John Seelye

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 678

That Snoopy! If recollection serves, Charlie Brown's dog began where Dagwood's Daisy left off, a silent, even passive witness to human folly, occasionally giving off a bubble of gassid comment. He was a generic descendant of Buster Brown's Tige, that fabulous canine who smiled with human teeth, and both were variations on a traditional genre touch, the Boy and his Dawg. But, in time, as the Peanuts gallery expanded to include more unlikely children, increasing our suspicion that they are actually midgets, Snoopy took on a larger and more complex role, until, as [The Snoopy Festival] reveals, he has become a little dogpersonality, walking, very nearly talking, even sitting at table and enjoying an occasional root beer. Once a distinctly minor character, at times he now threatens to take over the strip.

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Such are the joys and dangers of serial literature, as Shakespeare (Falstaff), Fenimore Cooper (Leatherstocking) and Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) discovered. But when anthropomorphics are the subject, then we are in the world of Mickey Mouse, where some interesting analogies to Peanuts hold…. Starting out as a raffish, vulgar, often violent manifestation of id, Mickey ended up as a stolid, middle-class citizen, complete with hat, business suit and pointed-toe shoes, becoming at last the equivalent of Walt himself, a sort of middle-mouse, more a manager than an actor in the company.

Snoopy provides the Dionysian element, the free-floating shadow for a thoroughly Freudened Jung Mensch. Charlie Brown is not a Mittel—but an Untermensch; though he shares Mickey's mantle as a member of the managerial class, he can't ever get his crazy team to play ball. A mousey Durocher, he is the eternal victim of plots, jibes, sneers, a Schlemiel Hamlet…. As Schulz grew rich and famous among the apple-cheeked masses, Snoopy grew rampant, his masquerade more varied, giving the collective id of Peanuts a wider and wider range of identities to match the aggregate ego of Charlie and his team, until he now threatens to become Uberhund, top if not super dog. (p. 27)

As family dog he has become top banana (nose), the Mister Peanut of them all. From a bona fide cartoon Fido, licensed to give off occasional indigestive comments, Snoopy has become a veritable repertory company of exchangeable personae, from a World War I pilot of a Sopwith Camel to Joe Cool, campus cutout…. More important he is given loose leash, granted the freedom to go on those kinds of quests traditionally associated with the Bildungsroman qualities of the American novel: the return home again, the search for a parent, the voyage into the great unknown, etc., a Steppenhund, a Wilhelm in search of his Meister. As if to emphasize his literaryness, Snoopy has recently become a would-be author, but as auteur he is still his own best creation, and his favorite role remains that William Faulknerian projection of wish fulfillment, the flying cavalier engaged in an endless, invisible dogfight with the Red Baron, his humble doghouse the vehicle of perilous flights of fancy.

Schulz has in effect miniaturized the cast of the Thurber carnival in his Snoopy Festival, his battle of the sexes being an infinite number of triste-go-rounds between his beleaguered little boys and a growing legion of threatening, sexless mini-Amazons. Lucy shares with the Thurber woman a helmet of clotted hair and a swift punch to the polar sexes, and more often than not gets her comeuppance, the agent of same being not Charlie Brown but Snoopy, a dreamy beagle clearly descended from those amorphous dogs of Thurber's wild imagination. If Charlie Brown and the Thurber male owe something to Webster's Milquetoast, then Snoopy is a dogged derivation from that singular Thurber male, Walter Mitty, even if his flying doghouse does not make funny noises. He has increasingly become the dog that walks on two feet, a comic strip equivalent, not of Disney's animated pups, but a gentled-down re-creation of the dogs of Jack London and James Oliver Curwood. (pp. 27-8)

John Seelye, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 by The New Republic, Inc.), December 7, 1974.

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