Oct 292014
 

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On this date in 1959 Asterix or The Adventures of Asterix first appeared in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pilote. It was written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo until the death of Goscinny in 1977. Uderzo then took over the writing until 2009, when he sold the rights to publishing company Hachette. As of 2013, 35 volumes had been released. I have loved Asterix since I was a teenager and am glad to honor the strip today.

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The series follows the exploits of a village of indomitable Gauls as they resist Roman occupation. They do so by means of a magic potion, brewed by their druid called Getafix in the English translations, which gives the recipient superhuman strength. The protagonist, the titular character Asterix, along with his friend Obelix have various adventures. The “ix” ending of both names (as well as all the other pseudo-Gaulish “ix” names in the series) alludes to the “rix” suffix (meaning “king”) present in the names of many real Gaulish chieftains such as Vercingetorix, Orgetorix, and Dumnorix. Many of the stories have them travel to foreign countries, though others are set in and around their village. For much of the history of the series (Volumes 4 through 29), settings in Gaul and abroad alternated, with even-numbered volumes set abroad and odd-numbered volumes set in Gaul, mostly in the village.

Prior to creating the Asterix series, Goscinny and Uderzo had previously had success with their series Oumpah-pah, which was published in Tintin magazine.

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Astérix was originally serialized in Pilote magazine and in 1961 the first book was put together, titled Asterix the Gaul. From then on, books were released generally on a yearly basis. Their success was exponential; the first book sold 6,000 copies in its year of publication; a year later, the second sold 20,000. In 1963, the third sold 40,000; the fourth, released in 1964, sold 150,000. A year later, the fifth sold 300,000; 1966’s Asterix and the Big Fight sold 400,000 upon initial publication. The ninth Asterix volume, when first released in 1967, sold 1.2 million copies in two days.
Uderzo’s first sketches portrayed Asterix as a huge and strong traditional Gaulish warrior. But Goscinny had a different picture in his mind. He visualized Asterix as a shrewd small sized warrior who would prefer intelligence over strength. However, Uderzo felt that the small sized hero needed a strong but dim companion to which Goscinny agreed. Hence, Obelix was born. Despite the growing popularity of Asterix with the readers, the financial backing for Pilote ceased when Pilote was taken over by Georges Dargaud.

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The main setting for the series is an unnamed coastal village in Armorica (present-day Brittany), a province of Gaul (modern France), in the year 50 BCE. Julius Caesar has conquered nearly all of Gaul for the Roman Republic. The little Armorican village, however, has held out because the villagers can gain temporary superhuman strength by drinking a magic potion brewed by the local village druid, Getafix. His chief is Vitalstatistix.

The main protagonist and hero of the village is Asterix, who, because of his shrewdness, is usually entrusted with the most important affairs of the village. He is aided in his adventures by his rather fat and dull-witted friend, Obelix, who, because he fell into the druid’s cauldron of the potion as a baby, has permanent superhuman strength. Obelix is usually accompanied by Dogmatix, his little dog. (Except for Asterix and Obelix, the names of the characters change with the language. For example, Obelix’s dog’s name is “Dogmatix” in English, but “Idéfix” in the original French edition.)

Asterix and Obelix (and sometimes other members of the village) go on various adventures both within the village and in faraway lands. Places visited in the series include parts of Gaul (Lutetia, Corsica etc.), neighboring nations (Belgium, Spain, Britain, Germany etc.), and far away lands (North America, Middle East, India etc.).

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The series employs science-fiction and fantasy elements in the more recent books; for instance, the use of extraterrestrials in Asterix and the Falling Sky and the city of Atlantis in Asterix and Obelix All at Sea.

The humor encountered in the Asterix comics often centers on puns, caricatures, and tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of contemporary European nations and French regions. Much of the humor in the initial Asterix books was French-specific, which delayed the translation of the books into other languages for fear of losing the jokes and the spirit of the story. Some translations have actually added local humor; in the Italian translation, the Roman legionaries are made to speak in 20th century Roman dialect and Obelix’s famous “Ils sont fous ces romains” (“These Romans are crazy”) is translated as “Sono pazzi questi romani,” alluding to the Roman abbreviation SPQR. In another example: Hiccups are written onomatopoeically in French as “hips,” but in English as “hic,” allowing Roman legionaries in at least one of the English translations to decline their hiccups in Latin (“hic, haec, hoc”). The newer albums share a more universal humor, both written and visual. In spite of (or perhaps because of) this stereotyping, and notwithstanding some alleged streaks of French chauvinism, the humor has been very well received by European and Francophone cultures around the world.

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All the fictional characters in Asterix have names which are puns on their roles or personalities and which follow certain patterns specific to nationality. Certain rules are followed (most of the time) such as Gauls (and their neighbours) having an ‘-ix’ suffix for the males and ending in ‘-a’ for the females, for example, Chief Vitalstatistix (so called due to his portly stature) and his wife Impedimenta (often at odds with the chief). The male Roman names end in ‘-us’, echoing Latin nominitive male singular form, as in Gluteus Maximus, a muscle-bound athlete whose name is literally the butt of the joke. Gothic names (present-day Germany) end in “-ic”, such as Rhetoric the interpreter. Greek names end in “-os” or “-es”; for example, Thermos the restaurateur. British names end in “-ax” and are often puns on the taxation associated with the later United Kingdom, such as Valuaddedtax the druid and Selectivemploymentax the mercenary. Other nationalities are treated to Pidgin translations from their language, like Huevos y Bacon, a Spanish chieftain (whose name, meaning eggs and bacon, is often guidebook Spanish for tourists) or literary and other popular media references, like Doubleosix (a reference to James Bond’s codename 007). Most of these jokes, and hence the names of the characters, are specific to the translation, for example, the druid Getafix is Panoramix in the original French and Miraculix in German.

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The recipe for the magic potion is, of course a secret, but some ingredients are alluded to:

Mistletoe (Asterix the Gaul)
Fish (Asterix and the Great Crossing)
Rock oil, also known as petroleum/black gold (beetroot juice can be substituted) (Asterix and the Black Gold)
Four-leaved clovers of the tamarind tree (Asterix and the Big Fight)
Lobster (for flavor) (Asterix the Gaul)
Strawberry (for sweetness) (Asterix the Gaul)
Garlic (Asterix in Corsica)
Salt (Asterix and the Goths)

I think I’ll pass on this. Lobster and strawberries seems like a nouvelle cuisine recipe that is best forgotten – much like the monstrosity of chicken livers and blueberries. I’ve already given you a recipe for wild boar, Asterix and Obelix’s favorite (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/vercingetorix-caesar-alesia/ ), so I’m going to be a little more adventurous. Their village is in ancient Armorica in the Gallic region now known as Brittany. No ancient Breton recipes survive but there is plenty of evidence that latter day Breton cuisine has its roots in the ancient Gallic world. Here is a recipe for a little-known Breton dish, kig ha farz, a buckwheat pudding that is boiled in a muslin or cheesecloth bag in the broth of a stew, such as pot-au-feu, along with the meats. Buckwheat has been a staple pseudo-cereal (it’s not a grass), for millennia in Europe – originating in SE Asia. It can also be boiled on its own and served as a side dish with melted butter. My suggestion is to make the wild boar stew in the post above, but omit the barley and increase the amount of liquid so that there is enough to cover the pudding bag.

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Kig Ha Farz

Ingredients

2 large eggs
¼ cup (125 ml) whole milk
4 tbsp (60 gr) melted butter (salted or unsalted)
1 ¾ cups (250 g) buckwheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp coarse sea salt

Instructions

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and whisk again so that the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Add the buckwheat flour slowly (about ¼ cup at a time), mixing well until you have a moist, but firm, dough.

Place the mixture in a muslin cooking bag, or wrap it securely in several layers of cheesecloth, tied up tightly with string, leaving a long tail so that the pudding can be pulled from the liquid. Leave the bag about ¼ empty (or more) to allow the pudding to swell as it cooks. Otherwise the bag will split and you will have an ugly mess.

Place the bag in the simmering liquid of the stew. It should cook for about 2 hours, but timing is not critical. Longer will do no harm.

When the stew is ready to serve, pull the pudding bag from the pot, empty out the contents on to a warm serving platter, break it into clumps, dot with butter, and serve it alongside the stew.

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