“I Can’t Stand It!”
If anyone ever asks me to pick one piece of culture that bridges every living generation, I have my answer ready.
Cue the Vince Guaraldi music.
The Peanuts is perhaps the most iconic comic strip in history. Not a Christmas season goes by that doesn’t get you thinking about Charlie Brown and his little Christmas tree. Halloween evokes images of Linus waiting in vain in his “sincere” pumpkin patch, waiting for his icon. (Linus would disagree with that statement wholeheartedly.) And Thanksgiving football brings to mind Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie – every single time.
My favorite part of the Peanuts cartoons, though, is the depth at which Sparky wrote. Hidden beneath the disarmingly simple artwork and innocent humor were meaningful truths about life, love, God…and baseball.
Charlie Brown is usually the first kid we think of when we hear “Peanuts”. The poor, round headed kid that no one likes, and yet somehow can’t manage to stay away from. In a way, he is the embodiment of all our insecurity, and we find comfort in the fact that he always muddles through. Unless there’s a football involved.
Yet I do find that Charlie Brown’s worst enemy is none other than himself. I think his outright lack of self-confidence is ultimately what drives everyone else to ridicule him. Any of this sound familiar? “I don’t know anything about directing a Christmas play!” “I can’t make a Thanksgiving dinner.” “Everything I touch gets ruined.” Of course, one could argue that his harsh ridicule of himself comes from how often everyone else teases him. Either way, its a vicious cycle.
“It’s your own fault,” Sally observes. “Because you’re so wishy washy.”
Even so, Charlie Brown also displays some confidence in himself from time to time. I’ve always admired how he can make a decision he knows will get him more mockery, and stand by it, even when he stands alone. (Think Christmas tree.)
Then you have Lucy. Love her or hate her, she’s rather hard to ignore. I have to hand it to that kid, she’s quite the entrepreneur. While most kids open up lemonade stands, she part-times as a psychologist. And who could forget her very grown-up wish list, which somehow always manage to take me by surprise, no matter how many times I hear it.
“What is it you really want?”
Like I said. Entreprenuer.
For all her nickel-jingling antics, she gives pretty sound advice most of the time from her doctor’s booth. I always find it striking that, despite being Charlie Brown’s second biggest critic (himself being the biggest), she is the first to give him a solution to his Christmas blues – get involved! Then, in a rare show of confidence in him, she offers him the job as director of the Christmas play.
The doctor is real in, and really on the money.
Lucy has always fascinated me. As shallow as she is, she’s a walking paradox. On the one hand, she’s self-centered, mean-spirited, and cold-hearted. And on the other hand, she’s insightful, encouraging (in her own way), and clever at solving problems. Look at the fact that, though she openly called Linus a “blockhead” for sitting in the pumpkin patch all night (at which point, we can’t help but agree with her), she asks for an extra piece of candy for him. A rare case of selflessness, but a staggering one, especially after she admits “It is so embarrassing to ask!”
Yet, no sooner has she nursed a thin and pathetic beagle back to heath (I’m thinking Snoopy’s brother Spike, here), then she turns around and yanks the ball away from Charlie, just to watch him fall “flat on his back and kill himself.”
Linus, Lucy’s brother, sticks out from the menagerie. A brilliant philosopher and theologian, he’s able to explain the most intricate details of 2 Samuel. And yet, for all his wisdom, he holds tightly to his belief in the Great Pumpkin, much to the ridicule of everyone else, including Charlie Brown. He asserts this belief so strongly at times, sometimes we almost expect the Great Pumpkin to rise out of that pumpkin patch one of these days.
If the GP really does exist, I hope he does pick Linus’ “sincere” pumpkin patch. That kid certainly has lost enough on his behalf (including a student president election.)
Linus is also Charlie Brown’s best friend by far, serving as both an encourager (even to the point of not laughing at Charlie when everyone else does), and a source of wisdom. He even chastises his pal in a loving way every once in a while. “You can take a wonderful thing like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”
Linus’ most staggering paradox however is his apparent insecurity. He carries around a blanket (a character in and of itself, I might add), and sucks his thumb. Which speaks to me. For all of our wisdom, knowledge, and talent, we’re not perfect. We still have our weaknesses, our issues, and our security blankets. But it doesn’t make us any less important or loved.
Though in Linus’ case, it certainly has led to a few close shaves with Lucy.
Of course, no year of Peanuts went by without some nod to the romantic, however innocent it may have been. Charlie saving up for the gloves for the “pretty red-headed girl”, only to discover that she already bought a pair. Linus, after being scolded by Sally, telling Charlie Brown, “There’s no fury like a woman deprived of her Halloween candy.” (That translates to the more modern adage, “Hand over the chocolate and no one gets hurt.”) Peppermint Patty inviting herself over for Thanksgiving dinner, and doing all the rest of the talking while on the phone with “Chuck”.
Despite all of Charlie Brown’s insecurity, note he doesn’t want a woman to rule his life and dominate him. (He already gets enough of that from Lucy.) He wants one he can genuinely love in a partnership. Thus why he prefers the quiet “little red-headed girl” to the tomboyish Peppermint Patty.
And that brings me to the unforgettable Marci. She and Peppermint Patty are best friends, and albeit, the strangest pair of friends you’d see anywhere. Yet, somehow, they are incomplete without one another. Peppermint Patty is confident (to a flaw), outspoken, impulsive, and flamboyant. Marci is quiet, shy, cautious, and laid back. And they compliment each other’s personalities so well.
By herself, I doubt Marci would have much drive to do much of anything outside of a book, and her shyness would largely prevent her from speaking to much of anyone. And yet, next to Peppermint Patty, she somehow seems to draw confidence and strength from her friend (who, Lord knows, has it to spare!) She may still be shy and bookish, but she can risk speaking up and taking chances, because next to Patty, she still seems reserved. (But then, next to Patty, Snoopy is something of an introvert.) Marci is still safe behind her proverbial fence, even though her companion practically picked the fence up and moved it two zip codes over.
Peppermint Patty, on her own, overpowers everything. Okay, she still does. But Marci serves as her conscience (since Peppermint Patty’s own conscience probably can’t be heard over its owner) and as her common sense. Peppermint Patty is too busy charging ahead to think much about who she just bowled over, so Marci slows her down just enough to point out the poor sap lying on the road behind her, and prompt Patty to go back and make things right. “Did he invite you, sir, or did you invite yourself, and us too?”
Between her bookish statements and her misplaced “sir”s, Marci packs a lot of wisdom.
Unarguably, the most iconic Peanuts character isn’t a kid at all – it’s Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog. The canine with a thousand personalities, a million ideas, and a doghouse to boot. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure whether Snoopy’s adventures were just in his imagination, or were every bit as real as everything else. Remember when the kids cleaned his doghouse (all floors)? When he took Sally Christmas shopping by “plane” (how did a Sopwith Camel ever get licensed for commercial fight anyhow?) When he turned Charlie Brown invisible?
Of course, there was the matter of his pool table and his Van Gogh, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the puppy somehow had more money than the entire rest of the Peanuts gang put together. Perhaps some of it comes from his veteran benefits.
Darn you, Red Baron!
I could go on forever, profiling each character, from the ever-dirty Pigpen to Freida with the naturally curly hair. But I’ve gotta stop somewhere.
Behind the jokes, the celebrations, the footballs, and the Sopwith Camels, Peanuts packs a lot of wisdom into a four-panel daily comic strip (and series of half-hour TV specials). And I guess it could be attributed to Schultz’s unshakable faith in God. It was Sparky that insisted on keeping the Biblical Christmas story in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, despite knowing it’s potential ramifications. And he tucked scriptures and scriptural truths in just about anywhere he could fit ’em in the comics.
My Uncle Joel told me about how, as a boy, he went to the church where Charles Schultz worked as a Sunday School teacher. I have it on good witness that Charles Schultz was every bit as devout in his faith as the stories imply.
As an aside, at the church camp, Sparky would wake Joel up in the middle of the night for one reason, and one reason only. Joel kept the key to the dessert freezer. So he and Schultz would sit up, well after midnight, snacking on sweets, and laughing the whole time.
It wouldn’t be proper for me to wrap up an article about the Peanuts, without my all-time favorite line.
“Augh! I’ve been kissed by a dog! I have dog germs! Get hot water! Get some disinfectant! Get some iodine!”