March 24, 2020 - 5:57pm

Albert Uderzo, illustrator of the Asterix books, has died age 92.

Asterix was a central part of my childhood. We lived in France for a while, and I remember being left (in a way that would probably get my parents arrested nowadays) with my brothers in the books aisle at the local supermarché, devouring Asterix books while my parents shopped.

I read and loved the books in French, then bought them again as an adult in the very funny English translations done by the brilliant (and also late) Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. I do not think I am alone in having absorbed most of what I know about classical civilisations from Asterix.

I was going to write something today about why the EU seems chronically unable to take timely action in a crisis. But this does not feel like the moment for sniping at technocrats, as governments worldwide struggle with the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, I would rather celebrate the life and achievement of an artist whose work is both deeply rooted in France, French exceptionalism and French humour, while also warmly observant of the quirks of Europe’s nations and cultures. Like almost nothing else, Asterix makes me feel genuinely European.

Uderzo’s illustrations are comical without sneering, remarkably historically accurate and minutely observed in their depiction of typically French (and other) gestures, body types and expressions. Reading the books again as a teenager and adult, I was amazed all over again at how enjoyable they were to a child and yet how many layers of subtlety I missed only to appreciate later as an adult.

If you have kids stuck in quarantine you could do worse than kick-start a love of ancient history (or possibly Druidism, or terrible puns, or all the above) with a pile of Asterix books.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.