[Very important note: all of the reviews will be based on the English language publications researched and painstakingly translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge.]
Synopsis. The book opens with Julius Caesar lounging in Cleopatra’s palace in Egypt. He has seriously pissed her off by calling Egypt a second rate nation. In anger, she hastily wagers that she will prove to Caesar that Egypt is still capable of producing such wonders as the pyramid and the Sphinx. Upon his departure, he calls in Edifis, the best architect in Egypt and tasks him with building a palace for Caesar within three months. Worried that he will not be able to do so, he realizes that only by magic will the project be possible. He immediately remembers Getafix, a druid that he has come to know during his travels. Journeying to Gaul, he beseeches Getafix to assist him in the construction of the palace. Getafix is delighted to help, and Asterix and Obelix invite themselves along.
The journey is uneventful – with the exception that the Pirates make their obligatory and funny appearance. Upon arrival, the greedy and suspicious Artifis shows up hoping to work out a deal whereby he can partner in the project. Edifis is having none of this however given Artifis’ unscrupulous behavior. This leads to bad blood between them and a story-long attempt by Artifis to sabatoge Edifis’ project.
The bulk of the story involves the interactions our heroes have with the slave workers and their efforts to ward off the sinister doings of Artifis and his henchman, and Caesar’s own meddling once he realizes the project is seriously afoot. Getafix throws in his magic as promised and the project moves forward. Will it be completed in time or will Edifis be thrown to the crocodiles? Find out for yourselves dear reader and enjoy the ride.
Funny Names. Krukhut (crewcut) the henchman – the hair reference will make itself clear as the story progresses; Mintjulep, the Egyptian spy; Centurian Superfluous.
Details of Particular Interest. Curious to know what sort of material was needed for Goscinny and Uderzo to produce an Asterix album? Well, the front cover of the comic book is enlightening. To quote: “14 litres of India ink, 30 brushes, 62 pencils, 1 hard pencil, 27 erasers, 1984 sheets of paper, 16 typewriter ribbons, 2 typewriters, 366 pints of beer went into its creation.”
The very first dialogue refers to a written quote by Blaise Pascal, a 17th century philosopher: “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”
There are a lot of historical allusions, so if you’re planning to get this album for a child for the holidays, you can feel good that you are educating him/her.
The book was made into a movie twice. The film released in 1968 was the first animated film made from one of the Asterix books. The big budget 2002 live-action film Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra starred Monica Bellucci as the title character with Gérard Depardieu as Obelix (how does this guy keep getting work?!), and Christian Clavier as Asterix. We think the French producers could have done a better job in casting the heroes. Depardieu is certainly ugly and paunchy but he’s no Obelix. The same can be said about Clavier. The costuming and makeup for our two boys are terrible, and shouldn’t have been given the budget (which probably went primarily to the scenery and Ms. Bellucci’s wardrobe). At any rate, perhaps there are some merits you will find in the film other than the fact that it is based on a wonderful story and it stars the irreducible Bellucci.
We love this book. The pace is good, the jokes are off the wall, and the artwork is better than the previous tomes.