- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 1999

I admit to a few Y2K jitters but nothing like the grief I expect to feel early next year when the last “Peanuts” strip runs. That there will be plenty of books reprinting the best of Charles Schulz’s cartoons is true enough. Even truer, networks will replay the animated version of “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” for as long as there are television sets and people with hearts. But I will miss the thrill of seeing where Mr. Schulz might have taken his pen and ink creations. As things stand, Charlie Brown is never going to kick the football out of Lucy’s (non) hold and Snoopy is never going to completely down the Red Baron. Prices will never rise in the makeshift stand offering psychiatric help for a nickel and Linus will never abandon his beloved blanket.

Perhaps it’s just as well because what I love most about “Peanuts” is the way things stay as they were. No Romantic poet ever got immutability better. The world of “Peanuts” is so frozen in time that its children never change, much less grow up. Only we change, and “Peanuts” reminds us that adulthood is, at best, a mixed blessing. I say this as a man whose adult children claim that when I get dressed in the morning (blue oxford cloth shirt, khaki slacks, and cordovan loafers) it’s the l950s all over again. The same thing is roughly true of my passion for “Peanuts.” Given the world as it has come to be, I want the security blanket of Mr. Schulz’s characters who suffer minor tensions and minor heartbreaks.

Increasingly, the front pages of our newspapers are devoted to stories about schoolyard shootings and heated debates about whether 12-year-old killers should be tried as adults. Granted, these are cultural problems worth our collective worry. Nonetheless, I find myself flipping to the comics because that’s where I’m likely to find a much-needed laugh, and in the case of “Peanuts,” a good deal more. I don’t mean to overdo the significance, moral or otherwise, of the world that Charles Schulz has kept in lively motion for nearly half a century. For one thing, Robert L. Short has already done that in his l964 book, “The Gospel According to Peanuts.” For another, I think he overdid it then, and there is no need now to repeat his effort to dig out theological significances from Charlie Brown’s angst-weary smile or Linus’s beatific fix on the keyboard.

Rather, let it suffice to say that “Peanuts” gives us children with “sand” in them that is, with grit and a grainy psychological truth; and that when they set out to discover the meaning of Christmas, the result reminds us of what happened in a Bethlehem manger long, long ago. Linus reads the requisite Biblical passage in ways so downscale and utterly innocent that the old words finally have a chance to breathe, and to live. Typical Christmas specials neither accomplish this, nor are they special.

In the paragraph above I slipped in the word “sand” when talking about Mr. Schulz’s vivid characters. Some may recognize Mark Twain’s thumbprint in this because Huck Finn uses the same term to describe a young girl he meets along his journey. The girl “with sand in her” is for Huck a bit like Charlie Brown’s pining way (alas, hopelessly) for the little red-haired girl. But I have brought Mark Twain into this discussion for quite another reason. He once wrote that humor must not professedly preach and it must not professedly teach, but that it must do both if it would live forever. I should add that he calculated forever as 30 years.

Charles Schulz’s cartoons have been around for a whisker short of 50 years, preaching and teaching as only our great humorists do it subtly, persistently, and in his case, gently. Like hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, I wish Mr. Schulz a speedy recovery from his illness and the long, happy retirement he has so richly earned. But I shall miss the humane genius he wielded so effortlessly each morning. It will be a grayer winter than usual without “Peanuts” to brighten things up. And I have no reason to believe that the overall situation will much improve during the spring.

No doubt generations of schoolchildren in the next century will troop off to their appointed classrooms with Snoopy lunch boxes clasped by oversized mittens; but let me tell you, it just won’t be the same.

Sanford Pinsker is professor of humanities at Franklin and Marshall College.

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