake mustache Caligulaminus was wearing.
- Pit Trap: The Romans use one to capture Getafix.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: As punishment for his rebellion plot against Caesar, Crismus Bonus is re-assigned to Outer Mongolia to put down a barbarian rebellionnote .
- Refuge in Audacity: When Asterix is smuggled into Compendium to rescue Getafix and overhears Crismus Bonus and Marcus Ginantonicus' plans to overthrow Caesar with the help of the magic potion, he decides on "the bold approach" to rescue the druid. Specifically, he simply marches up to the tent where Getafix is imprisoned and casually tells the guards, "Do you mind? I've come to rescue Getafix the druid. He's a friend of mine. Thanks!" It isn't until he's inside the tent that the guards realise what's happened, although it's only because they incorrectly assume that Asterix still has some magic potion that it doesn't end with them just following him inside the tent and beating him to a pulp.
- Secret Ingredient: The recipe of the magic potion, passed down among the druids by word of mouth, which drives most of the second half of the plot once its existence is discovered by the Romans. Getafix only reveals that it contains mistletoe and lobster, the lobster being an optional flavour enhancer.
- The Starscream: Crismus Bonus plans to use the Gauls' magic potion to overthrow Julius Caesar and rule Rome as Crismus Caesar. His decurion, Marcus Ginantonicus, has similar ambitions when Crismus Bonus involves him in the plot.
- Tickle Torture: The Roman's preferred technique for interrogating prisoners. Sadly for them, Getafix can take it with a completely straight face.
- We Will Meet Again: Said by Julius Caesar to Asterix. And Asterix is counting on it, and is even looking forward to it.