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Ola and Per Comic Strips

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.


A Poem about the Strip "Han Ola og han Per"

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.

Han Ola og han Per

Ola and Per

by Peter Julius RosendahlTranslation by Einar Haugen
Der er to gamle Gubber,There are two older fellows,
som jeg holder noksaa kjær;Whom I hold very dear;
den ene heder Ola,The name of one is Ola,
og den anden heder Per,And the other one is Per.
men om de nu er virkeligBut whether they are real,
det kan jeg inte si,I certainly can't say,
jeg ser dem kun i DrømmeI see them just as fantasy,
og blot i Fantasi.A dream by night or day.
Den Rolle som de spillerThe roles they play
i Vesterheimen her,In our Western Home out here
det gjøres for at letteAre meant to ease and lighten
den Byrde, som I bær.The burden that you bear.
For en ting ved de fleste,For most of us can see
naar alting gaar paa Kant,That when everything goes wrong,
At Livet det blir lettereA little fun and foolishness
med lidt Tull og Vaas iblandt.Make it easier to get along.
Dog findes dem iblandt os,There are some folks among us
som tror det gaar for vidt,Who think that it is bad
at se oss dra paa SmilenFor us to laugh and joke,
og kvikne op en "bit",Instead of looking sad;
men de maa faa Lov at leveBut let them live their own way
efter egen Sæt og Vis,In sad and solemn tune,
de maa faa Lov at krybeAnd then let them crawl back
ind i sin egen "Chrysalis".Into their, own cocoon.
Men vi glædes ved den Tanke,But we are glad to know
at der findes hist og herThat living here and there
Smaagutter eller Jenter,Are little boys or girls
som venter paa han Per,Just waiting for our Per,
som venter paa han OlaAnd for our Ola, too,
saa luelaus og tryg,Without a cap, but snug,
og den stakkars Dr. Lars'nPlus poor old Doctor Lars
med sin gamle mugne "Jug".With his musty, ancient jug.
(Trykt i "Decorah-Posten" 8. januar 1926, s. 5.) (Original printed in Decorah-Posten, January 8, 1926, p. 5, and the translation in Hp 5)

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.

Verse 1

Line 1: gamle = old, not older. Norwegian eldre is older.
Line 2: nokså = quite, rather, not "very".
Line 3 and 4: heter = is called.
Line 6: det kan jeg ikke si = I cannot tell.
Line 7 and 8: I see them just in dreams, and just in fantasy. ('Night or day' is added by Dr. Haugen)

Verse 2

Line 2: Vesterheimen her = the Western home here.
Line 5: For en ting ved de fleste = For one thing most people know.
Line 6: Når allting går på kant = When everything gets at odds [with us]
Line 7: At livet det blir lettere = That life becomes easier
Line 8: Med litt tull og vås iblant = With a little folly [nonsense] now and then.

Verse 4

Line 6: så luelaus og trygg = So capless and assured
Line 8: gamle mugne jug = old [not ancient] musty [smelly, fusty, fishy, old-fashioned] jug.

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.

Venn diagram
Figure 1. Suggestive Venn diagram - a bundle of ellipses - for Norwegian tull. Different translation words share some meanings, but not all of them do.

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,
life gets easier to bear through some follies at times.

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.


Han Ola og Han Per, Ola and Per, Peter Rosendahl, Literature  

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Bengtson, John D. 1977. Han Ola og Han Per. Language and Literature in the Comic Strips of Peter Julius Rosendahl. Oslo: Universitetet i Oslo, Britisk Institutt, 1977.

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Haugen, Einar Ingvald. "The Language of Han Ola og han Per." In Peter Julius Rosendahl. Han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984, 26-39. Online at National Library of Norway.

Haugen, Einar, and Joan N. Buckley. "Han Ola og Han Per." NAHA publication 1984.

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Lovoll, Odd Sverre. The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

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Lovoll, Odd, ed. Nordics in America: The Future of Their Past. Northfield: The Norwegian-American Association, 1993.

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⸻. 1988. More han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie. Edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Bilingual Edition. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. MOP

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Uther, Hans-Jörg. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2004.

Wölfflin, Heinrich. Konsthistoriska grundbegrepp: Stilutvecklingsproblem i nyare tidens konst. Stockholm: Norstedts, 1947.

Warnche, Carsten-Peter. Pablo Picasso 1881–1973. Vol 1. Ed. Ingo Walther. Cologne: Benedikt Taschen, 1995.

Zempel, Solveig, ed. In Their Own Words: Letters from Norwegian Immigrants. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Zempel, Solveig, ed., tr. and introduction. In Their Own Words: Letters from Norwegian Immigrants. Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991. Brudal, Paul. Det ubevisste språket. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.

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Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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