Norwegian Americans are able to poke fun at themselves . . . - Odd Lovoll [Personal communication]
Characteristics of Norwegian-American humor and wit is tentatively explained by Dr Odd Lovoll. [Lovoll 1998, 42-43; 187-88, 223-28].
One study that Lovoll renders, "paints a very wholesome picture of Norwegians and Norwegian Americans, and identifies the Norwegian word kjekk as an ideal, meaning being courageous, positive, humorous, strong, capable, and industrious. . . ." [Ib., 187]
The industrious farmers Ola and Per are the main characters of a Norwegian-American comic strip that was made between 1918 and 1935 by Peter Julius Rosendahl (1878–1942), a native of Spring Grove in Minnesota.
Ola and Per Humor
Rosendahl's comic strip "Han Ola og han Per" is about accommodations. It was first published in the Norwegian-language Decorah Posten, Iowa, with continuing reruns since, and has lately been published weekly by The Western Viking in Seattle and a few Minneapolis papers in addition to being published in the two volumes of Ola and Per cartoons edited by Joan Buckley and Einar Haugen [Hp, Mop]. Haugen has furnished the English translations of titles and content. The strip numbers are as they appear in their collection of about 554 strip episodes out of 599. The dates given are the publication dates in Decorah-Posten. The strip episodes from the first strip collection are about 50 percent enlarged, and those of the second collection about 90 percent enlarged.
Ola and Per (picture on top of page) are two cartoon characters from the Upper Midwest of the early 1900s. The strip was first published between 1918 and 1935 in the Norwegian-language newspaper Decorah-Posten, Iowa. The cartoonist was Peter Julius Rosendahl (1868–1941) of Spring Grove, Minnesota. His basic cartoon program is in the second verse.
Poem Comments with Corrections
A traditional Italian adage is Traduttori, traditori, "Translators are traitors." "Not necessarily," one should add. There is such a thing as poetic licence.
Rosendahl's dialectal Norwegian (bokmå) differs from today's normalised bokmål in several ways.
Below are key Norwegian terms in Rosendahl's poem. You may study Haugen's very good, poetic translation above in the light of them. You get some alternatives wordings and phrases too.
Line 1: gamle = old, not older. Norwegian eldre is older.
Line 2: Vesterheimen her = the Western home here.
Line 6: så luelaus og trygg = So capless and assured
Comments on Verse 2
The four verses by Rosendahl are the cartoonist's manifest. In the first verse he circles in on them and how he conceives them. In the second verse is his main strip program, and there are no signs of his changing it after 1926 either. The third verse is his defence against critics, and the fourth his affirmation in the strip's value, pointing at the readers' welcome of it. It was a popular strip among Norwegian Americans, and still is.
The fluent, poetic translation by Einar Haugen could be more exact in some places. His translation has prioritized metre and rhyming above correct translations of terms and phrases at times, and contains minor alterations of meaning. All who do not master Norwegian may not make out of these finer points if unaided.
Mind the differences and nuances in meaning. There are places where one may translate a line or phrase or word a little differently. But, for example, Rosendahl's gamle mugne jug in verse 4 (above), does not have to mean musty, ancient jug. For "gamle" in this context means "old" and not "ancient". And Rosendahl's mugne (musty, smelly, fusty, fishy, old-fashioned) may be translated into all of these synonyms. So if you ask, "How fishy is that jug?" A few pictures from the whole series hold some clues, but maybe not all of them - and the outcome depends on what we mean by "fishy" too. The word allows for many meanings.
There is not always a "one-to-one" correspondence between a Norwegian and English word. Lots of time there are synonyms and a variety of phrases and idioms to choose among - as different words imply different things (Figure). Hence, in translation work there is room for alterative renditions many a time; carry several meanings and a choice has to be made among them. The elements with added emphasis in the comparison table below are not in the original poem.
The last line of the second verse contains "tull og vaas". The fixed expression is often the same as "tull og tøys", which is translated as "stuff and nonsense, rigmarole, balderdash, foolish talk", but in Rosendahl's poem it seem to mean "foolishness."
An apt translation seems appropriate in its context, in the light of the author's most likely intentions, and so on.
Allowing for some leeway [see dynamic equivalence in Nida and Taber 1974], we could translate Rosendahl's declared intention into:
When life is at odds with us,
The meaning is "easier for the strip reader at times," but not necessarily the victims or perpetrators of folly. And then it depends on who is involved, what is done, how it is done, why it is done, for how long, and when. The long-lasting popularity of Rosendahl's strip among Norwegian-Americans indicates he was good at addressing common issues among them, methinks.
To present follies of comic strip characters for succor and entertainment is what Ola and Per and many other characters seem to be for. Still, much depends on what kind of follies are involved, at whose expenses they are, and who seems to have benefitted from them in several ways. It could be wise to consider the characters mischief-makers many times.
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