One in a series of posts dedicated to pop-culture depictions of owls — as stand-ins for educated, highbrow humans — from 1924–1983. The series derives its title from Owl’s home in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
“Perfesser” Howland Mongomersett Owl was one of the lead characters — along with the possum Pogo, the alligator Albert, the mud turtle Churchy LaFemme, the hound dog Beauregard, and the porcupine Porky — in Pogo, Walt Kelly’s long-running (1948–1975) and much-esteemed newspaper strip set in the Okefenokee Swamp.
Like the pop-culture owls who preceded him, Howland is a self-appointed authority on… everything. Sporting horn-rimmed eyeglasses and, in his earliest appearances (and then again in his later comic-book appearances) a pointed wizard’s cap, he presents himself as a scientist, doctor, astronomer, and so forth. In fact, he is a dangerously inept buffoon who misuses large words, readily believes in obviously false theories and notions, and gets his friends into one scrape after another.
In the German text Comics: Anatomy of a Mass Medium (1971), considered one of the first studies to take comics seriously, Reinhold Reitberger and Wolfgang Fuchs suggest that Howland Owl represents “the irresponsible scientist who couldn’t care less about the implications of his inventions.”
Why the wizard’s cap? One wonders whether the cap — which fortuitously resembles a dunce’s cap — is a reference to Merlyn’s owl in T.H. White’s 1938 novel The Sword in the Stone.
Voiced by Walt Kelly himself in the 1969 TV show The Pogo Special Birthday Special.