Forget Charlie Brown. Linus Van Pelt is the member of the Peanuts gang who puts up with the most unnecessary abuse.
Just watch " It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown " -- which, as it happens, airs tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC -- and make a list of how many times the kid gets screamed at or called a blockhead or threatened with legal action simply because he chooses to spend his Halloween night in a pumpkin patch. Back in 1966, when this special first aired, they called that delusional. Now we'd probably laud Linus for being eco-conscious, getting back to nature and showing his support for the local food movement.
Honestly, the only two Charles M. Schulz-created characters who can be trusted on any level in this half-hour animated classic are the Van Pelt children. Everyone else's behavior is borderline reprehensible.
Take Sally. When Linus invites her to hang out in the pumpkin patch, she's initially thrilled. An evening with her Sweet Babboo? What could be better?
Then she gets a better offer. Tricks-or-treats and a crankin' party at Violet's house. All of a sudden hanging out in the chilly night air while being mocked by her older brother's posse of meanies doesn't sound so good. And when the Great Pumpkin doesn't even bother to show, she turns on Linus. "I'll sue!" she shouts. "I want restitution!"
Really, should we have expected more from the innocent young girl who, in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," asks Santa Claus to send her cash in the forms of tens and twenties? Sadly, probably not.
Meanwhile, Snoopy has the gall to cackle that deranged Bill Melendez-as-a-beagle laugh of his when he reads Linus's "Dear Great Pumpkin" letter, which is pretty rich coming from a dog who thinks he's a World War I flying ace, and even in his delusional fantasies still manages to get his plane shot down by the Red Baron.
Then there's Charlie Brown, who disappoints most of all. When Linus opens up to his friend and explains how the Great Pumpkin is going to rise up out of the pumpkin patch, he says, "You must be crazy. When are you going to stop believing in something that isn't true?"
Gee, I don't know, Zig Zag Boy. Maybe when you stop believing that Lucy really will let you kick that football, a gag that literally two minutes ago in TV-special time you fell for again even though that signed document she presented clearly wasn't notarized?
How short is Charlie Brown's memory? Does he not recall that during "A Charlie Brown Christmas" it was Linus's faith in him that made a tree grow and also allowed the entire Peanuts gang to decorate it by doing nothing more than making swift motions with their hands?
Maybe this is why Charlie Brown gets so many rocks in his trick-or-treat bag on Halloween night. It's payback ... although someone in that homeowners' association clearly needs to investigate why so many parents are handing out rocks on Halloween.
And then there's Lucy: blunt, borderline violent Lucy.
Lucy can be nasty. There is nothing commendable, for example, about the way she tells Charlie Brown that his invitation to Violet's Halloween party was clearly a mistake. (You just remember that 20 years from now, Van Pelt, when good 'ol Violet puts you on the B-list for her wedding.)
But you always know where you stand with her. And as a sister, she has Linus's back.
Sure, she calls him a blockhead and threatens to slug him. But in fairness, as a member of the Van Pelt family, she's the only one with a genuine right to feel like her reputation has been besmirched by his Great Pumpkin obsession. And give her some credit for making sure to ask for extra candy for Linus, even when he refuses to go trick-or-treating.
Let's not forget that Lucy is a psychiatrist. If she weren't an elementary school-aged psychiatrist -- and if every adult in her sphere knew how to use words other than "Wah wah wah" -- she could theoretically take action to have Linus committed. But she doesn't. Instead, she dutifully sets her alarm clock for 4 a.m., gets up, drags baby brother out of the pumpkin patch and tucks him in to his warm, cozy bed. That's love, people.
And isn't that what Linus Van Pelt deserves? Is he any more deluded than, say, the Chicago Cubs fan who firmly believes his team is finally going to pull it out this year? Or the political science major who insists that the democratic process doesn't have to devolve into partisan name-calling? Or the "Pretty in Pink" obsessive who is sure that somehow, during the 107th viewing of the movie, Andie will finally choose Duckie?
In the end, isn't Linus Van Pelt just another sweet, determined and unwavering voice for hope and sincerity in an animated world gone mad?