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Types of Anecdotes in Han Ola og han Per
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Types of Anecdotes in Han Ola og han Per

A typical Rosendahl strip is an anecdote, and many anecdotes of folklore have been classified, that is, thematically sorted and numbered. Hans-Jörg Uther's The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3 (2004) furnishes a wealth of detail. Anecdotes have a loose formal structure - a design - apart from what they are about - their themes and motifs.

The desired objects of Rosendahl anecdotes are shown to reflect similar desires of Norwegians, and the wish-fulfilling propensies of tales found expression in both folktales, legends, and Norse myths.

Very may folk tales may be arranged into three large groups. They are:

  1. Helped by animals,
  2. Helped by tools and things, some of which work like magic,
  3. Helped by medicine right or wrong.

The comic strip of Rosendahl reflects these wishes and underlying strivings extensively, too, and here it is the mechanical, technological revolution that is the folk heroes' difficult helper, along with some odd attempts at cures for disease or weakness, and at times home-remedies.

That is in essence what this page is about. The documentation is extensive and parts go into folklore to compare with.


Many of Peter J. Rosendahl's strip episodes can be viewed as illustrated anecdotes, and anecdotes are tales, and some tales are jokes. Einar Haugen says the anecdote is the simplest form of the folktale, a single encounter between familiar characters, ending in a jocular resolution (the nub or point). He finds the folktale anecdote ideal for the comic strip. I quite agree with him.

The particular form of the anecdote employed in most of Rosendahl's strips falls into the category of the "numbskull" story. In folklore there are hundreds of anecdote types to draw on . Stories of fools include such themes as "absurd ignorance," "misunderstandings," "absentmindedness," "shortsightedness," "gullible fools," "talkative fools," "foolish imitation," "literal fools," and so on," says Haugen, adding that Rosendahl or his publishing editor 1 provides literary reference by entitling one of his stories "Ola and Per Act Out a Numbskull Story" (64). An illustration of "foolish imitation' is a strip in which Per accompanies his wife, Polla, to a social occasion; she has carefully instructed him to do exactly as she does. When she falls into a puddle, Per follows suit (96). 3

Anecdotal Structure of the Strip Discourse

Rosendahl draws anecdotes, some of which are imported from Norwegian folklore. "Ola minding the house" (51) is one such type of folk anecdote, labelled The man who does his wife's work (AT 1408). 2 Einar Haugen discusses both this and other cases. A search in Norwegian folklore reveals there are more folktale types to bring to bear on Rosendahl's strip; that there are many other themes of folklore to add to the ones given by Haugen. 23

The folklore of Scandinavia reflects in burlesque ways both toilsome conditions, poverty and the wit of exploring ways out by fantasy and equipment. The following sumps up three important theme types (or motif types) found both in Norwegian folklore and Rosendahl's strip: Being helped by gadgets and equipment in the good hope of getting a decent life; being aided by animals, and depending on them; and being assisted by wonderful medicine. We find all three of them exemplified in Han Ola og han Per too. I think that many features, capabilities, and wonder-gadgets of Norse gods underscore cumbersome sides of being a Norseman or Viking; yearnings for getting a less toilsome life; and that many late inventions have come fairly close to Norse and Scandinavian folkloric imagery already.

Greatly coveted things may easily become spoken of as god-equipments in a search for somewhat better living. The belt, gloves, and boomerang hammer of Norse Thor illustrates it well along with his "airplane" cart drawn by two he-goats. They would correspond to airplane engines. Thor is essentially the champion of the gods, widely reckoned with, valiant and brusque. Thunder is thought of as the sound of his chariot, as with most planes. His remarkable tools include such as a belt that increases his strength, great working gloves for protecting the hands, and a boomerang-like hammer which he uses to smash the heads of enemies. He has human friends. Thor was called on for help in military enterprises. 24


Three Main Forms of Help

A. Farmers Helped by Animals

One third of the Norwegian population emigrated, and most of them to the United States. They brought with them folktales and inherited values as part of their culture. They quite naturally assumed that the mo re yield from their animals – within bounds - the better the living. So it is no wonder that farmers dreamed of, wished for and went for fertile land, safe and abundant crops, and basically fit and fine farm animals – and also protecting animals. Ola, Per and Lars illustrate just the same in that they shows many of these needs in a long row of anecdotes. The connection is hardly that of being of Norwegian extraction, though, but of being farmers. 25

The magic gift of folktales makes a success of the fare. Scandinavians are found to have dream t of having farms, great boats, or other means of subsistence than the basic ones. A desire of getting well married – winning a prince or princess - loomed tall, as expressed in or through folk tales. The folk tale hero in Norwegian tales tends to start in poverty and end up rich and happy with lands, lots of lands, being well wed and well equipped, doing great deeds with magic gifts and helpful animals, and then getting well wed after becoming well off, or the other way round, well off through getting well wed. Such a get-successful fare is the quite typical, general drift of the "Miracle Tales". The goal of leaving home in a lot of folk tales is to "find happiness (Norw.: finne lykken )", which also means "to do well". It is surely exemplified in the acts of Per. He is found to strive for that, often by technical inventions, based on farm living and its more or less cruelly exploited animals. That is the similarity. Not all old tales reflect such values and attitudes to animals. For example, the Jataka Tales of early Buddhism in India instead stress kindness to others and sacrificing oneself. Such tales foster different attitudes to living beings and to living at large. 26

Narratology is the study of structure in narratives. The drift of the "chain of action" along with patterns and pursuits in some folk tales has been analysed and mapped by the Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp and the structuralist Algirdas J. Greimas. In Norway Gudleiv Bø shows that the detailed mapping into sequences and actors of Propp and Greimas is not much fit for Norwegian folk tales, which are far simpler organized than Russian folktales. Further, Freudian interpretations and Jungian interpretations of fairy tales may be found too, and they mix. 27

Dealing with animals is toilsome and often troublesome. In the strip the farmers are struggling with the skunk (2), the wolf (7), the rat (30), the bear (52), the rattlesnake 61), chicken lice (98), flies (240), and chinch bugs (568). Other animals are domestic and helpful but can still be troublesome, like cows (3), pigs (5), bees (22), horses (43), dogs (119), mules (163), and chickens (167), shows Haugen. Farm animals and farmers live together in a continuing half-symbiosis. With the exception of ecological farming and similar, today's' farm business in vital ways tend to reduce the living conditions and essential worth of farm animals to that of "plants". And to reduce the worth of plants to "things", like minerals, is another step down when speaking of essential worth.

Worth reduction of animals is a key element that Per is an exponent of too (eg, 16), as he struggles to make his farms remunerative. The use of reductive labelling and measures are for exploiting others. However, in former farming there were more reciprocity between people and their animals bond by a common fate, often living together in the same house. It is still a custom in some countries. Considerate contacts with plants and animals are greatly highlighted in folk tales. In one of their aspects they serve to socialize young ones into ways of handling cattle, other animals, even fruit trees, for example. 28

Helped by Willing Animals - Folklore Outlooks

Tiger in water
Pondering: "Are the common animals in folklore really and truly willing, great helpers?"

In many fables and animal tales animals talk of the burdens that human press on them to get it better. Since Palaeolithic times humans have enforced their ways and plans and means on domesticated animals and learnt to use animals and live in contact with them as part of a common socialization. Narratives – and folk tales are narratives - pass on some handling ways and attitudes related to them. For example, when the faithful horse who has helped his boy on and up in life asks him to be beheaded for his outstanding services, it surely reflects the predominant attitude that animals are there to be made use of, next slaughtered and eaten up. Folk tales tend to leave out the last part of it, but not farmers. They eat horses. And if horses could talk, the tales would probably end differently. In some tales it does, as when animals get tired of serving and getting neglected when old and infirm, and seek to manage on their own, but not exactly like their forebears. The Grimm tale of the Bremen musicians have counterparts in Scandinavian folklore too, where animals resolve to abandon human civilization and get more like settlers – as in The animals in night quarters (AT 130). This is the same type of tale as Grimm's The Bremen Town-Musicians. The human being's desolation of being discarded in old age lies at the back of many such tales, one may realize. At times talking animals are straw men of humans, as in fables of Aesop. Thus, "First friends, helped for some time, finally discarded as old or useless" - it happens to some degree to many infirm elderly folks as well, but depending on the cultural level, contacts and riches of those who live to a ripe, old age.

In Rosendahl's strip animals talk a little, and by their actions show that the best interests of these captives are not exactly the same as those of their "slave holders" – we call them owners. For example there is an old sow that seems unreasonably difficult to kill. Suffice to say the strip is marked by ambivalence toward animals (3, 5, 16, 25, 45, 48, 66). In many fables and animal tales the animals speak - they instruct us through that. I have not included such animal tales in the following survey because there are so very many of them. Among the selected types of stories (including motifs) the main focus has been on miracle tales, wonder tales, and also some other tales where animals are helpers in the chain of action, or plot. 29

Farmers find themselves helped by stories that present their dealings with and exploitations of animals as all right. That is the basic idea. We say that persons are "helped by animals". This is so in:

  • AT 300, The Dragon-slayer
  • AT 302, The ogre's (devil's) heart in the egg
  • AT 312, The giant-killer and his dog. Bluebeard
  • AT 314, The youth transformed to a horse
  • AT 511A, The little red ox
  • AT 530, The princess on the glass mountain
  • AT 531, Ferdinand the true and Ferdinand the false
  • AT 545B, The cat as helper
  • AT 550, Search for the golden bird
  • AT 551, The sons on a quest for a wonderful remedy for their father
  • AT 552, The girls who married animals
  • AT 554, The grateful animals
  • AT 559, Dung-beetle
  • AT 566, The three magic objects and the wonderful fruits. Fortunatus
  • AT- -, The saving blood
  • AT- -, The shepherd boy and the bear
  • AT- -, The white-bear that dug up the boy
  • AT 1161, The bear trainer and his bear
  • AT 1651, Whittington's cat
  • AT- -, The queen and the calf
  • AT 325, BIRD - The magician and his pupil
  • AT 326, FISH - The youth who wanted to learn what fear was.

These tale types are more fully elaborated on the page Served by Animals.

Similar conform attitudes toward plants are expressed in AT 328, Jack and the beanstalk and the unnumbered The man who wanted to hang himself on Wednesday evening. In the last tale an old oak tree is made to talk and tell where treasures lie hidden.

Helping animals appear in variants of the fairy tale type AT 402, The mouse (cat, frog, etc.) as bride.. In another tale, AT 545A, The cat castle, either the cat or dog is the helper, and so on. 30

B. Helped by Equipment: The Mechanical Revolution's Links to Key Themes in Norwegian Fairy Tales

Norse myths and some Scandinavian folk tales illustrate a slow process: "First imagined, next made into products". Ørnulf Hodne presents a survey of all the types of Norwegian fairy tales with variant s. Being helped by equipment is a key element in roughly thirty of these types. As for the equipment envisioned in such tales, the various gadgets reflect on the one hand former deep-set needs among people, and spell out imagined solutions to some of them. Several magic tool and things of fairy tales have since become reality, in part in line with something Sir Arthur C. Clarke says, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This "law", as he calls it, needs to be qualified. Thus: What people of old imagined and presented as magic things, have since become products of technology, and many can make life better. Some in fact do.

Sixty different devices are invented by Per: Haugen says "one could compile a complete inventory of the life of Midwest farmers from the strips." They give a detailed depiction from the mechanical revolution of farm life at the time, with Rosendahl drawing dangerous devices and machines to fear or get to grips with. Over sixty different devices are invented (or bought) by Per in the strip. And, "As Joan Buckley suggested . . . a number of these machines have since been invented and marketed," Haugen tells, and concludes about the strip, "It deserves a high position in American immigrant literature." 31

Buckley further finds that "With Ola and Per as the center, the strips show two neighbors who go through an endless variety of experiences with one or the other coming up with some fantastic new idea . . . [Per's] genius is coming up with new patents that make the farm family more dependent upon mechanical devices, possibly thereby reflecting Rosendahl's own interest in new inventions.

[Per's] most common means of coping with his world and realizing his dream is to come up with some complicated gadget . . . Part of the irony of the humor is that many of these gimmicks anticipated real technological developments. 32

"Gimmicks anticipating technological developments" is a deep theme of both the strip and miracle tales where magic objects have a central place. In some of them the hero is given magic or splendid objects as rewards, and by help of them he wins a good hold in life. 3 Handy equipment is very much of what Per goes for. He is dedicated to contraptions and outfit to help farm life, not unlike his maker, the cartoonist farmer Rosendahl. As Buckley says, the character Per serves as something like an alter ego (second self or counterpart) to Rosendahl. Buckley point out that there are many contraptions in the strip, and some of them were in fact patented later by others than Rosendahl. She >specifies about two dozen contraptions, with the end note "But with the machine the person becomes a working part, usually the one who botches the mechanism." I do not see eye to eye with her in this.

The long art of living consists in selecting the most fit equipment and making good use of it, tending to it as needed, and "ride on top of things" also. There is nothing wrong in many of the machines today per se, including the washing-machine, refrigerator, and computer. Another, aligned issue is that a knife in the wrong hands may work harm, but in good hands may work good. Per often fails, not through a lot of contraptions, but through not designing them well enough or not operating them all right. He is frequently lacking in forethought, lacks proficiency in risk analyses, and suck knowledge is at times hard-won. He illustrates that too, obviously. 33

Thus, Rosendahl's strip is concerned with technological advances that help coping and controlling one's environment for gains in an era of rapid mechanical developments that in part reaching into farm-life in America. In the comic strip the use of farm equipment backfires far and wide, and that is where a source of deep entertainment lies. Buckley presents her views about that facet of the strip, as shown above. However, what is at the bottom of very many technology adventures in the strip seems to be mobilizing or gearing one's consciousness into helping equipment in the technological era, learning how to calibrate technological products and use them for maximum benefit, minimum damage, counting the costs and bulwarking against great risks. That is a fundamental aspect of the strip at any rate. Per in particular is into learning to develop and handle tools and equipment in the first phases of the technological farming revolution in America. Today's farming has gone further and is more like a business – productive through technology. The lesson of "There is a right way, a wrong way, and that of the Army" is not to be forgotten along the road.

Magic Items of Fiction Coming True

Psychoanalytic and Jungian traditions seek to note what is presented on the surface and judge those features as possible symptoms of deeper issues that are speculated about, at times in rigorous ways. Freudian sets of thought have been influential in literature analysis, and still are. However, Jungian analysis, less rigorous than Freudian analysis, is best fit for interpreting graphic narratives along lines of approach. The two angles of approach partly supplement each other. Sigmund Freud thought dreams express symbolically our hidden desires, needs, etc. Also, in Carl Gustav Jung's view, a dream is an interior drama: "The whole dream-work is essentially subjective, and a dream is a theatre in which the dreamer is himself the scene, the player, the prompter, the producer, the author, the public, and the critics.

Jungians adapt aspects of folk tales to the theoretical system and constructs of Carl G. Jung, which is far less reductionistic than that of Freud. Also, parts of the Transactional Analysis (TA) of Eric Berne compare certain happenings to so-called life scripts (life plans, in part subconscious ones) for possible benefit. 34

Scientists, notably among them Albert Einstein, also make use of images and dreams. Further, "Creative achievements are instigated by dreams or forms of dreaming as the regular case. Spontaneous forms of consciousness try out in a groping manner possible solutions and present them to waking consciousness in sudden Eurekas," says Franz Strunz. The content of many nightly dreams and the fantastic and surreal imaginations of folklore share some properties, in that dream topics 4 and objects longed for in folk tales tend to reflect deeply felt wants, and at times solutions. In folklore most solutions turn out to be imagined, but in the arena of technology and science some ideas are explored and turned into reality by careful and meticulous labour. Hence the Nobel Prizeman August Kekule von Stradonitz (1829-96) said in 1890 by way of warning, "Let us beware of publishing our dreams until they have been tested by the waking understanding." As a further example of what it sometimes takes to make daydreams come true, Albert Einstein discovered the special theory of relativity one day he lay daydreaming on a hill one summer's day. He imagined he rode on sunbeams to the outer end of the universe, and then came back to the surface of the sun. From that he concluded that the universe had to be curved, against anything he had learnt about it earlier. The "dream" took a few moments of his time; proving it took him years of hard work to prove his ideas mathematically. At present they have massive support in modern physics. 35

Physicists like Albert Einstein and Richard P. Feynman have both described the metaphoric, image-rich thought processes they had during some of their most original scientific discoveries. Images can inspire further thought, and that appears to be a basic principle, both in art and science and elsewhere. Strip drawings can inspire some ideas too. Many of Per's inventions have later become reality, in fact. " many of these gimmicks anticipated real technological developments," writes Buckley. 36

The Inventions of Per in the Light of of Scandinavian Folklore

Gadgets that are remotely and not so remotely akin to some of those in Rosendahl's strip can be traced back to Norse mythology. Cherished gods and goddesses had equipment and weapons to dream of wh ere hard and poor conditions evoked yearnings for such help. Below are just two of them:

Thor of increased strength could ride through the air by he-goats and a chart. Ola and Per learn to ride through the air after the inventions of the brothers Wright and others. Thor's mastery of electrical discharges is a bit akin to Per's "toying" with electric fences that kill all his pigs (377), while strokes of lightning and thunder resembles Ola's and Per's use of dynamite too often. 37
      Frey of fertility, the son of Njord, ruled over the weather and the harvest, happiness, peace, and prosperity. He rode a wonder-boar (or hog) through the air and on water. The collapsible boat Skibladne that could sail on land and sea, and always has fair wind, could be carried in his pocket. He also owned a sword that struck by itself. His wonder-equipment may be seen as forerunners of inflatable rubber boats, hovercraft and other nautical vessels. Many farmer activities relate to the things Frey was associated with, including riding one's own animals. 38

Norsemen had few and bad roads for most part. They depended on travel by sea, and if there was not fair wind, they had to row. They also had to pull their ships on timber logs while trudging on moors and in marshes between European rivers. Trying and poor conditions in time evoke yearnings for things and conditions that help a better life. In th e course of time greatly desired objects wishes may be depicted as delightful equipment of gods, even. Along this line of thought wonder-beasts may be slaughtered and fed on only to be brought to life and served the next day again, and the next. The means to form helpful animals for food and drink are not developed into perfection by Per (16), however. 39

One can assume that a lot of wishful thinking is brought about by a great shortness of food, difficulties of transportation, and also engenders deep faith in certain objects – many of which later have been realized a long way through technology too. To me, the gadgets and contraptions of Per indicate the same, and they also relate to the sort of difficulties the Norwegian-American farmers repeatedly found themselves in. Making the farm pay is a major concern. Mechanical outfit is a means to that end. so just as Norse gods excel to a large extent by means of transportation and weaponry, the strip characters of Rosendahl – folk heroes already – speak for many Norwegian Americans after World War II.

There are some 30 Norwegian folk tales that show help by magic things or such equipment a few centuries ago:

  • The girl as helper (AT 313);
  • The smith outwits the devil (AT 330);
  • The man on a quest for his lost wife (AT 400);
  • The search for the lost husband (AT 425);
  • The spinning women by the spring (AT 480);
  • The monster's bride (AT 507A);
  • The Helpers (AT 513);
  • The Raven Helper (AT appendix, into AT 300);
  • The Magic Ring (AT 560);
  • Aladdin (AT 561);
  • The spirit in the blue light (AT 562);
  • The table, the ass, and the stick (AT 563);
  • The magic mill (AT 565);
  • The knapsack, the hat and the horn (AT 569);
  • The rabbit-herd (AT 570);
  • The king's tasks (AT 577);
  • Beloved of women (AT 580);
  • The prince and the arm bands (AT 590);
  • The thieving pot (AT 591);
  • The dance among thorns (AT 592);
  • The magic bridle (AT 594*);
  • The gifts of the dwarfs (AT 611);
  • The princess with the golden ball (AT- (i.e. unnumbered);
  • The magic hazel stick (AT-);
  • The man who competed with the devil in mowing the grass (AT-);
  • The three brothers (AT-);
  • The three riders who wanted to go to Paris (AT-);
  • The wonderful player (AT-);
  • The young Alv (AT-)  40
A separate page furnishes details: Tool Tales.

A brief overview of the categories in the international AT(U) catalogue helps to put the AT numbers in perspective: The types of tales (AT number entries) are divided into these categories:

  1. Animal Tales (Types 1-299).
  2. Ordinary Folktales (Types 300-1199):
    1. Tales of magic, Wonder tales;
    2. Religious tales;
    3. Aitiological tales
    4. Novelle (romantic tales);
    5. Tales of the stupid ogre.
  3. Jokes and Anecdotes (Types 1200-1999):
    1. Numskull stories;
    2. Stories about married couples;
    3. Stories about a woman (girl);
    4. Stories about a clever/stupid lucky/unlucky man(boy);
    5. Jokes about parsons and religious orders;
    6. Tales of lying.
  4. Formula Tales (Types 2000-2399):
    1. Cumulative tales;
    2. Catch tales.
  5. Unclassified Tales (Narrationes Lubricae) (Types 2400-2499) 41

Most of the tales in the survey above are classified under "ordinary tales", which comprise about half of the catalogue. One notes the "assonance" between young people of the countryside going out into the world, and immigrants to America in the 1800s. To what degree some of the farm contraptions of Rosendahl's strip resemble the objects of folk tales earlier, is open to debate. For example, is the dandy stool that Lars makes in the smithy out of Værmor's inedible pie an instance (375-76) of outwitting the devil, and thereby a strip variant of AT 330? Answers depend on how figurative the outlooks interpreters are.

Among the magical objects that Scandinavians have dreamed of are:

  • A bridle that tames all kinds of horses - The farmers in the strip have problems with mules too, but do not go that far.
  • A gun that always hits its aim (or a gun with magical bullets) – Rosendahl's characters often carry guns and aim and shoot at times, and it seldom goes well.
  • A magic lamp – Electricity arrived and was put to work speedily.
  • A magic scythe that never gets blunt – They got engines to do the hard work that scythes did earlier.
  • A magic table cloth (a table cloth that supplies itself with food) – The inveterate farm inventor Per is not even close to it by his manifold household inventions, but he invented an iron cow that "works in theory" [386, 387]. Some of his contraptions were in fact patented by others.
  • A purse that never becomes empty (a self-filling purse) – Their glee in finding a box of gold indicates how glad they would have been for a bank account that never would run dry. Per squanders his new-found wealth recklessly, while Ola becomes a victim of investments.
  • A ship that travels both on land and on water – The characters do not have a need for it on flat land. However, they take to airplanes.
  • An apple-tree with golden apples – The nearest the strip characters come is finding a paradisiac flapjack tree or an deserted island.

Comparisons are odious, it is said. However, modern counterparts to "magical lamps" glow on street corners, in homes, in gardens, and more is to come. The magic scythe is like a forefather of the mowing-machine. To fill in a little more, in Snow-White (AT 709) a "magic mirror" is envisaged; it tells the bad stepmother that Snow-White lives; it is used to view far-away happenings. TVs and PCs with Internet connections help similar viewing of happenings from far away. Many recent cell phones serve that end too nowadays.

Some Scandinavian fairy tales entertain by presenting objects that were regarded as things of magic earlier; now used by most affluent families. As with many of Per's inventions, many former "Viking dreams" and fairy tale objects have since come true somehow, more or less, and in part in a large way. With the great arsenal of machines and guns and handy gadgets today, the on-going question is whether we are up to investing well in such items and other facets of living, and then using what we invest time, money, and energy in wisely and well.

Some fairy tales entertain by special devices and unusual animals. What I suggest is that similar designs of tales and legends reveal similar wishes (urges) where such stories circulated. For example, the Norwegian legend "Gullfebla" (it is the name of a cow) shows a yearning for cattle that produces more and fatter milk. Rich, fat milk was a dream for undernourished boys and girls – some of which went to America. There is, likewise, a Scandinavian legend of flying through the air. In Norway it is known as "Johannes Blessom". There is a similar tale in Swedish, and the Danes have a legend about a medieval Danish saint who got a ride through the air from Rome to Denmark one Christmas Night. Leonardo da Vinci did not stop by wishing he could fly. He actually strove to design such means of transportation, and centuries later the brothers Wright and many others succeeded through newly built aeroplanes. Through helicopters and air planes and many other artifacts we can "ride like birds" or "ride on big birds". 42

I support the stance of Birgit Hertzberg Johnsen (now Kaare): Legends give us insight in group fantasies. One should also take into account that legends and folk tales intermingle in reflecting group fantasies. So far I have surveyed and reflected on some of them both in the light of Scandinavian folklore and in the light of Rosendahl's strip and themes in it. 43

The Adventurers' Uses of Dynamite

Technological equipment includes explosives. Explosives are made use of in some strip episodes (7, 34, 66, 220, 328, 471). For example, the strip buffoons use nitroglycerine 5 to get the peel off potatoes (107), and dynamite to get rid of stubs (34) and cannibals (328). In the first case they "shoot sparrows with cannonballs", that is, they are ignorant of the fact that nitroglycerine is highly volatile and extremely dangerous. They are not apt at using it in fit doses either, and the building explodes. Even their fireworks backfires (471).

Apart from the strip's dynamite explosions, engines blow up a few times in it too. Some would say unforeseen explosions are quite unavoidable results of dealing with new, technological equipment, just as when Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, which is stabilized nitroglycerine. What our buffoons often ignore, however, is "handle with care" and insight. Technological developments can be very useful, their regular uses do not need to end in tragedy through "safety first" and the like. Buckley, however, holds a less progressive and much more pessimistic view on the subject. Referring to Per first, she says " His genius is coming up with new patents that make the farm family more dependent upon mechanical devices . . . These patents, however, serve mainly to complicate daily living, and their use results in chaos." "In spite of technological advances human beings never really change . . . But life changes . . . Progress is really an illusion . . . But if human beings don't change, the one certain result of their simply being alive is confusion." "They take in stride the daily frustrations and problems, and despite constant disaster". 48

In contradistinction to Buckley's teachings of confusion, Buddha teaches how to gain increased awareness and clarity, which is one of the basic features of mindfulness training in Buddhism. 49

New inventions carry with them needs of handling, troubleshooting and for troubleshooting devices. The characters repeatedly reveal a great need for getting essential instructions, for learning those instructions, and for troubleshooting routines along with what else it takes to make use of novelties according to sound safety standards. Also, through anticipating accidents one may bulwark against them; which is needed for handling more than dynamite, the strip illustrates. When such facets of handling things go well, human living can be notably blessed or enriched by successful technology. That is my stand (and of most people alive today). Besides, by showing us so many wrong ways to deal with new contraptions and gadgets, the strip characters could assist readers of old accommodate to new technology by some sort of "don't do as we do, be smarter". 50

Ascanio Sobrero invented nitroglycerin and Alfred Nobel improved on it. During the industrial revolution the need for blasting tunnels increased manifold. Black gunpowder was then used, but it cost very many lives because its use was hazardous. Then, in 1847 the Italian Ascanio Sobrero invented nitroglycerin. It had a tremendous blasting power. It was soon employed in engineering, but since the fluid was unstable, it caused many fatal accidents till Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and a concomitant detonator to control the nitroglycerin detonation. At long last engineers had a tool for shaping the world around them. The market grew very rapidly. Nobel had built 90 factories in over twenty countries. Parts of the widening dynamite market is reflected in Rosendahl's strip: Dynamite could be used to alter the face of the earth – railways, channels, roads and so on. But unless enough care was rigidly taken, things could backfire, as they did at times. But at least accidents were much rarer with dynamite.

Ola and Per are adventurers that are greatly assisted by guns and dynamite. One could say that the use of explosions in the strip is an easy, effectful way to round off a strip episode. Yet there is another side to the use of explosives and explosions, in that it reflects one of mankind's momentous adventures: that of shaping parts of the surface of the planet according to needs or whim, as the case might be. Rosendahl's strip tends to reflect the conditions of Norwegian Americans and their adventures in the new homeland. The farmer need of blowing up stubs is met by dynamite. There are fit ways to do it, if enough care is taken. If not, things may backfire – and they do. What Ola and Per at times show all readers, is the need to learn to operate with care, handle with care, and not be too rash. Besides, their needs as adventurers to get rid of cannibals by dynamite in order to save Lars in one episode, turns out well. The cannibals are blown up, Lars not. Then again, in one episode an old sow is walloped in the act of eating about 25 kg dynamite. The old sow is not seen anywhere from then on.

The use of black gunpowder is a part of some Norwegian folktales too.

It is also feasible to relate the use of explosives in the strip to explosives in a few Norwegian folk tales, as both tobacco and black gunpowder are ingredients of some of them. Tobacco is used for making old women thankful and helpful, and gunpowder, at times called troll powder, is used to blow up trolls and arrive at a way, be it a road or otherwise. The mountainous nature 6 in most part of Norway first evoked strong wishes for drastic measures when roads or railway stretches were made, and later inventions – such as the dynamite of Nobel – made those dreams come true. And handling the dangerous explosives is severely regulated to limit the chances of accidents. 51

C. Into Illnesses and Cures on One's Own

Dealing with illnesses and troubles plays a quite large part in the strip. Parts of the struggle to keep the farm and get affluent, are about dealing with such as diseases, vermin, and ageing.

Joan Buckley finds the characters are "trying to adjust to the inevitable changes of daily life [where] people . . . need cures for disease or weakness [etc]." In episode 55, insomnia is the problem, and counting the clock ticks is tried out against it, in vain. In episode 61 Ola and Per want to make medicine for rheumatism out of rattlesnake fat, but they are too scared of the snake to get it, and run away. In episode 84 Per has a backache, and is told by Ola that there is an old cure: to lie down and have someone walk on his back with his knees. While Ola is in the middle of "helping" Per out in this way, an ox tosses him away and starts goring Per, who thinks it is Ola who is overdoing it. In the next strip (85) Ola needs a bottle of painkiller. In episode 95 they seek a remedy against lice, and in episode 98 they seek remedies against mite. And in episode 127 Polla visits the chiropractor. In episode 142 Per wants to disinfect the smallpox-ridden Lars by sulphur fumes against those "worms". In episode 176 Per gets a gland extract supposed to help longevity, but the mother-in-law gives it to the pigs, who in turn become abnormally vigorous, climbing trees, jumping and frisking around like crazy. And when værmor complains of a bent finger, Per straightens it out with a bold strike with a stick (191). In the strips 262 and 263 Lars has made a too effective hair tonic, one that gives his wife, Værmor, a robust beard. But when she threatened him with a revolver in her hand to make a hair remover quickly, the new remedy makes her lose both the beard and all the hair on her head, including her eyebrows. In episode 268 Per has eaten "health yeast", feels bloated, and Lars wants to puncture him just behind the ribs – for he has consulted a veterinary's book. In episode 346 Ole gets Per "an old Comforter", a bottle of alcoholic patent medicine. Lars tries to cure a cold with hot water, turpentine, and salt, but somehow bungles and scalds his screaming wife (372). In episode 406 Lars has a backache, which Per wants to strike out of him with the flat side of a board or plank. Unluckily for Per, Værmor intervenes, snaps the board and breaks it over Per's head.

At the back of all this clowning is the need to stay healthy and regain health – from time to time by zany measures. Then, sometimes they seek to heal animals, as in episode 53, where Ola "cures" Per's horse by seemingly killing it with a sledgehammer strike to the head. "The patient died, but the fever left him" corresponds to the slapstick lesson at the bottom of the incident. 44

Folklore to Compare With

Curious remedies and attempts and cures with fears and superstitions point to a real need among immigrants to stay healthy. In olden times (too) people on the one hand envisioned and fantasized about great cures and miracle remedies along with. Those who were said to be able to heal others, were looked on in part with suspicion, in part with fear, as reflected in the attitudes of Norwegians to the Cyprianus, a book of said remedies and the like, including incantations. It was held to be of the Black Arts, and hence avoided by most people, excepting parts of the clergy. In folklore much as been divulged about idiotic superstitions and many hopeless cures. On the other hand Norse people and later generations could make fun with serious things too, including illnesses and how people react to them, both as healers and patients. 45

Healing objects and anecdotal plots are both found in the folkloric catalogue of folktale types. Some of them are about cures or attempts at cures. In fact, the latter, biggest part of the catalogue deals with humorous stories, some of which deal with cures or needs for cures. People tell tales about illnesses for a variety of reasons, and great fascination is one of them. Earlier, as on the prarie among settlers and in modern society as well, an illness could be fatal and disrupt a lot. A farmer could die from a cold that grew worse, before penicillin was discovered and put to common use. Back in Norse times (Viking times) people said that gods had wonderful objects. Some of them were for curing people, like the apples of the goddess Idun. And in over twenty-two types of tales in Norwegian folklore, healing and health remedies are vital to the action. A need to combat illness is reflected through them in fanciful and very, very unprofessional ways. These are the tales:

  • AT 50, The sick lion
  • AT 311, The giant and the three sisters
  • AT 432, The prince as bird
  • AT 461, Three hairs from the devil's beard
  • AT 551, The sons on a quest for a wonderful remedy for their father
  • AT 566, The three magic objects and the wonderful fruits
  • AT 590, The prince and the arm bands
  • AT 611, The gifts of the dwarf
  • AT 613, The two travellers
  • AT 660, The three doctors
  • AT 709, Snow-white
  • AT 753, Christ and the smith
  • AT-, Jesus cures his friend
  • AT 924, Discussion by sign language
  • AT 1135, Eye-remedy
  • AT 1137, The ogre blinded (Polyphemus)
  • AT 1641, Doctor Know-all
  • AT 1843, Parson visits the dying
  • AT 1845, The student as healer
  • AT-, The cat's eye
  • AT-, The quack46

More: Twenty-two Types of Folk Tales on Illnesses and Cures.

Rosendahl's strip shows similar, underlying needs as the folktales appear to do, but the times were changing, and "patent medicines" are resorted to rather than the cures of folklore. Sometimes the "home remedies" are found by accident. When Lars by accident eats rat poison, it vivifies him (415, 416). Many today are treated of thromboembolism by a certain rat poison: The active ingredient in Athrombin-K, warfarin, is a rodenticide, used to induce internal bleeding in rats and the like. However, the current use of warfarin seems only incidentally presaged in the strip, and is not followed up a bit.

There are other motifs in this vein to be found. 47


Ola and Per anecdotes, Literature  

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.

Zempel, Solveig, ed., tr. and introduction. In Their Own Words: Letters from Norwegian Immigrants. Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Notes: The material comes from 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.

NB: To find publishing data for works referred to below, you can click on Literature' and try a site search - [Ctrl + f] - See what you come up with.


1 It is not completely clear who supplied headings of all the Han Ola and Per episodes in the Decorah-Posten. Its editor between 1918 and 1935 may have furnished at least some of them.

2 Tales types that have entered the International Folktale Catalogue are given a title and an AT number to identify them by. 'AT' are the initials of the last names of the prime catalogue makers, the folklorists Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson.

3 It is quite as the Norwegian proverb says, "Good tools are half of the work".

4 Much depends on what meaning(s) are put into dreams in trying to decode and understand them. Dreams are not always unambigous. Further, they may be seen as quite open-ended for interpretations too.

5 6 CIA's (2005) overview of the Norwegian terrain helps us understand the dire need for blasts to level things out somewhat: "glaciated; mostly high plateaus and rugged mountains broken by fertile valleys; small, scattered plains; coastline deeply indented by fjords; arctic tundra in north". Rockslides and avalanches are among the natural hazards, and about two-thirds of the country is mountains. There are also some 50,000 islands off the much indented coastline, which is "one of most rugged and longest in world." The need for level and smooth transportation is clearly related to the bumpy and indented terrrain. Dynamite has been used extensively for such reasons. Also, a significant number of Norwegian Americans at first found employment in construction work, Lovoll shows.

End Notes

 1 Haugen 1988, ix; Johnsen 1997.

 2 Bengtson 1977, 17-18.

 3 Haugen 1988, ix.

 4 Mieder et al 366.

 5 Mieder et al 433.

 6 Gibran; Suzuki.

 7 Mieder et al 360, 362, 361.

 8 Hodne 1984.

 9 Alexander Pope in Ratcliffe 313.

 10 Mieder et al 148, 589.

 11 Mieder et al 677.

 12 Mieder et al 135-7; Fergusson 51; Bellows, v. 81; Bø 1977, 172; Aasen 1982, 40;Seim 108; Holm 59.

 13 Mieder et al 432, 630; Fergusson 133.

 14 Mieder et al 479.

 15 Mieder et al 353.

 16 Grimstad 1974,47-48.

 17 Mieder et al 260.

 18 Mieder et al 268.

 19 Mieder et al 287.

 20 Mieder et al 274; 523.

 21 Mieder et al 266.

 22 Mieder et al 152, 504.

 23 Haugen 1988, ix;  24 Munch 1981, 37-40.

 25 Lovoll 1998, 1999.

 26 Cowell 1895, Vol 1 and 2.

 27 Propp, Greimas; Bø in Sundland; Kinnes, March 2007.

 28 Haugen 1988, 1988, xi.

 29 See for example Aesop 1998.

 30 Hodne 1984; Kinnes 2007. "Served by Animals". On-line. []

 31 Haugen 1988, x-xii.

 32 Buckley 1984, 14, 18, 22.

 33 Buckley 1984, xx.

 34 (a) Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), translated by A. A. Brill and published by Macmillan, New York, in 1913. Online version [] Accessed 29 Oct 03. (b) Carl G. Jung. "General Aspects of Dream Psychology," ibid., par. 509. (b) Psychoanalysts and other psychotherapists analyze client dreams extensively in order to help the clients understand themselves to the degree it may be possible or reasonable. Individual dreams have many common features with handed over folk tales in that one may come across a good and bizarre tale, perhaps surreal connections, and at times excellent utmalingar, etc. (c) Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), translated by A. A. Brill and published by Macmillan, New York, in 1913. Online version [] Accessed 29 Oct 03. (d) Sharp 1991. (e) Berne 1976 (check). (f) Berne 1973, 42 ff, uses terms like 'life scripts' to explain folk tales in his own way, which is a bit dogmatic and neo-Freudian based. It may be entertaining too, as when he concludes from "Little Red-Cap" (Little Red Hood) that "In short, a wolf should not walk through the forest alone." (Op. cit., 45)

 35 Frans Strunz. Dreaming Abstracts. Vol 3, No. 4, Dec. 1994, p. 281. []

 36 Buckley 1984, 22.

 37 Wad 1985; Munch 37-40.

 38 Munch 43-46.

 39 Munch 87.

 40 Kinnes, 2007. "Helped by Tools and Things". On-line. []

 41 Aarne, 1961; Kinnes 2007. "Types of Folktales." On-line. []

 42 T. Kinnes. "Folk Tales on Illnesses and Cures." The Gold Scales. []
    T. Kinnes. "Being Served by Animals." The Gold Scales. []
    T. Kinnes. "Assisted by Tools and Things." The Gold Scales. []

 43 Birgit Hertzberg Johnsen 1999.

 44 Buckley 1984, 22.

 45 Hodne 1999; Caplex. "Svarteboka'". - Accessed Feb 13, 05; Moe and Fosmark, 1993.

 46 Kinnes, 2007. "Folk Tales on Illnesses and Cures." On-line. []

 47 There is more on this pragmatism in the chapter on Strip Philosophy.

 48 Buckley 1984, 14, 22, 24.

 49 Conze et al 1995, 56-59.

 50 The principle is also educational, and the strip may be studied in that perspective too. - When my brother was ten, he came home with burnt eyebrows after smoking "carved apple leaves" with other boys. When our parents saw it, they wanted him to stop smoking. The retort, "But you two smoke too," was met with an emphatic, "Don't be as stupid as us." "Hey, that is quite an argument," I thought. It worked.

 51 CIA. The World Fact Book -- Norway. Accessed March 14, 2005.- CIA's overview of the Norwegian terrain helps us understand the dire need for blasts to level things out somewhat: "glaciated; mostly high plateaus and rugged mountains broken by fertile valleys; small, scattered plains; coastline deeply indented by fjords; arctic tundra in north". Rockslides and avalanches are among the natural hazards, and about two-thirds of the country is mountains. There are also some 50,000 islands off the much indented coastline, which is "one of most rugged and longest in world." The need for level and smooth transportation is clearly related to the bumpy and indented terrrain. Dynamite has been used extensively for such reasons.

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