Folk Wisdom of Ola and Per
"Ola and Per" is a farce strip made by Peter J. Rosendahl (1878-1942). He was born to Norwegian immigrants near Spring Grove in Minnesota in 1878 and held a certificate in mechanical and electrical engineering.The strip's main characters, Ola and Per, are folk heroes among Norwegian-Americans. The strip was first published in Decorah-Posten, Iowa, between 1918 and 1935. Books and reruns appear too. Among other things the strip offers proverbs, allusions to proverbs, and maxims we would not be without.
What follows is a selection of most of the proverb-looking captions in the series in their order of apperance. The strip numbers are given first. Then comes most often the essence of the strip title in translation, maybe with a few American proverbs to compare with. The Norwegian of Rosendahl is added to that again. A Norwegian is likely to make sense of it even though modern Norwegian is a bit different: Where Rosendahl writes 'aa', Norwegian (and Danish and Swedish) uses 'å' (pronounced as in "saw"); common nouns are not capitalised any more, and so on.
From the Strip Series
3. Be kind to animals
The caption accompanies three boxes: In the first of them Ola sits milking his cow. On the other side of a fence Per is busy kicking away pigs who are eager for the food he carries in buckets. Ola says, "It grieves me to see how mean you are to the animals." But when Ola's cow kicks the bucket of milk in his face, he smashes his stool over her head in a rage.
The strip serves to show the tension between animals and men who basically utilize them. The cruel mistreatment by these two neighboring farmers indicate how shallow and calculating their sort of kindness is. Rosendahl, himself a farmer and sensitive man, uses irony to get that message through, loud and clear. The title says the opposite of what happens, and the mixed comment and text of the strip blends nice words of kindness to animals with ongoing cruelty. The farmers dominate the animals as they make use of them. There are other ways to be kind to animals - or farmers: Letting them be is often fit in the long run, if balances have not been upset already. Often they are, and that is quite a modern problem.
8. "You may know the great by their riding-gear"
Ola and Per ride off in their new car. The two back wheels fall off as they are driving, the brakes will not work. The strip ends with a car crash.
10. As long as you live you learn
Per does not manage to split wood proficiently, and Ola shows him how to do it, with the result that a large piece of split wood hits Per in the stomach. That is fun afterwards, at best.
15. It's never so bad that it could not get worse
Per wants to ride a bicyle, but ties it to an oak so that it will not go too far if he loses control of it. As a result the vehicle suddenly stops as Per is riding along. He hits a tree, head first, and says, "I wasn't so dumb after all when I tied it to the oak. If I hadn't done so, things might have gone absolutely wrong." Here the humor is effected in part by mixing causes. It was tying the vehicle that caused the accident.
29. Per "executes the smith for the baker", or The cow that suffered instead of the pig
Per aims his rifle at a pig among other animals and shoots a cow. The strip shows it is best to stay within the range of what you can safely do. Mottos like "Safety first" or "Sound precautions" apply.
41. It is not easy to be a newcomer, says Lars
Per's academic brother Doctor Lars is a newcomer. In this strip he is asked to plow the corn. The inexperienced man often overestimates what he can do. When he does his best he miscalucates and spooks the horses so that they throw him. His comment after a ride through the air is, "Here in America one does not get treated in the way I had expected."
44. Who laughs last, often laughs best. [Ap 360]
In strip 44 Ola walks along and fails to notice a little tricycle in his way. When he falls over it, Per laughs at him so much that he does not see a big branch in his way. The strip ends with his banging his head into the branch. "One time (it happens to) me, another time you (so refrain from backbiting and gloating)" is a poignant lesson of the episode. The caption is also used in the strips 357, 422, and 486.
51*. When Ola was to mind the house.
This caption alludes to a very popular type of folk tale that is given the International Folk Tale Catalog number (AT) 1408 and the following title: "The Man Who Did His Wife's Work". A dissatisfied husband is made to switch work with his wife for a day, and falls short in extremes. D. L. Ashliman summarizes the type of tale like this:
A main lesson of the tale is probably not to talk down on the buzy, hard work of the housewife.
62. The caption is "Per demonstrates "Safety first" for Ola".
Per ties himself to the roof of a henhouse for safety, so that he will not fall down if he loses his balance while working upon the roof. However, he does fall, and in so doing brings the little building down over him. Miscalulations are his lot over and over.
64*. The caption is, literally, "Ola and Per make a Gotham tale", that is, they act out a numbskull story
The strip is about making a cement cover on a cistern. Per starts to work on the inside walls of it, and Ola lends him a helping hand by bricking it up on the outside. After they part for the night, Per discovers that he is trapped in the cistern. The strip ends with calls from the cistern, and is related to painting oneself into a corner, only the prospects seem much uglier.
65*. Per knows a way out
Per balances Ola's car so that it can run with two wheels only. The solution is strenuous, but it works as long as Per can run along with the car.
75*. When Lars was to mind the house
Ola and Per are about to leave the farm on an errand and ask Lars to shoot "a rabbit or a partridge or something" and make a soup on it so that they get something to eat when they are back. When they are having their meal, they ask what he made it from. It is "kind of black and white", Lars tells them, and shows them a skunk hide. Skunk soup was not a preferred dish, it appears, although in some cultures they eat rats and dogs.
95. Sharp lye is needed for scurvy heads
Per has got head lice and washes his head in gasoline, catches fire, and is saved by Ola. Per underestimates the danger of what he is doing, once again.
103. Everything at the right time and place
Per has got built a big house with a "sleeping porch" on the second floor, like "the big shots in Fargo". He goes to bed out there when the temperature is 36 centigrades below zero, with the result that his feet get frozen stiff. The strip is about suiting the occasion, and an encouraging idea at the back of it could very well be: A good life, like dexterity, comes by experience [cf. Ap 148].
132. A byway is often the shortest
Maybe it is not. Compare: Don't go round the world for a shortcut [Ap 677].
140. No one knows the day until the sun has set
Ola and Per are enjoying themselves, playing checkers. Per mentions they have always been friends, but then makes a stupid move. Ola wins, laughing. In anger Per soon smashes the checker board over Ola's head.
172, 245. Punished nosiness
Per wants to impregnate fence posts with creosote oil, and fills a large pot with creosote oil and warms it up. When he leaves the pot with Ola for a while, Per's meddling mother-in-law comes prying and as a result falls into the hot creosote with a splash. As the proverb goes: A man should not stick his nose in his neighbour's pot [Ap 397].
194. "Per does not practice what he preaches."
Cf. Practice what you preach [Ap 479].
215. "Need breaks laws."
Cf. Necessity is above the law. Necessity knows no law [Ap 353].
223. "When the ending is good, everything is good"
All is well that ends well.
244. Digging is hard after much leisure
The caption is: "Digging up stubs is hard work after all this leisure."
247. All is well that ends well
Here is a variant of the caption of strip 223.
267. "Better precautious than quick afterwards (eg, when damage has been done)"
Cf. A stitch in time saves nine. Bulwarking is better than prevention, which is better than attempts to cure.
294*. You are never rid of book agents (Joke)
Bogagenter blir man aldrig kvit.
306*. Foolhardiness is punished
Cf. Straffet Dumdristighed.
325*. Coffee brings new life (Joke)
Kaffi! Kaffi! bringer nyt Liv.
328. "When the danger is greatest, the help is nearest"
That is a nice hope. Now there is a story about two fishermen from the Sands Island in Norway. They had capsized in the middle of the Sandsfjord, and were clinging to the overturned boat bottom. While big waves washed over the keel, one of them said to the other, "Joan, now we have to call to Our Lord."
"Well, but aren't there people closer by?" asked the other. [Vkp 47-48]
358. Things do not aways turn out according to plan
Cf. The best laid plans of mice and men / often go awry. - Robert Burns.
373, 597 Too much of a good thing . . . (is bad all right)
Cf. Too much of a good thing is worse than none at all [Ap 260].
391. Sorrow and happiness wander together
"Sorgen og Glæden de vandre tilhobe."
423. Big head and little sense
(Expression akin to "Little man, big car)
425. Don't believe everything you hear.
Cf. Believe only half of what you see and nothing you hear [Ap 274] Season all you hear with salt [Ap 523].
432. He who digs a grave for another falls in himself [Ap 266]
Hvo som graver en Grav for andre ...
503*. Pigs get a rough handling. (Novel)
Grisene faar en haard Medfart.
540*. Oo, Per!
"Uf da" is a Norwegian expression that among Norwegian Americans has taken off from its original meaning as an utterance of dismay to mean something different.
568*. Cf. The cure may be worse than the disease [Ap 152]
Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease [Ap 504].
Agha: Ashliman, D. A Guide to Folktales in the English Language. New York: Greenwood, 1987.
Ap: Mieder, Wolfgang (main ed.), Stewart A. Kingsbury, and Kelsie E. Harder: A Dictionary of American Proverbs. (Paperback) New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
By: Bø, Olav, red. Rim, gåter, ordtøke. (Rhymes, Puzzles, Proverbs) (Norsk folkedikting 4) 3. utg (3rd ed). Oslo: Samlaget, 1977.
Dp: Fergusson, Rosalind. The Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
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.
Oa: Aasen, Ivar. Norske ordsprog (Norwegian Proverbs). 3. utg (3rd ed). Voss: Vestanbok, 1982.
Po: Holm, Pelle. Ordspråk och talesätt (Proverbs and Phrases). Stockholm: Bonniers, 1973.
Tyno: Hodne, Ørnulf. The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.
Vkp: Grimstad, Ivar. Velsigne kjæften din, prest. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1974.
Zeb: Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen
Mind, Beginner's Mind. New York: Weatherhill, 1971.
USER'S GUIDE: [Link]|
© 2006–2014, T. Kinnes, MPhil. [Email] ᴥ Disclaimer: [Link]