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Innocent fun – Ideological shame

Fascism in Norwegian Children's Theatre between the two World Wars
Anne Helgesen et Petra Helgesen
Traduction de Helen Mørken

Résumé

This article focuses on four plays for children, produced at the National Theatre in Oslo during the period 1924–1936. These texts contain elements of racist and fascist ideology. This ideology emerged in apparently harmless scenes with gypsies and comically stupid Negroes. The text in the fourth and last play from 1936 contains calculated political messages in line with the programme of the national fascist party.
Theatre for children in the interwar period has long been forgotten and hidden. Such secrecy makes it difficult for us to analyse and understand the connection between dominant ideologies and drama for children.

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Texte intégral

1In 1935, the premiere of the children's comedy King Baldwin's Bangle took place at the National Theatre in Oslo. The play portrayed leader worship, emphasised the superiority of the Nordic race and belittled and made fun of people whose ethnicity was not Norwegian. No public debate ensued.

2King Baldwin's Bangle was written by Helen Stibolt (1888–1975), a central board member of the Norwegian right-wing extremist party, Frisinnede Venstre, but an unknown name today. She was well-educated and one of the very few women who made their mark on the Norwegian written press at the time. Stibolt was known as a loyal private secretary for Rolf Thommesen, editor-in-chief for the newspaper and party organ, Tidens Tegn. After her appointment to the newspaper in 1917, she was rapidly assigned the role of consultant and editor for the newspaper's literary section. Stibolt advised, corrected, refused and accepted poetry and prose from many of Norway's most prominent authors. She also edited the weekly children's page. Helen Stibolt was therefore an experienced writer, familiar with both literary and theatrical tools, and she also had extreme right-wing political leanings.

3In 1935, when all of Europe was battling the ongoing economic and political crisis in the aftermath of the First World War, the Norwegian Labour Party managed to create an unlikely political collaboration with the Norwegian Farmers' Party, preventing a general move towards fascism. Stibolt and her party colleagues formed a minority in the Norwegian political landscape, gaining only 2% of the vote. However, important elements of their ideology were widely accepted and engrained in Norwegian culture. At the same time, many of the Norwegian cultural elite were raising the alarm, protesting strongly against fascist tendencies and rallying for increased democracy.

  • 1 Vidkun Quisling subsequently led the pro-Nazi government during the German occupation of Norway.
  • 2 Nasjonal Samling (NS) was the Norwegian Nazi party. It was founded in 1933. The party formed a coll (...)
  • 3 Helen Stibolt was not elected. Frisinnede Venstre gained one seat in the Norwegian parliament. The (...)

4A year after the premiere of Stibolt’s play, Frisinnede Venstre and the party of the now infamous Vidkun Quisling1, Nasjonal Samling2, joined forces for the forthcoming parliamentary election, and Stibolt’s name appeared as a candidate on their joint list3. Despite public knowledge of her political position, her ideological piece was accepted by the dramaturgical committee at the National Theatre and even prioritised by the theatre's manager. During the interwar period, the National Theatre’s only productions for children took place at Christmas. These productions were always large-scale family shows and King Baldwin's Bangle was no exception. It was played 32 times which was about average for Christmas family productions. The pertinent question is, how did King Baldwin's Bangle manage to bypass all official and unofficial bodies without there being any objections to Stibolt's blatantly political agenda?

Illustration 1: Author Helen Stibolt (1888-1975) Photo: Unknown photographer, 1933, National Library of Norway.

Children's culture and ideology

  • 4 Peter Hollindale, “Ideology and the children’s book”, in: Peter Hunt: Literature for Children. Cont (...)

5In his article, “Ideology and the Children's Book”, literary researcher Peter Hollindale writes that ideology operates on three different levels in children’s literature. The first level is superficial, reflecting the author’s stated intention for the piece. Hollindale refers to the next level as its “passive ideology”, in other words, the writer’s subconscious attitudes and group identification. These values sneak their way into a text without the author being fully aware of their presence. The third ideological level stems from the society and culture to which the writer belongs. This historical context sets a framework the writer must take into consideration in order to be seen, heard, accepted and understood by both the communicator and the recipient4. We will use these three levels as a guide to our analysis.

6Hollindale makes it clear that these levels exist in all literature, not just children's literature, and that value communication through literature is an unavoidable reality:

  • 5 Ibid., p. 32.

The power of ideology is inscribed within the words, the rule-systems, and codes which constitute the text. Imagine ideology as a powerful force hovering over us as we read a text; as we read, it reminds us of what is correct, commonsensical, or “natural”.5

7Here, Hollindale uses the term “ideology” as synonymous with “values” and “value system”. In this article, we will use the term “ideology” to represent a systematic collection of values and ideas that can establish or preserve dominant structures in society. An ideology is a tool for power and control that can be used in politics, religion and culture. Ideology may be authoritarian, but also democratic and liberating.

  • 6 P. Hollindale, “Ideology and the children’s book, op.cit., p27.
  • 7 The research project Drama for children – the soul of theatre is run by theatre researcher Anne Hel (...)

8Surprisingly, many dramatic texts for children are permeated with a uniform value system. This could, in our opinion, partly stem from the public nature of theatre and partly from the pedagogic nature of children’s literature created by adults6. In an ongoing research project entitled Drama for children – the soul of theatre we are studying Norwegian playwrights and their texts written for children between 1906 and 20187. Our working hypothesis is that different theatrical institutions and performative arenas create their own forms of children's plays based on their own identity and position of power. Many Norwegian dramatical works for children turn out to be ideological when analysed, with a consistent system of ideas throughout. Furthermore, we see that a dramatic text which demonstrates such well-considered ideology can be an indication of artistic and literary quality.

9The ideological content of Norwegian children's theatre was not discussed academically until the 1970s. The politicisation and left-wing radicalisation of culture in Norway at that time, forced a discussion about values in children's culture as a whole. Prior to this, the superficial ideology (Hollindale’s first level) of both theatrical institution and playwrights existed side by side as two unmentionables, either in peaceful co-existence or in camouflaged conflict. On several occasions, when the intended message of the dramatical text came into conflict with the ideas of the theatre, the playwright’s system of values was toned down and sometimes even directly opposed in the production.

10One such example of an ideological stance that was suppressed in the theatrical institution is the way in which the feminism, that permeated early Norwegian children's dramas, was opposed by the male dominated production apparatus. The premiere of the play The King's Heart took place at the National Theatre in 1910. In the modern understanding of the term, playwright Barbra Ring (1870–1955) was a feminist. Her ideology is fundamental to the play, which is about gender equality and the right to choose one's own spouse. The female leading role was intended to be a young woman in her early twenties. The theatre manager chose a fifteen-year-old girl for the role. Pictorial documentation from the production reveals an obvious imbalance between the hero and the heroine, and thereby crushes the intended image of the heroine as an equal partner to her husband.

Illustration 2: Final scene in The King’s Heart by Barbra Ring. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1910, National Library of Norway.

11The National Theatre is Norway’s principal theatre, and as such it has a representative function in its presentation of Norwegian culture and theatre. We can thus assume that in any given period, the National Theatre aims to reflect dominant ideologies in Norwegian society. For this reason, our four examples are all drawn from this stage, and the ideology of the theatre will to some extent be equal to Hollindale’s third level – a frame that the playwright has to take into account. Between the World Wars there seemed to be a period of surprisingly harmony between the ideology of the National Theatre and the ideological content of the dramatical works presented. The question is whether this mutual understanding was a result of common ideas on a superficial level, or if a play such as King Baldwin’s Bangle slips under the radar because of passive ideology and the playwright’s ability to adapt her message to the cultural framework.

A lesson in National Socialism

12None of the newspaper critics were directly negative in their reviews of the dramatic work underlying King Baldwin's Bangle, and the ideological content was not even mentioned. In the National Theatre’s 1949 anniversary publication, the administration sums up their intentions of the production:

  • 8 Anton Rønneberg, Nationaltheatret gjennom femti år, Oslo, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1949, p. 300.

Helen Stibolt's King Baldwin's Bangle was a funny and exciting children's comedy with historical references, best suited for older children. The Theatre had worked hard to raise the standard of its Christmas productions.8

13The words “funny and exciting” appear to apply to both the script and the director’s concept for the theatre production, even though the name of the director, Gerda Ring, is omitted. The heroes supplied the excitement, the clowns and rogues created comedy. This was reinforced by the theatre's use of its best actors in their respective roles. The scenography and costumes conveyed history and national pride, in line with the playwright's intentions. The theatre appeared to focus solely on aesthetics when evaluating the performance, while the ethics were left unspoken.

  • 9 Hans Olav Brevig, Ivo de Figuieredo (dir.), Den norske fascismen. Nasjonal Samling 1933–1940, Oslo, (...)

14The primary ideological characteristic of Norwegian fascism between the wars was the alleged superiority of the white Nordic race. Heroes were often found among Norwegian Vikings and their men. This was due to a long tradition in Norwegian nationalism, where the historical period known as the Norwegian Realm (1035–1319) was featured as the peak of power in Norwegian history and taken as proof of Norwegian capabilities9.

  • 10 “Hird” means not only the nucleus (“Guards”) of the Viking king’s royal army, but also a more forma (...)
  • 11 Modern historians put an end to the Viking-period in 1066 when the Norwegian religion became Cathol (...)

15In King Baldwin's Bangle the heroes are Vikings of worthy descent. The plot takes place at King Sigurd Jorsalfare's hird10 at Nidaros, Christmas 1111, when the King, clearly a Norse adventurer, is returning from a crusade11. Amongst the treasures he brings with him is King Baldwin's bangle, which is subsequently stolen by a disloyal palace servant and his gang. Thanks to the two child heroes, Inger and Olav, chieftain Gaute Jarl's children, the villains are caught and punished.

  • 12 Helen Stibolt, Kong Baldwins armring, Oslo, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1936, p. 10.

16In contrast to the loyal Vikings in the King's guard, playwright Stibolt creates a number of characters who represent other ethnic groups. Their roles are either rogues or clowns. Sami Jongo is the first such character on stage, a knock-kneed little man who speaks a gibberish mixture of Norwegian and Saami. He is also a bear keeper and leads his big white polar bear by a ring through its snout. Jongo is tolerated by the Vikings but is regarded as comical and unreliable12.

Illustration 3: Jongo and his bear watches the Vikings in King Baldwin’s Bangle by Helen Stibolt. Photo: Rude, 1935, National Library of Norway.

  • 13 We have decided to keep the racist vocabulary of the period. The word is “neger” in Norwegian and i (...)

17The play becomes more explicitly racist when four negroes13 with nose rings enter the stage. Their job is to guard the King's treasure, but the cook, Jens, entices them with a helping of Christmas dinner. The guards succumb to the temptation and leave their posts.

  • 14 Ibid., p. 28.

Jens, the cook:
Eat! Eat! (points into his mouth) Yum, yum! (Rubs his tummy) Good! Good!
(The Negroes smile broadly and mimic the actions)
Look! Look! That's better! Now they're coming.
One grab of a nose. And off we go!
(He takes the closest by the ring in his nose, he in turn holds the next man. All exit, right stage).14

18The association implied between the negroes and animals is clear; a few scenes previously, the bear was pulled around by the ring in its snout, and the Negroes’ instincts are to follow their appetites rather than maintain their duty guarding the treasure. In the next scene, the four negroes perform a comical dance accompanied by gibberish nonsensical singing.

  • 15 Ibid., p. 35.

19The nationality of the cook is not specified in the script. He goes by a typical Danish name, Jens. However, pictorial documentation from the production shows him wearing an oriental costume with eyes painted as a stereotypical Asian. He is depicted as being untrustworthy. He tempts the guards and persuades them to leave their posts15.

  • 16 Ibid., p. 82.

20Lowest in the hierarchy we find the Turk, Mustafa. He is the villain who wants to buy the stolen bangle. Mustafa lives in a barn-like cave, and what’s more, he is a Muslim. The Vikings are shocked to discover that Mustafa doesn't eat pork, despite it being Christmas16.

21Eugenics is an unusual term in Norway today. The concept of racial superiority is far too closely connected to the party Nasjonal Samling and to Nazism and fascism. However, King Baldwin's Bangle is an unwavering promotion of these values. Presented with the Sami clown, the stupid negros and the unreliable Orientals within the space of a few paragraphs it may seem like an exaggeration, but in Norway in 1935 these caricatures were considered by the critics to be “funny and exciting”.

  • 17 Ibid., p. 18-22.
  • 18 H. O. Brevig, Den norske fascismen, op.cit., p. 149.

22In Stibolt's play, Sigurd Jorsalfare is presented as a representative for the Vikings' Catholic faith. The Vikings are crusaders. The play also includes lengthy narrative sequences about the Viking King and national hero, Olaf the Holy, as well as the Virgin Mary. These narratives are visualised by beautiful images projected onto the back cloth17. Here too there were references to National Socialist ideology; the violent crusading of Vikings and their Christian Catholic religion was central to the Norwegian fascists. The political programme of Nasjonal Samling from 1934 makes it clear that “the basic values of Christianity must be protected”. This was partly a reaction to communism at that time, which was branded as the Antichrist18.

Illustration 4: All the villains in Stibolt’s play are compared to animals. Here Mustafa and his assistants are crawling next to a pig and two cows, right before they are captured with lassos. Photo: Rude, 1935, National Library of Norway.

  • 19 Norway had been in a formal union with Sweden since 1814.

23King Baldwin's Bangle is a model example of how the political extreme right promoted an ideology that aims to create a spiritual and national revival at the expense of minorities. Although fascism is clear in the play, King Baldwin’s Bangel was not swept aside as propaganda. The national and historical elements in Stibolt's drama were in line with the national values on which the theatre had been founded in 1899. During the struggle for independence from Sweden19, the national story with its national heroes and culture became extremely important. The National Theatre had extensive competence in the field of national romanticism. This may explain some of the uncritical collaboration, but not all of it.

24Helen Stibolt's play was created when fascist sympathy in Norwegian society had reached its height. Her ideological goals were deliberate and undisguised; they existed on what Peter Hollindale refers to as the “superficial level”. The fact that the National Theatre's interpretation of Stibolt's play was so loyal to her intentions and that they chose to put on such an impressive production of King Baldwin's Bangle, indicates that some of her values were not only strong at the theatre, but also in Norwegian society in general. Much of the support Stibolt received can be explained by the existence of unconscious and poorly thought-through values spread by dominant culture. The National Theatre had already produced a number of children's plays containing racist sequences that can be attributed to the authors’ “subconscious level”, categorised as level two on Hollindale’s scale.

Ethnical villains

25The first ethnical villains made their appearance in Journey to the Christmas Star by Sverre Brandt (1880-1962) in 1924. Early in the play, the heroine, Sonja, sneaks into the castle through a window, followed by two gypsies:

  • 20 Sverre Brandt, Reisen til Julestjernen, Oslo, Vidarforlaget, 2015, s. 8.

(When they fail to see anyone in the room, they jump in,
grab
Sonja and try to pull her out with them.)
First Gypsy:
Now now, so you're trying to escape so
you can tell tales to the guard? Well that's
not going to happen.
(Sonja puts up a fight.)
First Gypsy:
Come now. We're popping down
to the Palace storerooms to do some stealing, you see.20

26The gypsies have a few more lines and then they disappear – both from the castle and from the play. Sonja is arrested by the Palace guards, and the role of the villain continues along a vein that is more traditional for Norwegian children's theatre, usually a greedy, power-seeking insider. In Journey to the Christmas Star the three villains are the evil brother of the King, a witch and her daughter.

Illustration 5: The gypsies and the main character Sonja in Journey to the Christmas Star by Sverre Brandt. Photo: Rude, 1938, National Library of Norway.

27The gypsies have a solely functional role in the script. Brandt wanted an element of excitement when Sonja made her entrance. She needed to be presented as both a victim and a moral heroine. It was convenient to give the villain’s role to characters who didn't need individual development. The gypsy villain was a well-established cliché in popular culture of the time. They were portrayed as fiery, unreliable, and devoid of understanding and respect for Norwegian culture and Norwegian law.

28There is little reason to believe that Brandt characterised the Romany people as rogues as part of a conscious message. As with King Baldwin's Bangle, a consistent ideology pervades in Journey to the Christmas Star, but in Brandt's case, these values are of a religious nature. The play revolves around Christianity and an experience of faith. Traditional Norwegian Christmas celebrations make up the framework. In the key scene of the play, the heroine Sonja (and the audience) see a magnificent vision of a ladder leading up to heaven filled with angels. A little child carries the Christmas star down the ladder and gives it to Sonja. The scene with the gypsies is a show of passive ideology in Hollindale’s terms; on the conscious level he is giving the audience a religious experience.

Illustrations 6: The key scene in Journey to the Christmas Star. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1927, National Library of Norway.

29Journey to the Christmas Star became a success at the National Theatre. There were 65 performances of the first production. The play developed into the theatre's all-time children's classic and there were new productions at regular intervals. To date, the National Theatre has put on 25 productions of Journey to the Christmas Star. Many opportunities to correct the racist portrayal of gypsies slipped by. Without comment or discussion, the two characters morphed into common thieves after the Second World War.

  • 21 Barbra Ring, Kongens hjerte (1910) and Liselil og Perle (1912).
  • 22 Barbra Ring, The King's Heart, Liselill and Pearl, The Princess and the Fiddler, Oslo, Vidarforlage (...)

30The aforementioned Barbra Ring introduced negroes to fill the function of both clown and rogue in her play, The Princess and the Fiddler in 1927. Prior to this, in 1910 and 1912, two children's plays by Ring had been produced in which feminism was the overarching ideology21. The Princess and the Fiddler was a poetic children's play with a clear anti-war message. It encouraged tolerance and understanding between people. The principal villain in the drama was a warmonger named Prince Jergo. Although he could easily have carried the role of the villain alone, additional “baddies” are provided in the form of “two negroes with shining white teeth, big curved knives and little else besides”.22 They are supposed to rush noisily around the stage acting as stupid as possible in their inability to catch the right person. This scene is solely for entertainment value and creates unnecessary friction in an otherwise powerful anti-war drama. It seems to be an ideological “blip” on the part of the playwright, with her subconscious kicking in without her awareness. In the same way Brandt uses his gypsies, Ring uses the stereotypes of negroes, obtained from popular culture such as “The Katzenjammer Kids”, a comic most Norwegians were familiar with.

Illustration 7: Ring’s two negroes was switched two four Asians in the final staging of The Princess and the Fiddler. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1926, National Library of Norway.

  • 23 Peter Hunt, Litterature for Children. Contemporary Criticism, London and New York, Routledge 1992, (...)

31The characteristics “funny” and “exciting” appear frequently in reviews of children's theatre from the interwar period. These words are also commonly found in reviews of popular culture. Along with children's culture, popular culture is characterised by its easily available, recognisable and understandable form. When the intended audience are children, the need for simplification is of course relevant, since children by definition have a lower level of knowledge and experience than adults. However, simplification can easily degenerate into clichés or standardisation of content that is only aimed to entertain or comfort23. Brandt and Ring's racist scenes were mainly rooted in clichés from popular culture between the World Wars.

32Xenophobia and racism were phenomena that found their way into all parts of society, even the dominant political institution, the Norwegian National Assembly. In 1927, a new Foreign Law was passed by Parliament. Section §3, paragraph 3 stipulates that gypsies and other vagrants are not permitted to enter Norway. The background for the proposed law states:

  • 24 Odelstingsproposisjon n° 11, 1926, s. 2-3.

This largely applies to people from ethnic groups that differ considerably from Norwegians. It is indisputable that immigration from these foreign ethnic groups would be highly unfortunate if it were to occur on a large scale. In this context, it should be mentioned that it was not until the War, that any significant number of immigrants of varying foreign ethnicity settled in this country. This has turned out to be an extremely unfortunate addition to our population.24

  • 25 Kristin Gaukstad, Norvegiska romá/Norske sigøynere – Et folk med mange stemmer, Oslo, utstillingste (...)

33We think it is correct to view the gypsy scene in Journey to the Christmas Star as a result of the dramatist Brandt's passive ideology, which placed him in a growing racist trend in Norwegian society. The consequences of this collective attitude, as seemingly innocently depicted in the gypsy scene, are shocking. Just one example: in 1934, 68 Norwegian gypsies were stopped at the Danish border and refused entry to Norway “regardless of the nationality stated on their passports”. The gypsy families ended up in German concentration camps. Only 12 of them survived25. Brandt and Journey to the Christmas Star cannot be blamed for the fate of these gypsies, but values and ideas that are propounded by fictional works can be powerful. The enormous success of Journey to the Christmas Star meant that all subsequent plays for children between the wars incorporated elements of Norwegian Christmas, unfortunately, in the same fashion Brandt’s gypsy scene legitimised the occurrence of minorities, negros and Orientals in later works of other playwrights.

34A further characteristic of Brandt's play is that he too "borrowed" elements, actions and symbols from the best Norwegian children's plays produced previously. The art of copying is, however, not as easy as it may seem. A point in case is our next example, a script written by the actor and caricaturist Thoralf Klouman (1880-1940) which was accepted in 1925, a year after the premiere of Journey to the Christmas Star.

An ultramodern journey

35Klouman followed Brandt's formula for a Christmas play, with the theme of a journey and with elements borrowed from previous works for children produced at the National Theatre. But he also included elements of what he considered to be ultramodern in children's culture. He wrote a play entitled Dream of Radioland or Journey to where pepper grows, in 1925.

  • 26 Roald Amundsen (1872-1926) was a Norwegian polar explorer and national hero.

36Klouman's work lacks a unifying idea and logical structure, best shown in a summary: A brother and sister listen to the daily children's hour on the radio and the narrator tells the listeners that Radioland is in mourning because the prince, who the princess was supposed to marry, has disappeared without a trace. The siblings set out across the sea in a tub to help the royals of Radioland. First, they arrive at Svalbard and thereafter at the North Pole. They manage to start Roald Amundsen's abandoned aeroplane26, and pick up a polar bear given to them by the North Wind. Next, they fly to The Land where Pepper Grows and meet a tribe of Negroes, before they fly on to Radioland, a country full of fizzy drinks, cakes and chocolate. Finally, the children save the unhappy, weeping princess and her prince, and can return home to their parents who are waiting with a Christmas tree and presents.

Illustration 8: The kids in Thoralf Klouman’s Dream of Radioland are listening to the radio in the opening scene. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1925, National Library of Norway.

  • 27 Thoralf Klouman, Drømmen om Radioland eller Reisen dit pepperen gror, Nationaltheatret, 1925, p. 73 (...)

37This summary reveals a mass of happenings and details borrowed from both popular culture and children's stories. In the stage directions, Klouman explains some of his references: “Golliwog country – naïve, reminiscent of The Katzenjammer Kids. Here and there, giant flies hang from invisible threads; big wild animals are exhibited in the background. A big pan hangs over a fire; a giant thermometer. A cage.”27 As an example of the level and content of Klouman's texts, we can quote a few verses of a song about food delivered by the golliwog father as he leaps and dances around the stage:

We love breakfast here in golliwog-land, here we gobble
We gobble, we bobble, we hobble.
To think we gobble up flies and fleas
and giant spiders if you please
We gobble up these delicacies – here in golliwog-land.

38Subsequent verses are about lunch and tea with delicacies such as frogs’ legs, grasshoppers, ants, centipedes and flies. The concluding verse tells it all:

  • 28 Ibid., p. 84-85.

So now you know what we eat in gollliwog land
Golliland, molliland, follyland.
Fussy eaters have no places
Us who have such black black faces
us who have such black black faces here in golliwog land28

39The young hero and heroine on the stage draw obvious conclusions as to what they can learn in this distant land "where pepper grows". And the two of them give the audience a final song:

  • 29 Ibid., p. 161.

It is so strange – strange as can be –
So be happy you are not a negro – but white like me.29

40Whereas Sverre Brandt and Barbra Ring's racist slips apply only to short sequences, Thoralf Klouman's drama is soaked in the prejudices and clichés of popular culture. The playwright worked partly within this sphere himself, he was also a father and wanted to pass on everything his own children found funny, whether it was a land full of candy or familiar cartoon characters. The ideology he communicated was fragmented and random. His criteria were that the content should be entertaining and exciting. Klouman was not fluent in artistic visual expression. His drama was slaughtered by the critics.

  • 30 Thorolf Elster, Nationaltheatret, n° 27, December 1925, p. 3.

41A reviewer from the newspaper Nationen criticised the form of the play but wrote only one line regarding the contents: “The conclusion is that this children's comedy is more embarrassing than usual, it all meant nothing.”30 In our context, to say that words are devoid of meaning is a contradiction. The meaning of words has an effect whether they reach our consciousness or our sub-consciousness. Klouman did not have a clear message, he just wanted to entertain, but his play reveals both his own passive ideology and the contemporary cultural acceptance of racism.

Ideology in art appreciation

42To be accessible to the intended audience is an accepted quality in fictional literature for children. Simplicity makes it easier to discover ideological and didactic structures than is often the case in more complex texts written for adults. The relationship between didactics, ideology and text is an ongoing discussion in research into children's literature. However, this is generally restricted to academic circles, and is seldom reflected upon by art critics.

  • 31 Journey to the Christmas Star is still performed, but the original text has not been publicly avail (...)

43In historical studies into children's dramatics and theatre, important ideological perspectives have disappeared because the texts are no longer available. One reason for this is that in general, fictional texts for children – and more specifically, dramatic texts – are so closely linked to the ideology of society at large, that they are discarded when they no longer fit the values of current society. This has been the case with three of the examples analysed here31. When it comes to seeing the links between children's dramatics and dominant ideologies, there is thus a void in the historical material.

44In Norway, there are few classic dramatic works for children. The most popular classic, Journey to the Christmas Star, contains certain Christian religious values, these having found sufficient resonance amongst the population that the play remained part of the theatre's repertoire until 2017. However, it seems that secularism has now caught up with Journey to the Christmas Star. The last director to stage the play (in 2017) removed all the most important Christian references in the playwright’s text.

45Another long-surviving play was The King's Heart. Barbra Ring's writing was heavily criticised by feminists in the 1970s. Ring was attacked as discriminating and romantic, although critics failed to dig deeper into the historical background for her stance. In addition, Ring was wrongly blamed for certain elements of the play that were in fact production decisions made by the theatre, and adjustments or dilutions of her original ideas. The King's Heart is currently only produced by amateur theatre groups.

46In our study of the National Theatre’s productions for children in the interwar period, we have seen that National romanticism, the political treatment of minorities, general trends and Western popular culture made it possible to show blatantly racist content on stage. In the cases of Brandt, Ring and Klouman this racism was not their conscious intent and it cannot be attributed to a fascist ideology. Helen Stibolt, on the other hand, had a fascist agenda. King Baldwin’s Bangle underplayed the anti-communist elements of her fascism and emphasized the parts that coincided with main-stream culture and the traditions of the National Theatre. Her talent and ability to customize her message gave her access to Norway’s principal stage.

47There was only one production of King Baldwin's Bangle; after the peace agreement of 1945, it would have been impossible to put on the play again. However, the National Theatre chose to conceal the theatre's blame and shame for seducing their youngest audiences with national socialist ideology. They camouflaged it all behind the words "funny and exciting". In our opinion this was a grave error of judgment. We should be highly conscious of the ideology within drama for children. A search for the values embedded in these fictional works can disclose the values of society at large.

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Notes

1 Vidkun Quisling subsequently led the pro-Nazi government during the German occupation of Norway.

2 Nasjonal Samling (NS) was the Norwegian Nazi party. It was founded in 1933. The party formed a collaborative government during the German occupation of Norway. It was disbanded as part of the peace settlement in 1945.

3 Helen Stibolt was not elected. Frisinnede Venstre gained one seat in the Norwegian parliament. The seat was won by her chief, Rolf Thommesen. In 1938, the NS seized the editorial control of Tidens Tegn, and editor Thommesen and his private secretary were forced to resign. Helen Stibolt left politics. She was not involved in pro-German activity during the occupation of Norway.

4 Peter Hollindale, “Ideology and the children’s book”, in: Peter Hunt: Literature for Children. Contemporary Criticism. London and New York. Routledge 1992, p. 19–40.

5 Ibid., p. 32.

6 P. Hollindale, “Ideology and the children’s book, op.cit., p27.

7 The research project Drama for children – the soul of theatre is run by theatre researcher Anne Helgesen and literary scholar Petra Helgesen. The project's first stage has entailed producing 15 volumes of the most important children's plays and their respective dramatist biographies between 1906 and 2018. The first volume of the historical work will be published in the autumn of 2020. It is about the soul of Christiania Theatre and that of the National Theatre.

8 Anton Rønneberg, Nationaltheatret gjennom femti år, Oslo, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1949, p. 300.

9 Hans Olav Brevig, Ivo de Figuieredo (dir.), Den norske fascismen. Nasjonal Samling 1933–1940, Oslo, Pax Forlag, 2002.

10 “Hird” means not only the nucleus (“Guards”) of the Viking king’s royal army, but also a more formal royal court household. “Hird” was used to name the uniformed paramilitary organisation within the NS.

11 Modern historians put an end to the Viking-period in 1066 when the Norwegian religion became Catholic, and the old Norse religion was banned. But Norwegian romantic nationalism in the nineteenth century had created the notion that the Viking period ended in 1397, when Sweden, Denmark and Norway first formed a union. The Nazis kept that story.

12 Helen Stibolt, Kong Baldwins armring, Oslo, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1936, p. 10.

13 We have decided to keep the racist vocabulary of the period. The word is “neger” in Norwegian and it is no longer appropriate to use. The final debate on this matter resulted in the revisioning of several Scandinavian children’s books in 2006, and in 2007 the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion issued a regulation that banned the word from official language and communication.

14 Ibid., p. 28.

15 Ibid., p. 35.

16 Ibid., p. 82.

17 Ibid., p. 18-22.

18 H. O. Brevig, Den norske fascismen, op.cit., p. 149.

19 Norway had been in a formal union with Sweden since 1814.

20 Sverre Brandt, Reisen til Julestjernen, Oslo, Vidarforlaget, 2015, s. 8.

21 Barbra Ring, Kongens hjerte (1910) and Liselil og Perle (1912).

22 Barbra Ring, The King's Heart, Liselill and Pearl, The Princess and the Fiddler, Oslo, Vidarforlaget, 2012, p. 223.

23 Peter Hunt, Litterature for Children. Contemporary Criticism, London and New York, Routledge 1992, p. 4.

24 Odelstingsproposisjon n° 11, 1926, s. 2-3.

25 Kristin Gaukstad, Norvegiska romá/Norske sigøynere – Et folk med mange stemmer, Oslo, utstillingstekster på Interkulturelt Museum, Oslo Museum, 2014.

26 Roald Amundsen (1872-1926) was a Norwegian polar explorer and national hero.

27 Thoralf Klouman, Drømmen om Radioland eller Reisen dit pepperen gror, Nationaltheatret, 1925, p. 73. Spesialsamlingen, Nasjonalbiblioteket.

28 Ibid., p. 84-85.

29 Ibid., p. 161.

30 Thorolf Elster, Nationaltheatret, n° 27, December 1925, p. 3.

31 Journey to the Christmas Star is still performed, but the original text has not been publicly available. In our research we have studied the originals in the National Library’s theatre archive.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Illustration 1: Author Helen Stibolt (1888-1975) Photo: Unknown photographer, 1933, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 288k
Légende Illustration 2: Final scene in The King’s Heart by Barbra Ring. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1910, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 196k
Légende Illustration 3: Jongo and his bear watches the Vikings in King Baldwin’s Bangle by Helen Stibolt. Photo: Rude, 1935, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 124k
Légende Illustration 4: All the villains in Stibolt’s play are compared to animals. Here Mustafa and his assistants are crawling next to a pig and two cows, right before they are captured with lassos. Photo: Rude, 1935, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 132k
Légende Illustration 5: The gypsies and the main character Sonja in Journey to the Christmas Star by Sverre Brandt. Photo: Rude, 1938, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Légende Illustrations 6: The key scene in Journey to the Christmas Star. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1927, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 148k
Légende Illustration 7: Ring’s two negroes was switched two four Asians in the final staging of The Princess and the Fiddler. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1926, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Légende Illustration 8: The kids in Thoralf Klouman’s Dream of Radioland are listening to the radio in the opening scene. Photo: Unknown photographer, 1925, National Library of Norway.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/docannexe/image/4657/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 63k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Anne Helgesen et Petra Helgesen, « Innocent fun – Ideological shame », Strenæ [En ligne], 16 | 2020, mis en ligne le 17 juin 2020, consulté le 13 août 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/4657 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/strenae.4657

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Auteurs

Anne Helgesen

Independant researcher
The Norwegian Institute for Children's Books

Petra Helgesen

Independant researcher
The Norwegian Institute for Children's Books

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