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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 to the left, Per to the right. Picture permission: Craig Bergsgaard, the maker of the statue.

At Norwegian universities, Rosendahl's strip is included among readings in English courses. 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." [Bengtson 1977, 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" [Rosendahl 1988, x]. Maybe so, but he serves as a strip 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-neighbour, 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 is "staunch neighbour." One may come to doubt that true 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." [Bengtson 1977, 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. [Bengtson 1977, 18, 19]

Ola's wife, Mari, is rarely depicted.


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. For all that he is at times so short-sighted and gloating that he endangers his life and the lives of others. He often displays a sordid lack of risk analyses and the like. It was much the same with Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite . . .

Per is quite old when he marries a city girl, Polla. Soon her mother arrives and pesters him and most others. But 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." [Rosendahl 1984, 36; Bengtson 1977, 11, 13]

"A hat is a hat is a hat" is another, more down-to-earth opinion. It is a way of saying it is itself first and foremost. Opinions or additions to that basic view differ, though. Cigar-smoking is often thought of as a symbolic activity, the cigar itself is often interpreted as a phallic symbol or emblem of masculinity. But the inveterate cigar-smoker Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, reached a pacifying conclusion on his own behalf:

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." [Fadiman 1985]


Ola and Per literature

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

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