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Ola and Per Explained

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The Strip Character Ola

Ola is one of the two main characters of an Norwegian-American comic strip that is regarded as a culturally relevant and worthy social piece of evidence - a treasure of a kind. In honour of the strip, a newly made bronze statue of Ola and Per was uncovered in Spring Grove, Minnesota on 18 May 2002. The festivities involved the Royal Embassy of Norway, guests of honor, and ceremonies.

Ola and Per statue by Craig Bergsgaard
Picture of the "life-size" Ola and Per statue uncovered in Spring Grove on 18 May 2002. Ola is to the left, Per to the right. Picture permission: Craig Bergsgaard, the maker of the statue.
A life-size bronze sculpture . . . of the Norwegian-American cartoon characters, Ola and Per, will be dedicated in Spring Grove . . . The US Postal Office has developed a pictorial cancellation for the dedication of the Ola and Per statue. The Spring Grove Post-Mistress will hand cancel your envelopes with the Ola and Per stamp if you bring them to the Post Office on the 18th. . . . For background on this popular Norwegian-American comic strip by Peter Rosendahl, you will want to see the 1984 NAHA publication by Einar Haugen and Joan N. Buckley entitled Han Ola og Han Per. [NOTE 1]

Also, as another token of acceptance, at Norwegian universities Rosendahl's strip is included among interesting and acceptable readings in English courses.

You could even consider making use of a comic strip. Peter J. Rosendahl, Han Ola og Han Per: A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. Ed. by Einar Haugen and Joan N. Buckley (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984); and More Han Ola og Han Per. Ed. by Einar Haugen and Joan N. Buckley (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988) [NOTE 2]

Ola and Per are at the centre of most strips. John Bengtson thinks that

Ola and Per represent 'base wisdom (body) and 'noble folly' (soul) respectively . . . Per is the noble fool, the soul . . . naively optimistic and blind to the hard realities . . . Per's initial cigar-puffing optimism comes to a sorry end, and Per's idealism . . . goes wrong." [Hop 11]
Appearances. Ola is short, stocky, sensible and hard working, capless (bare-headed), he wears overalls and carries a pitchfork over his shoulder.

Other descriptions: "The one solid and nonridiculous character" [Mop x]. It has to be questioned, for he serves as a buffoon, he too.

Possible representations: The occasionally singing Ola is the good neighbor according to Buckley and Haugen. That is not so sure, but he and Per band together at any rate. He is, rather, a good farmer-neighbor, according to Haugen and Buckley. However, since he wallops Per (strip 231), laughs at his misfortunes also (eg, strip 81), and survives remarkably well (strip 70, 206, and others), a more fitting term must be "staunch neighbour", rather. I seriously doubt a real friendship would survive so much gloating at setbacks, being knocked down, and dangers.

Bengtson thinks that

Ola is base wisdom, the earthly element . . . reminding the soul to take it easy and not take life so seriously . . . Ola typically laughs . . . faithful to his sidekick . . . but the two are no more separable than body and soul. Even-tempered Ola's head is bare and 'cool' (an interpretation suggested by the author himself) . . . a true and self-assured farmer . . . the idealized bonde (free peasant) of N[orwegian n]ational romanticism." [Hop 13]

Bengtson's fugitive interpretations need to be toned down. If so, his categorizations - that are drawn from "stock literary theory" - may be useful. One should question how valid they are, anyhow. As a matter of fact, Ola is not exactly "base wisdom" or "the earthly element", nor is he like the body to the soul [Per] either.

How far he represents or comes close to any "Norwegian national romanticism" is very questionable too. For as Bengtson himself states, "Norway herself is rarely mentioned - indeed, in one strip the characters display blissful ignorance of their origins in Norway". Ola also takes part in very many exotic adventures. What is presented, then, is not exactly Norwegian national romanticism, but mainly Norwegian-American rural life as Rosendahl knew it. [Hop 18, 19]

Ola's wife, Mari, is rarely depicted.

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The Strip Character Per

Appearance: The Hadeling Per appears in a a derby hat and a long-tailed suit (a Prince Albert coat tails), and carries a big monkey wrench around the farm.

The settlers
Mother-in-law holds an axe to the left, Per in his derby hat, Prince Albert coat, and aiming with a rifle, is beside her. Bare-headed Ola is by his side, throwing dynamite at cannibals who are preparing to boil Per's brother Lars in a pot. (Scene from episode 238)
His mind-set: Per is considered a tall and lanky dreamer, but he is a fine inventor and handy enough, all in all. He is at times so short-sighted and gloating that he endangers his life and the lives of others through sordid lack of risk analyses and the like.

Per is quite old when he marries a city girl, Polla. Soon her mother arrives and pesters him and most others - and Per's brother Lars marries her.

Possible representations: Per in the series has much in common with Peter Rosendahl himself. And what is more, Haugen thinks Per is a "fantast, caught betweeen the fascinating mechanical fads of his time and a conspicuous lack of common sense", a braggart authority on inventions. And Bengtson thinks that Per's "hat symbolically holds the nervous energy in, while his cigar smoking suggest a thermal output of that energy." [Hp 36, Hop 11, 13]

Opinions differ, however. Cigar-smoking is often thought of as a symbolic activity, the cigar itself is often interpreted as a phallic symbol or emblem of masculinity. The inveterate cigar-smoker Sigmund Freud reached a pacifying conclusion on his own behalf, one that is worth noting:

A curious student once asked Freud if his cigar-smoking carried any particular symbolic weight for him. He puffed reflectively, then replied, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." [Fab xx]

Han Ola og Han Per expounded 
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Han Ola og Han Per expounded - ENDMATTER

Han Ola og Han Per expounded, LITERATURE  

Ebu: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010.

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

Hp: Rosendahl, Peter J. 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 (Original printed in the Decorah-Posten).

Mop: Rosendahl, Peter J. 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, 1988.

Notes

1. NAHA: [http://www.naha.stolaf.edu/114_March02.htm] Accessed 31 May, 2003.

2. University of Bergen: Course information. [www.hf.uib.no/i/engelsk/HovLit2.html] Last updated May 27, 2003, Accessed May 31, 2001.

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