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The Characters of Polla, Dada, Mari, Værmor and Lars
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Ola and Per strips

Four Characters

The in-laws of Per are Værmor (Norwegian for mother-in-law), and her husband, Lars. Lars is also Per's brother.

Polla

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Per's wife Polla is a city girl from Fargo in North Dakota and probably born in America. She prefers city life, speaks city Norwegian and does not know about the techniques of farming, such as milking a cow. According to Bengtson she "represents the encroaching outside "Yankee' world, while the others remain static . . . a strange yet familiar fantasy world", and she seems "to remain distant and indifferent to Ola and Per's zany world." [1]

She is taken to represent a transitional Norwegian-American wife of the time.

Dada

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The little girl Dada is the daughter of Polla and Per. She appears to be an all right child. There is not much detail about her. [2]

Mari

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"Several times Ola's wife, Mari, enters, but she is usually said to be on her way to Minneapolis or Norway," explains Joan Buckley. [3]

Mari appears only a few times, and this has been seen as one of the strip's oddities by Haugen. "She returns from Norway, then leaves him for Minneapolis, comes back, but soon leaves for Norway." [4]

Værmor, Per's Mother-in-Law

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Per's mother-in-law is called Værmor, a Norwegian term for it. She comes out to the farm and turns out to be difficult to deal with and tougher than many other mother-in-laws. She cannot stand to see anyone loafing, and still she eventually becomes Lars' wife. After she has been kidnapped by gangsters, they let her loose, even begging her family to take her back. [5]

The hatched-faced woman (she got a beard and also got bald by accident in some strips) is often found to carry folk life emblems like a rolling pin, chore pail or pitchfork . . . weapons against lazy men-folk! She often gives vent to and lets us peep into American frontier "expressive routines". [6]

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Lars

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Appearance: Per's newcomer brother, Doktor Lars, has a long, scraggly beard, a hat that grows longer with the years, and a jug of moonshine [illegally made spirits] as his emblems. [7]

Other descriptions: He is thought to be "a lovable and amusing character". The "educated fool" Lars is Per's elder brother who at first plays the nykomar (newcomer) role, well-schooled but unproductive, someone who gik sju aar for presten where one year normally would be quite enough. Lars then went on and studied at the universities in Christiania (Oslo) and Berlin. [8]

"Newcomer Lars is the butt of all jokes because he even fails to understand the English words that have been incorporated into his countrymen's Norwegian," observes Einar Haugen. Lars is likely to represent the butt of jokes among farmers back then. In Lars we often see a smug sort of decadence at play. He is likely to symbolize the dangers of useless intellectualism and corrupting urbanism, says Bengtson, who goes on to describes his character type as the clericus vagans, an educated tramp, which is a type that has fascinated storytellers for many centuries. Be that as it may, this academic newcomer hardly seems fit for farming on the North American prairie, where he becomes the butt of community jokes. [9]

Quite ironically, the seemingly unfit one is the one who is left behind in the U.S.A. when the others take off for Norway in the last episode.

Vicissitudes of Lars

In the Norwegian-American comic strip Ola and Per (in translation) a newcomer on the prairie appears in strip 20. It is Doctor Lars arriving from Norway, the brother of the farmer-inventor Per.

In the first strip Lars looks much dignified till his brother Per gives him a ride on his bike and he falls off without Per noticing it - a difficult feat indeed. Afterwards Per calls him a son-of-a-gun, which Haugen translates into "fordømt tulling". Other translations are possible too.

Giving the dog a bad name may go before hanging him. Lars is "hung" a lot of times throughout the strip. From being a nice-looking doctor on first encounter his beard grows longer and his hat higher, and he himself gets thinner and obviously maladapted. He takes to imagining how work is done without enough practical knowledge of chores at hand, and is made a butt of joke for such reasons in the first strip episodes he appears in. Later he starves, steals (strip 147), and drinks much molasses from a jug he "always" carries with him. At least that is the official version of what is in his jug. Others think it is something else than he says.

Lars is far from given an all right welcome by his brother, so the academic goes insane, steals, lives in abject poverty, marries his brother's mother-in-law, and is at times trouserless for other reasons. But he survives the whole long strip.

Now let us look into the ambiguitiy Rosendahl spins around the content of the jug go Lars. Is it really black molasses in it? Let us look at some pictures.

DOKTOR LARS

He claims it is black molasses, but he is not believed a bit (strip 219).

DOKTOR LARS

The neighbour farmer Ola finds him another time (strip 149). Does Ola realise Lars has gorged himself with black molasses?

DOKTOR LARS

"Jag hör dej, men jag kan inte hjälpa dej, sa den fulle, när brännvinet rann ur kuttingen, (I hear you, but I cannot help you, said the drunk when the liquor flowed out of the keg," is a Swedish proverb. - "Right before the depicted situation with its presumable quotation of a proverb, Lars tries to climb a fence and falls on the ground, with his jug out of reach for some crucial moments (strip 148). He seems terribly "fond of jug".

DOKTOR LARS

The mere sound of a jug makes Lars come to after falling down from an airplane and on his head (strips 378-80). Yes, he seems to respond much to "the sound of jug" - but is black molasses really what is in it?

DOKTOR LARS

Very near the end of the strip (episode 588), they are lacking syrup for their pancakes, but Lars comes to the rescue. When asked, "Is syrup what you have in your jug, Lars?", he says, "Of course. I have never had anything else in my jug."

The question remains; what is in the jug of Lars? Is it something fishy or not? The Merriam-Webster dictionary tells "fishy" means (1) of or resembling fish especially in taste or odor; or (2) creating doubt or suspicion: questionable. As the strips show, he is much suspected by other characters of having hooch (illicitly produced alcohol) in it.

Is is something fishy like hooch (moonshine), or is it black molasses or syrup? If you trust Lars, the content is sugary. Then "fishy" may serve even better than "musty, smelly, fusty, and old-fashioned". But it depends on how you look at it.

Lars and His Folksy Insignias

Insignias are distinguishing marks or signs. The high hat, jug, and long beard are informal, low-key, yet key insignias of Lars. His overcoat serves to distinguish him too, but it changes from black to white after some switches initially. Still, we recognise Lars easily by his long beard, high hat, jug, and overcoat.

Similarly, apostles and Catholic saints in the Middle Ages were equipped with insignias too, when they were painted in churches to enlighten the multitude. Thus, St. Peter has a golden key (to paradise), St. Paul a sword, and other saints carry their particular insignias too. The insignias and marks of various martyrs are somehow regulated by Catholic conventions. Interestingly, many conventions of cartoon making are similar to those of making teaching art in Medieval churches, and the popularity of some of these "folk heroes" have risen too, as saints rose to glory by church edification in cartoon-like fashion in earlier times

The newcomer Lars appears in scores of episodes. In some of them he takes part of the main action, in others he just happens to be around. He takes in part in many adventure episodes, where his botanical knowledge often is useful. For example, he identifies a coffee plant and pancake tree - On the farm, however, his botanical expertise seems useless for some reason or other (eg, strip 131).

Collection

Han Ola og Han Per Characters of Polla, Dada, Mari, Værmor and Lars, Literature  

The strip numbers are as in two excellent volumes on Ola and Per:

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).

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: The notes above are found in a major thesis in "American Civilization: Norwegian Immigrant History", at the University of Trondheim:

Kinnes, Tormod. The Humor of Han Ola og han Per Taken Seriously. Major Thesis in American Civilization. The English Section at the Department of Foreign Modern Languages. NTNU, Trondheim, Spring 2007. — I have not taken time to incorporate the notes on this page so far. The library at St. Olaf's College at Northfield near Minneaopolis and St. Paul has got a copy of it.

Han Ola og Han Per Characters of Polla, Dada, Mari, Værmor, and Lars, To top Set Archive section Next

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