Asterix The Legionary

This evening, rather than have any of the books we borrowed from the library, La Serpiente demanded a book from the top row of her bookshelf. That’s where we put all the books that are aimed at a person who isn’t three years old; Dinosaur Poop (a book you can’t find on Amazon, curiously enough), Watership Down and anything else with the wrong ratio of words to pictures. But she’d excelled herself at her swimming class today, and I didn’t fancy setting off a huge row, so when she asked for “the blue one” (an anthology of Asterix stories) I told her she could have it, but she couldn’t have any of her other books. Surprisingly, she acquiesced and we settled down to read the first in the volume: Asterix The Legionary.

In this episode (the tenth Asterix story to be published, Wikipedia informs me) Asterix and Obelix join a Roman legion. This is because Obelix has become a simpering, lovelorn fool for Panacea, a good looking young Gaul whose fiance has been conscripted to one of Caesar’s legions. I remember reading this many times myself when young; I don’t think I got much of it, apart from the amusing treatment of non-Gaulish speech and the British legionary singing “Britons never never shall be cut-price slaves” to the tune of Rule Britannia (although perhaps that was in a different story entirely – we only made it about 10 pages into the book tonight).

There are various problems with reading Asterix to your child, quite apart from the story, which is hardly the most amazing thing ever written (Gauls drink magic potion, beat up Romans, repeat ad infinitum). Despite the fact that it’s a comic book, it’s really very dense with text. It’s mostly restricted to a standard layout (12 panels per page, no great innovation in how pictures are placed on the page to convey time, etc) and the jokes are pretty laboured (for somebody in their middle age who doesn’t think puns are always the Funniest Thing Ever) and then there are the worries that it might be freighted with rather too much racism in that everyone who isn’t a Gaul is a bit odd (not least the Egyptian with the huge nose and the complete ignorance of everything going on around him). (This is also the week that I read about the racist overtones of Bertie Wooster*, which made me feel really rather sad.)

However, La Serpiente didn’t notice this, and was just completely rapt by the combination of words and pictures. That, or she was exhausted (she went to sleep very quickly, without complaint tonight). She sat up in bed for the first few pages, and then when I told her she had to lie down, that was what she did. We read more, and then I told her we’d have to read more of it tomorrow, and there was no push-back, no wailing. I think her mind may have been blown by a rotund Frenchman from before the birth of Christ. As to what would happen if I exposed her to a more heavy duty comic book, that remains to be seen. But since she likes the cinema and seems to like comic books, there would appear to be some things we can share growing up.

Next task is to get her to play Space Hulk.
* If “overtones” is an adequate way to describe blacking up, which it probably isn’t.

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