The series of Asterix adventures, written in French by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, has been a reader’s delight for decades. Translated into English by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, the series has captured every charm in the original titles and seems to have lost nothing in translation.
What is it that makes Asterix a classic? First, the theme itself: the Roman conquest of Gaul is complete but for ‘one small village of indomitable Gauls’. Second, the exaggerated illustrations of a host of peculiar personae: a druid who brews a magic potion that gives superhuman strength; a puny Asterix who can beat the hell out of the Romans; a fatso Obelix, whose dog Dogmatix is so very small; a bard Cacofonix, whose performance is as good as his name; the chief of the tribe, Vitalstatistix, whose only fear is that the sky may fall upon his head. And third, the readability of the text.
In this article, I will examine just one text Asterix And The Big Fight; and that too only the utterances of the two key personae, Asterix and Obelix. First, a look at the average sentence length; and then, the percentage of different polysyllabic words.
Asterix uses 1025 words in 170 sentences. The average sentence length is just 6.03. He also uses 27 different polysyllabic words, proper nouns excluded. The percentage of different polysyllabic words is just 2.63.
Obelix uses 574 words in 91 sentences. The average sentence length is just 6.30. He also uses 13 different polysyllabic words, proper nouns excluded. The percentage of different polysyllabic words is just 2.26.
Though the mean of their utterances is about equal at six, Asterix and Obelix limit most of their sentences to not more than four words. Thus, the mode of their utterances is just 4. The longest of Asterix’s sentences has 20 words; and Obelix comes a close second with 19 words. Even the longest sentences follow the guideline of Martin Cutts: “Over the whole document, make the average sentence length 15-20 words.”
Robert Gunning’s Fog Index = (ASL + P%) * 0.4; ASL is the average sentence length and P the number of polysyllabic words, proper nouns excluded. Applying this formula, we find that Asterix’s utterances are pegged to a grade level of 3.464; and Obelix’s utterances, to a grade level of 3.424. Asterix And The Big Fight thus makes wonderful reading material from grade 3 onwards. The same may be true of the other adventures of Asterix.
Here is how Asterix And The Big Fight ends:
Obelix: If I’m not careful I shall be putting on weight … I must go on a diet … I shall eat just biscuits, with perhaps a little something on them …
Asterix: A little something? What sort of little something?
Obelix: A BOAR, BY TOUTATIS!
Poor Cacofonix, dangling from a tree and his mouth gagged, cannot join in the laughter of the Gauls. But we can: “HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!”