On the 19th of September Linus Van Pelt turned 69 years old. I know this because the Charles Schulz Museum put a special post on Facebook reminding me of my favorite Peanut’s character’s birthday. They also ran the first strip. In that historic strip Linus is still in diapers and hasn’t even learned to walk yet. But that uniquely shaped head and the scraggly hair definitely told you that this was Linus.
That’s true of all The Peanut’s characters. If you go back and look at the original strips, they look remarkably different than what they would be in ten years’ time. Ten years after that they would change a little more but not by much. Even the characters would change. In the first strip which was dated October 5, 1950, we see three characters two of which are all but forgotten today. Shermy, who is always the shepherd in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Patty (not Peppermint) a blond-haired girl who be most often seen with Lucy, and Charlie Brown. These three were the center for awhile but slowly the cast would grow as Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty Marcy, and Franklin would all join the cast as well as a host of other characters.
Charles M Schulz was a genius born in 1922 and died in 2000. For fifty of those years from 1950 until 2000 Schulz wrote and illustrated every Peanuts strip. If he took a vacation, he wrote strips 2 or three weeks in advance. Not one line of a pen or one word came from anybody else. Every strip was pure Schulz.
That’s not to say he didn’t take ideas from those around him. Watching his own children grow gave Schulz much fodder for his strip. Watching them at play or what they were learning in school or how they got things mixed up was him plenty of ideas. He took outside advice to and when an African American lady wrote him asking him to put an African American child in his strip, he took the advice and Franklin was born.
One other gift that Schulz had was seeing the human experience the sad and the happy and making us laugh at it. His strip had the capacity to make kids laugh at the antics of a beagle and adults laugh and yet ponder the words of Linus who, more often than not, was the moralist of the characters. He saw inside of us and liked what he saw but he also knew we could be better. It’s all there in The Peanuts strip.
Mr. Schulz was a Baptist at the beginning of his career and through out the 1950s and 1960s you will find Bible verses peppered through out those years. Of course, the most famous moment is Linus reciting from Luke Chapter Two in A Charlie Brown Christmas. But he could be subtle too. There is one strip where Linus is building a sandcastle. It was a Sunday strip, and it was panel after panel of turrets and towers, high walls, and battlements. In the last few panels, it starts to rain and the whole thing disappears. Linus, looking at the work he has done melting away say, “I know there’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is.” If you know your New Testament you know exactly what it is. It’s a pictorial reference to Matthew Chapter 7 verses 26 and 27 where Jesus says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. This is the end of The Sermon on the Mount.
Peanuts somehow enters all of us. I know at different times of my life I can be as crabby as Lucy, as insecure as Charlie Brown, passionate as Schroeder, Adventurous as Snoopy, as loyal as Woodstock or as wise as Linus.
For a good part of my life, in recent years, I saw myself as Charlie Brown. The loser, the guy that had little to offer the world. The guy that failed at life. Like Charlie Brown too many curve balls knocked me on my back on the pitcher’s mound, but I got up and tried again. Like Charlie Brown I sought help. A few times I ended up with advisers that might just as well been Lucy and her psychiatric booth, but more than once I ended with councilors who could and did advise me well and I found myself back in the game again.
Physical issues knocked me down too and again I needed help to get back in the game. And again, there were people there, professionals who knew how to advise me and get me moving. Like Linus helped Charlie Brown see what the true meaning of Christmas is. People helped me to see what the true meaning of life is and how to live it.
These days I think I see life as a cross between Linus and Snoopy. I want to see the meaning behind the events of my life. I want to have deep discussions on philosophy and faith and how each of these fits into my life. I also want to live an adventure. Snoopy became whatever his imagination decided he would be, A World War One fighter Pilate, A lawyer, a doctor, A skater. You see Snoopy swimming and surfing and sometimes driving a car he is almost always at the head of an adventure and willing to take the risk of the next one. This is how I want to live.
What is an adventure. Thornton Wilder said that you can tell if you’re in an adventure if you look around and say, “How did I get into this?” But he countered with that you know “There is something wrong with you when you sit quietly at home hoping for an adventure.”
Right now, life is full of adventure for me. My journey has taken a new turn and there is much to decide in the coming months. I have been asking myself, “how did I get into this?” And the answer has been through no fault of my own, at least for most of it. Regardless of how, the question now is what? What’s the next move? How do I solve the puzzle? I could look on the issues I am facing and be all, “woe, is me”, or I could see each situation as an adventure. A chance to learn and grow as a person and ultimately to be a better man than I am. To me that’s the perfect balance between Snoopy and Linus. Seizing the adventure and seeing the meaning and the potential behind it.
I’d like to talk a little more about Charles Schulz. Schulz was an amazing man with an incredible mind. His work will live on through out the ages. Other comic strips will come and go because they are grounded firmly in the time they were written. The political landscape of Doonesbury is not the same as we have today and so the strip will fade as its creator passes on. The same could be said for other comic strips. Schulz work is timeless. He makes us laugh and hits are hearts and minds at the same time. An example of one such strip goes like this.
Linus (Pretending he has a gun) Bang Bang!
Charlie Brown: What are you playing Linus, cops, and robbers?
Linus No! Bang Bang!
Charlie Brown: Cowboys and Indians?
Charlie Brown: Then what are you playing?
Linus: Liberals versus conservatives! Bang Bang!
Now Charles Schulz passed away 21 years ago. This strip was written in the late 50s or early 60s and it is still as relevant today as the day it was written.
Schulz was a man who struggled. He may have been at one time the most famous cartoonist in the world, but he struggled with insecurity and depression. And yet they never beat him. For 50 years this man would turn out strip after strip. All those raw emotions and self-doubt became fodder for his imagination and instead of wallowing in self-pity he made us laugh and gave us the great gift of all of his characters.
I used to think that Schulz modeled Charlie Brown after himself. I read an early biography of him where he talked about feeling out of place while in school and felt genuinely insecure. But when Schulz was asked what character, he saw himself as he simple answered, “All of them”. That answer, at first, surprised me. But after thinking about it awhile, it seemed to be exactly true not only for him but for all of us.
As people we switch hats and masks every day. Maybe to put it better we play different parts every day. In a days’ time I can be a son, a brother, a writer, a chef, a researcher, a movie or book critic, a house cleaner, a good friend, or a councilor. You in a day could be a mother or a father, a hockey player or businessperson, a student, or a teacher all in a single day. We change our roles as we go from one of our interests or jobs to another and we don’t even think about it, the change is instant, sometimes simultaneous.
Charles Schulz is basically saying the same thing as he claims he is all of his characters. He can lose and yet still be determined as Charlie Brown of be angry and crabby like Lucy. I guess I’m pushing this to some extent, but the universalness of Charles Schulz Characters cannot go understated.
Charles Schulz is distinctly the only Newspaper cartoonist to have covered all the ways we can be entertained. His characters have been successful in the newspapers and on-line, in movies and television and on the Broadway stage. His entire 50 years of work has been bound in 25 hard cover books and are available for purchase. Peanuts is read the world over and I doubt there are many countries where Snoopy plush dolls are not available for purchase.
One night in December 1969 Charles Schulz had printed his daily strip. A Boy Named Charlie Brown was playing in the movie theaters, A Charlie Brown Christmas was on our television sets and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown was being performed off Broadway. Every form of media was corned by Peanuts that night. No one has done that since.
Peanuts, Featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown has entertained informed and inspired us for 71 years. It has hit our hearts and our minds and our faith. It remains popular being published every day still in print newspapers or daily delivered to your in-box. (Since Schulz death they have been reprinting the strip from 1975 to 2000, this will end in 2025) The Characters remain popular on television and though each of the holiday specials are available on DVD or digitally we still clamor for them to be shown on network television. Last years rage over Apple buying the rights to show exclusively on Apple TV proves that. The messages and the joy in those holiday specials should be free to the world as I think Schulz would want it. Charlie Brown once said, “Life is like an ice cream cone, you have to learn to lick.” I’ll leave you there.