Charles M(onroe) Schulz REINHOLD REITBERGER and WOLFGANG FUCHS

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REINHOLD REITBERGER and WOLFGANG FUCHS

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

That Charles M. Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, is a lay preacher in the 'Church of God', a conservative, biblically orientated Protestant sect, is today common knowledge; and books like The Gospel According to Peanuts and The Parables of Peanuts, both by Robert L. Short [see excerpts above] have made it clear that Peanuts has a metaphysical background. Short's biblical paraphrase of the human condition is illustrated by sequences from Peanuts and it is evident that Schulz, in his own way, gives a much clearer picture of humanity's malaise than Short's often cited favourite authors Kierkegaard, Barth and Tillich. (p. 54)

The Peanuts children have aged only about two or three years since 1950, but spiritually they have undergone much greater changes. Right at the beginning Charlie Brown and his friends acted like any other normal children. Sally liked Charlie better than Shermy and even quarrelled with Violet, who insisted she loved him even more.

Those were happy days for Charlie Brown; but soon his balloon-shaped head became a target for malicious personal remarks, and whilst the other kids developed more and more odd traits and even phobias, which they paraded quite openly, Charlie Brown remained normal and human and consequently became the outsider. The time of childish innocence had passed. Schulz is always at his best when he portrays the inability of the naïvely simple and humane Charlie Brown to integrate into the community, in contrast to all the other Peanuts characters who find no difficulty in doing so. He shows how society attaches a stigma to the lone wolf, the individualist who wishes to remain himself…. Lucy and the other Peanuts, integrated conformists, slaughter Charlie Brown emotionally and the latter's inability to defend himself stems from the fact that he is a vulnerable character, quite untypical for this day and age…. Charlie Brown is not as intellectual as his interpreters: he does not indulge in vast metaphysical questioning or deep theological suffering, for he simply wants to be a human being.

Charlie Brown elicits the admiration of the reader because he refuses to take refuge in neurosis. (pp. 54-5)

Charlie Brown does not want to be alone; his efforts at integration, doomed to failure because of his separateness, are mute demonstrations of John Donne's 'no man is an island' thesis…. When will Schulz, his creator, let a little sunshine into his life? When will Charlie's unrequited love for the little red-haired girl be returned—at least to the degree of allowing him to eat his sandwiches in her company during recreation time?

Schulz reflects the literary tendencies of the day most accurately in Peanuts. In the fifties it was psychoanalysis (Lucy); in the sixties Charlie Brown showed traits of Herzog, the title hero of a psychological-philosophical novel by Saul Bellow …, and the inclination towards pure fantasy. which followed equally paralleled the literary scene.

Charlie Brown is another fall guy with whom everyone can identify. He is the son of a hairdresser (like Charles M. Schulz) and dreams, like all American children, of becoming a baseball hero, perhaps even President of the USA. The other Peanuts, adjusting and conforming to society, have an easier time ahead of them; they will not find it so difficult to accept their stereotyped roles in the adult world of American suburbia. They have already chosen their spiritual crutches….

The beagle hound Snoopy … gradually pushed himself into the foreground until he became the centre of attraction and the main character of the strip. (p. 55)

In the beginning Snoopy's main interest was food and apart from a few minor attacks of claustrophobia whilst lost in high grass, he acted natural; but after a while he began to outgrow his dogginess….

A Walter Mitty of the canine world, Snoopy dreamed himself into all sorts of situations. He imitated vultures, gorillas, dinosaurs and became a real menace as 'The Mad Punter'. (p. 56)

Snoopy's imagination soon ran amuck, dream and reality became indistinguishable. He developed a weakness for the air aces of the first World War….

But the charm of Peanuts does not depend on the daydreams of Walter Mitty Snoopy, it lies in the metaphysical content: the whole point of Snoopy's activities as author, ice hockey player, or 'world-famous check-out man in a grocery store' lies in the fact that—in appearance at least—he is a dog and this is neither funny nor ludicrous in the long run, but becomes a symbolic formula. Charles Schulz has shown however, that he wants to get back to his old formula, to the type of content which will make him immortal in the world of comics. (p. 57)

Reinhold Reitberger and Wolfgang Fuchs, in their Comics: Anatomy of a Mass Medium, translated by Nadia Fowler (translation copyright © 1972 by Studio Vista Publishers; reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Co.), Little, Brown, 1972.