“That’s a lot of Snoopy!”
So said Alex, our ten-year-old, this past Saturday as he began his morning dive into the comics of our local newspaper.
Yes, we still receive a physical newspaper – and yes, some children do still read portions of it.
Alex was reacting to the Centennial Celebration of Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz, who was born on November 26, 1922. In homage to the late, bespectacled cartoonist, many artists slyly slipped in references and illustrations related to Charlie Brown and the gang in their own strips.
When Schulz died of colon cancer back in 2000 at the age of 77, the introverted artist was hailed as someone who deftly captured the fun and foibles of life, and especially the frustrations and uniqueness of childhood. By design, no adults ever appeared in the comic strip. In television specials, several of which remain holiday classics, adult voices are represented by the drone of trombones. In fact, Schulz insisted on using real kids to voice the various children’s characters.
Charles Schulz insisted that nobody else would draw his strip after he died, a pledge his family has kept for the last twenty-two years. But so voluminous and productive was the artist for over a half-century that Peanuts continues to appear each and every day.
A committed Christian, Schulz was sometimes subtle but never shy about folding elements of his faith into his work. We all know about the beloved Christmas special and Linus’ reading from the Gospel of Luke. Network executives didn’t like the overt religious nature of that portion of the show – but Charles Schulz made clear that without the reading in Luke, there would be no special at all. The suits backed down, and a Christmas classic was born.
But there were plenty of other references, too, and so much so that the Reverend Robert L. Short wrote a bestselling book in the 1960s titled, “The Gospel According to Peanuts.” He followed up with a sequel: “The Parables of Peanuts.”
Reverend Short suggested the chronic challenges the kids faced pointed to “original sin” – and Linus’ adoration of the “Great Pumpkin” was a modern-day manifestation regarding “the hazard of worshipping deities.” He even went so far as to suggest Snoopy’s laziness and gluttonous proclivities reflected some of the typical shortcomings of Christians.
The charm of the comic strip and Schulz’s obvious faith often manifested in simple and lovely ways. Weather was a popular subject. In one strip, Charlies Brown is walking with Linus as a steady rain comes down. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust,” Charlie Brown says. “That’s a good system,” Linus replies.
In another, Lucy and Linus are standing inside at a window looking out on another downpour. “What if it floods the whole world?” asks Lucy. “It will never do that,” responds Linus. “In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of that promise is a rainbow.” A smiling and obviously relieved Lucy says, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind.” Linus then lands the final shot: “Sound theology has a way of doing that!” he replies.
It was this very type of strip that wound up endearing Schulz to people of the Christian faith. They appreciated his sound theology, which made them appreciate Peanuts even more.
We also loved Charles Schulz’s work because he worked hard to preserve and protect the innocence of children. It’s not that things never went wrong – e.g., Lucy bullying Charlie Brown time and time again by yanking the football out from under him – but kids were depicted doing the things kids do. They were happy, mostly friendly, knuckleheaded at times, of course, and worked at working things out together. Schulz’s strips taught children how to get along – and even how to face disappointments and setbacks.
At first, I was disappointed the artist didn’t want anyone to continue his strip, but the wisdom of such a decision is confirmed in our increasingly “progressive” world. Charlie Brown and his friends are nostalgic comfort food now, frozen in time, representing an era that is slowly slipping away. There will be no “woke” Peanuts characters or evolution or revolution of themes that would make parents cringe and groan, “Good grief!” Just Good ‘Ole Charlie Brown and his friends – and hopefully for another century to come.