English translations of Asterix
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All Asterix stories by Goscinny and Uderzo which have been officially translated into English were translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. Their first volume was published by Brockhampton Press in 1969. However, there have been some additional translations, one in English prior to the Bell/Hockridge version and two in attempts to enter the U.S. market.
In Asterix stories, many of the original names are humorous due to their absurdity. For example, the bard is Assurancetourix (assurance tous risques or "comprehensive insurance"), the translation of which is pointless since the bard has no connection to insurance of any kind — it's the silliness that makes it humorous. To maintain the spirit and flow of the story the translators change the joke in the name to a comment on the character. Thus in the English language edition the bard's name is Cacofonix which is an allusion to the term cacophony (a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds), since the central trait of the bard character is that the Gauls all hate listening to his music.
This happens in the original as well, as with Geriatrix (French: Agecanonix — canonical age — a French expression meaning very old or ancient), but it is not common, while absurd names in English, such as Dubius Status, are reserved for minor or one-story characters. Fictional place names however tend to be equally silly in all translations, for example the four camps (castra) which surround Asterix's village: Compendium, Aquarium, Laudanum and Totorum (Tot o' rum, colloquial English for shot of rum) — in French this camp is called "Babaorum", a pun on baba au rhum or rum baba, a popular French pastry. (In one of the American translations, one of these camps is named Nohappimedium.)
Lost in translation
Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge have been widely praised for their rendition of the English language edition, maintaining the spirit and humour of the original even when direct translation is impossible — as it often is when translating puns between languages which are not closely related. A good example occurs in Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield — when Obelix redistributes the water in the spa pools by diving in, the other guests complain and the druid in charge arrives asking Vitalstatistix, "Where are your Gauls?" In the original French he responds Mes Gaulois sont dans la pleine ("My Gauls are in the full one") which is a play on a famous (in French) quote Les Gaulois sont dans la plaine ("The Gauls are on the plain") which of course sounds exactly the same, though not in English. Instead the translated reply is "Pooling your resources" (the water), a clever double entendre on a common phrase even though the original pun is lost.
Sometimes nothing of the original joke is salvageable. In Asterix in Britain, there is a scene in Londinium where a greengrocer argues with a buyer — in the next panel Obelix says (in French), "Why is that man wearing a melon?" This relies on the fact that the French word for melon is also the name for the iconic British bowler hat; with no way to convey this in the English translation, in the British edition Obelix says, "I say, Asterix, I think this bridge is falling down" referring to the children's rhyme "London bridge is falling down", leaving the original joke incomplete. In the panel shown, the reply of the British man on the right was "Rather, old fruit!", in some publications of the book; a good pun and typical of the way the British address each other in Asterix in Britain. In the same book, much of the humor came from Goscinny's high-fidelity rendition of the English language using French words. This, of course, is totally lost by retranslation in English, but compensated for by making the British characters speak in an antiquated, early-twentieth-century style.
Sometimes the translators even go further and add humor of their own when it is appropriate. An example of this is in Asterix and the Goths, where a group of Goths who kidnapped Getafix run puzzled through a forest populated by Romans looking for Asterix and Obelix, who they think are responsible for the kidnapping. In the original, the Goth chief says "Faut pas chercher à comprendre", meaning "We shouldn't try to understand", a common French phrase with no particular pun attached. In the English version, the chief instead comments "Ours is not to reason why", a reference to The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which states in its third stanza "Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die".
Comparison of names of major characters
|Meaning||Description||British name||American name
|Astérix||asterisk (because he is the star), also the medical term asterixis refers to a periodic loss of muscle tone, the opposite of what Astérix displays when he drinks the magic potion||Gaulish warrior||Asterix||Asterix||Asterix||Asterix|
|Obélix||obelisk (An obelisk is similar to a menhir; and the obelisk symbol † often follows the asterisk.)||Menhir
|Idéfix||idée fixe (theme or obsession)||Obelix’s dog||Dogmatix||Dogmatix||Dogmatix||Ideiafix|
|Abraracourcix||à bras raccourcis: (hit, lambast) violently||Village Chief||Vitalstatistix||Vitalstatistix||Macroeconomix||Abracurcix|
|Bonemine||Bonne mine (healthy look)||Chief's Wife||Impedimenta||n/a||Belladonna||Naftalina|
|Agecanonix||âge canonique (canonical age)||Village elder||Geriatrix||Geriatrix||Arthritix||Veteranix|
|Assurancetourix||Assurance tous risques (comprehensive insurance)||Bard||Cacofonix||Cacofonix||Malacoustix||Chatotorix|
|Cétautomatix||c'est automatique (it's automatic)||Blacksmith||Fulliautomatix||Automatix|
|Ordralfabétix||ordre alphabétique (alphabetical order)||Fishmonger||Unhygienix||Fishtix||Epidemix||Ordenalfabetix|
|Iélosubmarine||Yellow Submarine||Wife of Fishmonger||Bacteria||Ielosubmarina|
|Falbala||falbala, a furbelow; a piece of clothing added to a dress, usually seen as a bad taste luxury||Minor recurring character||Panacea||n/a||Philharmonia||Falbala|
In earlier translations, such as in Valiant and Ranger/Look and Learn (see below), other versions of names have appeared.
Other English-language translations and versions
An edited-down version of Asterix the Gaul appeared in Valiant, a boys' comic published by Fleetway Publications, beginning in the issue dated 16 November 1963. It appeared in colour on the back page. Set in the Britain of 43AD, the strip was originally called Little Fred and Big Ed. Little Fred and stonemason Big Ed lived in the village of Nevergivup which was surrounded by eight Roman camps: Harmonium, Cranium, Pandemonium, Premium, Rostrum, Aquarium, Maximum and Luadanum. Their druid was called Hokus Pokus. As the story progresses and Obelix is absent from the action, the strip was renamed Little Fred, the Ancient Brit with Bags of Grit. The story concluded in the issue dated 4 April 1964.
Ranger was a British magazine for boys published in 1965 and 1966. It included a version of Asterix and the Big Fight with the action transferred to Britain. Beginning in issue one, the strip was called Britons Never, Never, Never Shall Be Slaves! with Asterix renamed Beric the Bold and Obelix being called Son of Boadicea. They are referred to as the henchmen of Chief Caradoc and Son of Boadicea has a dog named Fido. Their druid is called Doric. The story concluded in issue 40 at which point Ranger was merged with Look and Learn magazine. The first combined issue, number 232, saw the beginning of a version of Asterix and Cleopatra called In the Days of Good Queen Cleo.
In their May 1977 issue, the publication featured an article titled "The Celts: Europe's Founders". The article featured a section called Vive Les Celts devoted to Asterix with a comic strip exclusively drawn for the magazine. The inclusion of the article was an attempt by Asterix's creator to make the character well known in the United States. The strip, which was the first to ever appear in the publication, was later reprinted in Asterix and the Class Act.
From November 1977 until early 1979 five albums were serialized in syndicated form in a number of North American newspapers. Since these were printed as part of the standard daily comics, and were broken into separately licensed but concurrent daily and Sunday strips, the art needed considerable reworking. This required editing a lot of the dialog. In addition, a number of names, jokes, and pieces of art were further changed to be more politically correct or idiomatic for the newspapers' family-oriented audience. The results were very different from the original translations. The stories printed appeared in, essentially random order as well, and the experiment came to an end quickly.
The stories which appeared were
- "Asterix the Gladiator" from November 27, 1977 to February 26, 1978
- "Asterix and Cleopatra" from February 26 to May 28, 1978
- "Asterix and the Great Crossing" from May 28 to August 27, 1978
- "Asterix and the Big Fight" from August 27 to November 26, 1978
- "Asterix in Spain" from November 26, 1978 to February 25, 1979 (however, most papers had dropped it well before the final date)
The Sunday color comic between stories contained the end of one story and the start of the next, each as a half page.
Robert Steven Caron translated five volumes into American English. These are Asterix and the Great Crossing in 1984, Asterix the Legionary and Asterix at the Olympic Games in 1992, and Asterix in Britain and Asterix and Cleopatra in 1995.
For copyright purposes most characters' names were changed. With Asterix never achieving great popularity in the United States, this series of retranslations was halted after these albums, leading to some confusion among the few American fans of the series (the other volumes were issued with the British translation in the same market).