On October 27 1966,
CBS debuted an animated family Halloween special based on Charles
Schulz's syndicated newspaper comic strip, "Peanuts". While
seemingly an innocuous children's cartoon, the themes on display in
"It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" were disappointment,
alienation, neurosis, delusion and despair.
These were concerns Schulz gnawed over daily for decades on the
"funny" pages of our nations leading newspapers, but here in the
half hour animated "special", they crystallized to a razor sharpness
that 41 years later still cuts as cleanly and deeply as the first
time it was unsheathed.
We watch it annually. We memorize it's rhythms, we could almost
chant along, and so by repetition we are desensitized to the
childhood horror which is the Great Pumpkin's true subject matter.
The story is made up of three character arcs; the events of a single
Halloween night and following morning as experienced by Linus Van
Pelt, Charlie Brown and the dog Snoopy. I intend to examine each arc
in, arriving at some semblance of what Schulz intended to convey
through the narrative.
Is Linus insane?
Certainly he is neurotic. He sucks his thumb, he carries a blanket,
he is sickened by the Freudian image of his sister gutting a
Pumpkin. These almost Ibsen-esque weaknesses are given, but does his
belief in the "Great Pumpkin" indicate a diagnosable delusional
state? How does Schulz intend us to see this? There are several
distinct possibilities. Certainly, the great Pumpkin is a parody of
Santa Claus. Millions of children believe in a magical being in a
flying sled, bringing an impossible number of gifts to an impossible
number of people in a single night. Since this is a culturally
endorsed myth, children are encouraged to engage it, and so the
question of mental health never arises. Here, though, Schultz grafts
a similarly bizarre myth onto Halloween. Every year the Great
Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch he finds the most "sincere"
and flies through the air delivering toys to good boys and girls.
But beyond removing the Santa myth from its usual context to
illustrate its absurdity, what do we make of this?
In Schulz's universe, has Linus created the Great Pumpkin myth
himself? Does he assume that since Christmas has Santa, than
Halloween must have something similar? Or are we to believe the
practice of writing to and waiting for the Great Pumpkin, while rare
compared with the practice of trick-or-treating, is recognized? Is
he engaging in a culturally sponsored make believe (like Santa) or
does Schulz intend us to see him as actively delusional?
If so, his need to drag others into his belief system is disturbing.
Linus exploits young Sally Browns "crush" on him and tries to
indoctrinate her into the quasi-religious practice of 'waiting' for
the Great Pumpkin. She in turn personifies childhood's fear of
societal rejection. By believing in him, she has opened herself to
ridicule, missed the group affirmation of "tricks or treats".
Initially She offers her love, but this is soon replaced with blame
and threats. Their status roles now completely reversed, Linus'
final emasculation comes in the form of a fainting spell when he
believes he is having a religious experience but is in fact merely
looking at a dog.
It is no mistake that
Schulz chooses Snoopy to be mistaken
for the Great Pumpkin. 'Dog' spelled backwards is 'God'.
He will lie on the
ground, alone and unloved, convinced of his own unworthiness. The
"Great Pumpkin" did not come because he allowed himself an instant
of doubt, saying "if" the Great Pumpkin comes instead of "when".
This hairline crack in his perfect faith is all it takes for him to
be cast out and it is here he is found and taken in late that night
by his sister. This would seem comforting, but think; Where are his
parents? It is Halloween night and their child has not returned
home, is in fact sleeping alone outdoors. Where are the police?
Where is the amber alert? No. It falls to his sibling, a child
herself, to care for him. In Schulz's universe any appeal for adult
succor goes unanswered. They exist, but are always unseen and non
functional. Producer Bill Melendez exploits this alienation to
advantage by rendering adult "voices" as unintelligible bleats on a
initially elated at having been invited to a Halloween party is soon
informed the invitation is a mistake. Not content to leave his alter
ego isolated by simple exclusion, Schultz makes his singularity
public through the ruse of the "mistake". Brown suffers further
humiliation in his "costume", a bed sheet ghost with multiple
eyeholes. A self-inflicted wound, he had 'trouble' with the
scissors. On a second level, as eyes are seen in literature as the "windows
of the soul", brown has externalized his vulnerability. His soul
is raw, open, unprotected. Compare his shame to Pigpen. Similarly
individualized by his omnipresent cloud of filth, his pride and
obvious self-esteem serve to cast Brown's self-loathing in high
It is while trick-or-treating however, that we see the true depth of
Brown's predicament. At each stop, as the costumed children describe
their tasty "treats", we learn Brown has received instead of candy,
A rare pre-Power
Rangers Halloween scene.
What conclusions is
Schultz inviting us to draw with these rocks? Are we to assume that
the unseen, unreachable adults recognize Brown's innate lack of
human worth? Or is the universe itself casting him out? Does candy
undergo a miracle of reverse transubstantiation, passing from food
(the stuff of life) to rock (un-life) inside his trick-or-treat bag?
Where as Linus believes he is punished for sin and weakness, Brown
is punished simply for existing.
Later, at the party, Lucy will use his head as a model for a
jack-o-lantern, a concrete demonstration that Brown is a non-person.
Think back to the opening scene where Lucy gutted a Pumpkin and
Linus accused her of "killing" it. Is she metaphorically "killing"
brown now? Or are we meant to see her use of Brown as model Pumpkin
as a declaration that Linus' moral inclinations are useless? And
yet, it is Lucy, the ultimate denier of the piece, who alone
demonstrates compassion when she later retrieves Linus from the
pumpkin patch, delivering him from the place of his humiliation and
failure to home and safety. Brown never even thinks to look for
Linus, and perhaps this weakness is all the justification needed for
his lowest of all tribal status.
In Snoopy, Schulz
presents the classic wise fool as alternative. With this Dog there
is no line between fantasy and reality. What he imagines (in this
case that he is a World War 1 flying ace) simply is for as long as
the belief suits him. When the time seems right, belief is abandoned
without guilt. Compare this to the agony suffered by Linus over his
crisis of faith, or Brown's utter helplessness. It is worth noting
that the exact moment Snoopy abandons his hero fantasy is his kiss
with Lucy, a kiss that utterly (if briefly) destroys her status
In biting the
forbidden "apple", Snoopy shows
his rejection of authority is absolute.
Snoopy is free of
guilt, free from expectation, immune to claims of tribal status. But
Snoopy is a Dog. He can ape humanity, but is not human. Linus and
Brown are allowed to see the successful alternative he represents,
but are barred from embracing it by their essential nature. Like
Brown's ersatz party invitation, Snoopy's lifestyle is a reward that
is never truly on offer.
In the universe of
"Peanuts" can one hope for growth or change? Sadly, no. In the
closing scene, Brown assumes the experience in the pumpkin patch has
caused Linus to abandon faith and embrace a more existential
approach. Linus is insulted. His faith is, if anything, stronger.
And why shouldn't it be? Linus and Brown both come to the same
unrewarding end. No toys for the unfaithful Linus, no Candy for the
unlucky Brown. Why learn the lesson of experience if it yields us
nothing? False hope trumps nihilism because false though it may be,
it's still hope. In the end, it is the struggle for sincerity and
not the sincerity itself that makes the pumpkin patch truly worthy.
SCARY-ASS TRADING CARD #11!
COLLECT ALL 19 SERIES II CARDS
FOR A SPECIAL 20TH CARD!
*copy this URL
down, you'll need it once you've found all 19 cards!*
Tor Johnson, the
Professional Wrestler "Super Swedish Angel" is perhaps better
remembered for a slew of B-horror pictures, most notably Inspector Dan
Clay in "Plan 9 From Outer Space". His massive frame and huge,
bald head served to distract viewers from his acting ability, which
was non-existent. He achieved a sort of immortality, in that a
Halloween mask cast directly from his gargantuan mug remains popular
to this day.
Find all 19 Series II "Scary-Ass
Trading Cards" this September and October (2007) and you'll not only get a
special secret final 20th card emailed to you, but you'll automatically be
entered to win a Halloween prize pack from I-Mockery! Cards will
be placed in random new I-Mockery articles during the months of
October. Simply copy the URLs of each card down into a text file
whenever you find them.
Once you have
collected the URLs of all the cards, simply email them to
firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line
"I-Mockery's Scary-Ass Trading Cards!" and you will have the
special 20th card emailed to you and you'll be entered to win a
Halloween prize pack which may include masks, DVDs and more!
Remember, the cards MUST say "Series II" on them
or they will not be counted.
NOT email the actual card
graphics to us. We only want you to email us the URLs of
all the cards which you can find directly underneath them.