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Asterix and the Normans

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Title: Asterix and the Normans

Author: René Goscinny, illustrated by Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge

Publisher: Orion Books

Pages: 48

Format Read: Paperback

So…just to shake things up a little, I’m going to focus on a comic book for this post. I’ve always enjoyed the Asterix comics and there are so many titles I’ve yet to read. They’re hilarious, masterfully drawn and vibrantly inked, and the just the sort of comic relief you need when the chips are down.

In these stories you are basically cast back in time to a not-quite-real little village in Gaul. The little village has, by its sheer indomitable spirit, remained independent of Roman control. The villagers are all indomitable (obviously) and they are hedged in by four Roman camps with soldiers who would rather be anywhere but here.

‘Asterix and the Normans’ introduces one more group of fabulously fearless people – the Normans. Their landing on the beach is discovered by Asterix and his friend Obelix, who are in the middle of entertaining Asterix’s nephew Justforkix. Justforkix is a snooty little rebel with a penchant for loud music. He gets along famously with the bard Cacofonix.

Who also has a talent for loud…what he thinks is music.

He is terrified of the Normans. Who also have interesting names. After all, who wouldn’t be amused by the mighty chief Timandahaf? Or his associates Fotograf and Chiffchaf?

Only the Gauls, including their chief Vitalstatistix, and his comrades Getafix, and Polyfonix, and  Operatix. They’re intrigued by the landing of the Normans and their dreams of conquest.

Justforkix thinks they’re all mad. The Normans are to be feared, not laughed at. They do not know the meaning of fear themselves, and there is nothing, or almost nothing, that can frighten them. Despite their best efforts to scare themselves.

The story all comes together very nicely in a plot that includes the bard Cacofonix. And a young Roman recruit who’s obsessed with preparing reports in triplicate. There are fights and brawls and Asterix eats a lot of meats in cream sauce before the Normans are given an opportunity to pursue their quest – they are here, after all, to discover the meaning of fear.

It is a wildly humorous story that reads quickly. I am not going to compare this title to the other Asterix stories, nevertheless, I found it relaxing. And funny. There is a whole cast of characters to wade through but they’re so uniquely individual that you remember them all, even with their names. There’s a cadence about the whole thing, a richness to the pages that makes every reread a joyous one.

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on Archie Comics

Title: on Archie Comics

Format Read: Paperbacks, Ebooks

For a change of pace, I thought I would write about a series of books (comics!) that accompanied me through my childhood and teenage years – Archie Comics.

I was really young when I was introduced to my first Archie comic. I confess some of it went over my head at the time, but I was fascinated by the whole thing – Riverdale and the characters and the splash of colour on the pages. The first Archie I received was a winter edition – almost all the stories were set in December, there was snow, and fluffy jackets, and snow fights. Since then, I’ve collected several more. There was hungry Jughead and absentminded Archie and irritating Reggie. Dilton with his genius and reams of advice. Betty, ever practical. Veronica, always vain and impractical. And Hot Dog, who was, and still is, a favourite.

They were probably one of my best escapes during my time at school and college. Riverdale was a refuge, a happy dreamland of weird and interesting characters. I was pretty intrigued by the dresses Betty and Veronica wore, even Sabrina, and I really liked Dan deCarlo’s art. Some stories did not resonate with me, it is true. There were some particularly weird ones that left me baffled.

There were some that fascinated me as well. One was about Archie discovering a Dream Shoppe. They sold dreams, like a baker would sell cakes. It was a story that left Archie throwing a tantrum at the end. Naturally. Another storyline that I’ve come across only once and never seen since was about Veronica discovering an ancestor named Jezebel. This was, if my memory is correct, a strange tale, and a little creepy. I have no idea why I haven’t been able to find it since I first read it.

I do think Archie comics helped me keep my mind during stressful times. At least there was a happy place to escape to, and Riverdale was absolutely ideal. I have all my old comics, and I intend keeping them. They bring back some happy memories and besides, I do like rereading those whacky tales.

Archie Comics have made me laugh, and smile, and think. Everything I could ask for in a good book.

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The Sundial

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Title: The Sundial

Author: Shirley Jackson

Publisher: Penguin (Modern Classics)

Pages: 222

Format Read: Paperback

I enjoyed this book. Mrs. Halloran inherits Halloran House with its peculiar past on account of her son’s death. Naturally, her daughter-in-law is upset, and that much is made clear right at the beginning of the novel.

And her daughter-in-law is the least of Mrs. Halloran’s problems. Her husband isn’t in the best of health, and her sister-in-law has begun to have visions of her dear departed father. So much so that she has declared herself a prophetess of doom (all while wearing her mother’s diamonds, of course. You can’t be a prophetess without the diamonds.)

But what is the book about, exactly? It seems to be about the house itself, and its history. Then it seems to be about the visions Aunt Fanny (the prophetess sister-in-law) talks about. There’s also a doomsday cult thrown in for good measure.

Most of all, though, I found the novel a fascinating interplay of characters in an odd setting trying to make sense of looming uncertainty, even insanity. There’s an undercurrent of wry humour, a sense of dread. Nobody is quite sane in the book, and Aunt Fanny’s nightmare wanderings in the garden are eerie. Tying the story together is that odd sundial in the garden with its inscription ‘WHAT IS THIS WORLD?’

Added to the fracas are visitors, employees, and Mrs. Halloran’s creepy little granddaughter Fancy. A strange novel, to be sure, and difficult to describe, but a lot of fun to read.

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Laugh with Leacock

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Book:  Laugh with Leacock

Author:  Stephen Leacock

Publisher:  Pocket Books Inc. (1947)

Pages:  324

Format Read: Paperback

She was begirt with a flowing kirtle of deep blue, bebound with a belt bebuckled with a silvern clasp, while at her waist a stomacher of point lace ended in a ruffled farthingale at her throat.

Stephen Leacock in ‘Guido the Gimlet of Ghent’

Laugh with Leacock (page 52)

Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was a Canadian writer, humourist, political activist, and professor. He was, during the early twentieth century, the best known humourist in the English language.

“Laugh with Leacock” is a collection of short pieces with themes ranging from a rattled customer going to a bank, to a certain tenant insisting on paying rent to his benevolent landlord, with so many others in between. There’s a play of words in these pieces that is absolutely refreshing – and it makes the satire that much more effective. The author’s social commentary is scathing. And hilarious.

My favourites in this collection include ‘Guido the Gimlet of Ghent: A Romance of Chivalry’ and the ridiculously ridiculous ‘Gertrude the Governess.’ Both are gothic-type mediaevalesque parodies (although ‘Getrude’ is a little more modern.) ‘Letters to the New Rulers of the World’ is just that. Letters. They’re missives to rulers including a disposed, disgruntled king with many titles and names, and a ‘brother in darkness.’ ‘The Snoopopaths’ is a cleverly crafted mystery that manages to play games with the reader’s mind.

‘Love Me, Love My Letters’ has a series of disastrous love letters, and ‘The Great Detective’ features an all knowing, impossibly intelligent detective solving impossible cases. These are described by the Poor Nut, his mystified associate. The Poor Nut realizes that the Great Detective “…knew as much of the finesse of Italian wines as he did of playing the saxophone.” (page 31)

And of course, ‘The Affair with My Landlord’ is all about that crazy tenant who wants to pay rent. Only his landlord isn’t allowing him to. How incredibly infuriating.

The second-last piece, ‘Humour As I See It’ is an author’s commentary on humour in general, its writing, and how humour is perceived. It was, after a series of humorous tales, an enlightening read.

Leacock’s humour is sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, rarely slapstick, and very well written. “Laugh with Leacock” is a classic feel-good book.