Anthea Bell, the renowned translator who brought the Asterix comic series to English readers, died on Thursday at the age of 82. Her son, journalist Oliver Kamm, made the announcement of her passing on Twitter, hailing her as a “literary giant” and one of the great translators of the 20th and 21st century.
Bell, who died after a prolonged illness, translated 35 titles of the world famous French comic series about a village of Gauls resisting Roman invasion. Following the news of her death, writers, publishers, translators and readers took to social media to pay tribute to Bell’s genius.
Many remembered her razor-sharp wit, layers of humour and the puns that are such a distinctive feature of Asterix in English.
Many others rightly pointed out that Bell often surpassed the level of narrative and jokes of the French original through her translation. Several of the the best-loved turns of phrase and puns came from her own genius, including the names of Asterix’s canine companion, Dogmatix and the village druid, Getafix.
Asterix and Bell also had some early insight on our current world of xenophobia and turmoil, decades before it would come to pass. “In an era when Britain seems once more to be winding itself yet tighter into its immemorial and monoglot garb,” the novelist Will Self said to The Guardian, “we’d do well to remember the huge importance of literary translation as a vector for our understanding of – and empathy with – other peoples.”
But for all the adoration pouring in for her work on the comic series, Bell’s work went far beyond the beloved Gauls. Working with both German and French texts, her translations include the works of Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, WG Sebald, among many others, leaving behind a staggering legacy.