OUT OF THE PIG PEN, INTO THE EMPYREAN

For a change, this a serious letter. I read R.C. Harvey’s wonderful essay on “Funnies
Farrago and the Age of Schulz” with rapt attention. Someday I should like to visit the
Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, where much if not all of his work is displayed and
preserved. I did not know that the name “Peanuts” was chosen for the strip, not by
Charles Schulz himself. Yet it was a fortunate fall, despite the creator’s doubts and
misgivings. “Working for Peanuts” was the title of a Walt Disney cartoon (1953), which
appeared in 1953, three years after “Peanuts” debuted. The phrase itself was coined
around 1900 by Harry M. Stevens, who ran the concessions stand at the Polo Grounds
in New York. Stevens jocularly referred to himself as a peanut vendor; eventually, his
firm became a nationwide operation. (By karmic coincidence, Schulz, a rabid baseball
fan, rooted for the San Francisco Giants after they moved from the Big Apple to the City
by the Bay). The word also evoked memories of the Great Depression, and the struggle
to survive that affects everyone, young or old, then and now. That is also why Charlie
Brown was destined to become a loser–because, in the end, we all are. He is a mythic
figure: the Man of La Mancha, if not the Son of Man. His faith in Lucy is unshakable,
despite the fact that she always pulls the pigskin out from under him at the last moment.
He is both a child and an adult, tilting at footballs, suffering for her pelts, giving himself a
second chance, while offering her the hope of redemption without her even knowing it.
He is Kierkegaard’s knight of faith–a martyr traveling incognito, a tragic figure in comic
strip guise. For Schulz, “the last shall be first” is not verbal piety but morally imperative,
as in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, where a bare and withered tree is the true
symbol of the holiday, and a subtle reminder of Calvary. Yet there is nothing preachy
or sectarian about Schulz’s Christianity–after all, what could be more pagan than the
Great Pumpkin? Or more urbane and civilized than a dog house with so many humble
mansions, each one inhabited by little people with big dreams–dreams that will shatter
before dawn, yet endure past sunset, from one strip to the next, and beyond the grave?
If there are no atheists in dog houses, there is room for everyone who believes in a dog.
The Peanuts gang is a melting pot of human folly: America writ small, yet all-inclusive.
It is poetry in panels, four-square and seven ages of humanity ago. As Ludwig Van
Beethoven confided to Schroeder, “es muss sein.” He meant art, which mirrors our
mirthful yet morbid fate. As blanket statements go, that about covers it. Peanuts of
the world, unite–you have nothing to lose but your leashes. Grieve well.

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Signed: Dennis Rohatyn