“Asterix and the Chieftain’s daughter”

Asterix and the Chieftain’s daughter is the 38th story in the series. It is written by Jean-Yves Ferri and drawn by Didier Conrad, translated by Adriana Hunter, the team behind the last three books. Stepping into the legendary shoes of Uderzo, Goscinny and Anthea Bell ( translator) has meant that the new storytellers are very mindful of the legacy they are responsible for. So they have created Adrenaline, the teenage daughter of famous Gaulish king Vercingetorix. Adrenaline is left in the care of Asterix and Obelix. This is a move widely being perceived as a way of updating the books and to cater to new audiences. Hence for the first time in 60 years, the Asterix series has a girl in a major role.

Asterix and the Chieftain’s daughter attempts to tell a young adult story in comic form about a rebellious teenager, who forms a motley crew with the youngsters at the Gaul village. Adrenaline is sketched as this typical irrational, rebellious, unpredictable teenager who has a reputation of being a “bolter”. She needs to be constantly watched. Despite the 24×7 surveillance the villagers try and maintain, Adrenaline does manage to escape and have some adventures of her own. Although she does have Asterix and Obelix, accompanied by her newfound friends, in hot pursuit of her trail. An adventure that takes her through the forest, encounters with Roman soldiers, a kidnapping attempt and to sail away on a pirate ship. These are only some of the adventures Adrenaline has!

While it is very charming to read about Adrenaline’s adventures, something about the storytelling does not come together. It is as if being ever so careful about the original stories, the present writers are jittery and thus tenuous in their handling of the story they have spun from the past stories. So while they are able to make Adrenaline’s presence plausible by selecting relevant frames from the older stories, the handling of the plot, the character sketches etc are far too thin. It lacks nuance that one would expect in the creation of a young adult character who is also meant to have shades of a strong woman’s traits. Instead it is as if the writers have capitulated to stereotypical notions of what constitutes a teenager and so Adrenaline wears black clothes, sulks a LOT, irresponsible and rebellious. This is a lost opportunity given how well the Asterix series sell worldwide. If the initial print run is of 5 million copies alone, it indicates a very strong market base. A base that could have been consolidated and grown further with a little more understanding of young adult fiction and feminism. Nevertheless a strong brand like Asterix will continue to sell and adding new titles to the list will in all likelihood increase the copyright period of these books. This will ensure a long association with the publishers too before the books are made available in the public domain.

6 Nov 2019

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