Review: Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter

4 Feb

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter

The key to understanding the popularity of graphic novels like Asterix and TinTin – and also books like the Hardy Boys – is that they combine characters who are largely kids themselves with an adult world that takes them (more or less) seriously.  On one hand, Asterix is clearly drawn to resemble a child in his early teens – he’s easily the shortest character in the series who isn’t an actual child – but, on the other hand, he’s the foremost warrior in the village, a guile hero who outsmarts his enemies as much as he beats them with his fists and a member of the village council.  TinTin is drawn to look like his in his mid-teens – he’s often referred to as the ‘boy reporter’ – yet he’s treated as an adult by just about everyone.  Such characters work, at least in part, because they combine adulthood with childhood.  Children can pretend to be them without any adult issues to gross them out.

This leads to some awkward issues when the opposite sex is introduced.  Sex itself does not feature in such books.  The main characters either shun female company – the relationship between TinTin and Captain Haddock is a male friendship, not a romance – or find it unwanted.  In TinTin, the only female character of note is Bianca Castafiore and she is a guest star rather than one of the main characters.  In Asterix, the hero finds himself locking horns in one story with a female bard (who, if the genders were reversed, would certainly be guilty of sexual harassment at the very least.)  The story highlights double-standards and the general unfairness of life, tropes that would have been very important to the target audience in many ways.  People outside the target audience tended to accuse the writer of sexism.

But, generally speaking, romance doesn’t really exist within the series.  The characters, whatever their actual age, remain suspended in early adolescence.  It’s why they appeal to preteen boys.

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter turns all that on its head.

The basic plot is fairly simple.  The remnants of the Gaullist resistance have been sheltering Adrenalin, the daughter of Vercingetorix, ever since the disastrous defeat at Alesia.  Now, the Romans are closing in on her and there’s only one place she can be safe.  Britain?  America?  No, the unnamed village that plays host to Asterix and his friends.  The problem, however, is that Adrenalin doesn’t want to be a figurehead for the resistance.  She wants to run away, which is fraught with danger as the Romans, the pirates and a small horde of traitors want her for themselves.  Asterix is assigned to look after her, a mission that rapidly turns sour when Adrenalin befriends the other teenagers in the village and they try to help her escape.

On the face of it, the story has potential.  There are many funny moments and a handful of new characters (including the teenage sons of the village fisherman and blacksmith, neither of whom were mentioned before).  However, it falls apart when Asterix is used as a wholly adult character.  His role in the story is to be both adult and child.  Here, he’s the old fogy, the stick-in-the-mud, the person who tries to keep the kids from doing what they want to do.  It’s not a good role for him and it weakens the story.

The story also suffers because of Adrenalin herself.  It’s entirely understandable why she wants to run away – everyone treats her as a thing, rather than a person – but she also comes across as a selfish little brat.  She doesn’t want to carry on her father’s legacy, either with the resistance or by joining Julius Caesar’s family (Brutus gets a nice line about not being one for families … while sharpening a dagger, naturally).  The story even implies the resistance won’t have any trouble finding another figurehead, which suggests they didn’t need to bother with Adrenalin.  But, at the same time, the Romans were hardly going to let her travel freely.  The resistance leaders had a very good point when they insisted she needed to be protected. 

The story might have worked better, I suppose, if Adrenalin had talked Asterix into waging war on Rome, leaving the older villagers to be the voices of adult reason.  But this would have required Asterix to be separated from the adults … again, weakening the character. 

Overall, the story is definitely a mixed bag.  There are plenty of good moments.  It’s amusing to see the two teenage boys insisting on swapping roles and apprenticing with each other’s father, rather than carrying on the family trade.  The artwork is good, although not perfect.  But the overall story weakens the main characters and has too many references to modern-day things that will leave the story outdated fairly quickly.  It isn’t as bad as Asterix and the Falling Sky, but it’s no Asterix in Britain either.

3 Responses to “Review: Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter”

  1. David February 4, 2020 at 6:03 pm #

    Chris

    Pedant mode = on..

    Not Gaullist but Gallic perhaps? [ISTR Gaullist generally refers to the sometime President, Charles de Gaulle…..]

    Otherwise spot on.. ;}

    brgds

    David

  2. PhilippeO February 5, 2020 at 3:59 am #

    I think the problem is how old Asterix and Tintin itself. They all predated 60s, and norm of society has all changed. If you compare old shonen manga at 80s and shonen manga at 10s, there are major differences despite both theoritically targeted for young boys. It likely that ‘boys novel’ which popular in Baby Boom era could no longer be popular novel at this current time.

    Current popularity of old ‘boys novel’ depend on how many established reader base.If they first printed at this year, they likely fail. A modern day ‘boys novel’ would have to be very different.

    Besides making Asterix and Tintin to be eternally young is very difficult when most readers knows their parents also read Asterix, they will view them as old character and expect them to behave as such.

  3. Ron February 7, 2020 at 3:46 pm #

    It’s no doubt true that the Asterix books are not what they used to be. But I wonder how much is lost in translation ? After all they are written with a French public in mind. A lot of the jokes are mocking French contemporary society.

    One example:
    ” It’s amusing to see the two teenage boys insisting on swapping roles and
    apprenticing with each other’s father, rather than carrying on the family trade. ”

    They not only swap trades but to find work, the children of Ordralphabetix and Cetautomatix had “to cross the street”. An expression that probably means nothing to a British person, but was made famous in France by the president Macron, “I cross the street and I find you some work …”, when talking with a jobless person.

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