Charlie Brown dies as he lived, a great man trapped in the body of a boy. A critical part of Charlie Brown's character has been his inability to age. In fact he's hardly changed a bit in half a century. He has defiantly remained a round-headed, tragically bald kid whose baseball team always loses and whose kites always land in trees.
You can detect an unspoken, radical assertion in "Peanuts": That human nature is a constant, that our "character" does not magically grow and improve over time, that the secret to a decent life isn't (as some gurus will tell you) personal transformation, reinvention or escape, but rather perseverance, faith, kindness and a sense of humor.
You play the hand you're dealt. When bad stuff happens you say "Good grief!" and then soldier onward.
Charlie Brown isn't really a child -- the most common mistake among deconstructionists of "Peanuts" is the assertion that the strip is about the lives of children. LINK TO MY WHY THINGS ARE COLUMN OF NOV. 9, 1990 AND JUST USE THE PEANUTS ITEM FROM IT. The characters created by Charles Schulz are fully realized, emotionally complex human beings. Growing up is unnecessary, they're already there. They speak eternal truths.
Here's Linus, sucking his thumb and holding his security blanket, sensing that Snoopy is sneaking up him: "Watch it, dog. If you touch that blanket, the odds are a thousand to one that you will end up with a broken arm!"
Snoopy, chastised, turns away and says: "I always go with the odds."
In "Peanuts" the characters are always true to form. Throw out the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle when you enter the world of these little people. You know with absolute conviction, as surely as the sun will rise in the East and set in the West, that Lucy is going to pull away the football at the last second and send Charlie Brown flying onto his back. And you know that Charlie Brown will somehow screw up enough hope to try it again the next year.
For a kite flown by Charlie Brown to avoid getting caught in a tree would be a miracle akin to water flowing uphill. It's an immutable law of physics at this point, like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Another law: If you yell at someone loud enough, with your mouth so gaping you could swallow a watermelon, you will cause them to FLIP UPSIDE DOWN.
You know that Snoopy will always be a hack writer, skewing toward melodrama and puns as he types on top of his doghouse. You know that Schroeder will care more for Beethoven than for the love offerings of Lucy. You know that when Charlie Brown pitches a baseball, the unseen batter will hit a line drive that will not only turn Charlie upside down but also cause his shoes and socks and hat and even his shirt to come flying off.
I've spent the morning rummaging through a couple of "Peanuts" collections, and I realize I'd forgotten how masterful Schulz is at finding delicate permutations on a running joke. How many times can you do jokes about one character's tendency to be "crabby"? An infinite number.
One day Linus tells Lucy that she's the crabbiest person the world has ever known. Lucy defends herself: "Some people are up one day and down the next. You never know how to take them. You wouldn't want me to be like that, would you?" Linus answers with an inspired idea: He'll schedule her crabbiness. "How about a year's schedule which gives you two hundred pleasant days, one hundred `really up' days, sixty crabby days and five `really down' day? I could live with that, I think."
Lucy says, "Can we call today one of the `really down' days?"
Linus: "Sure, why not?"
Lucy promptly slugs Linus: POW!!
Lucy: "This is going to be great. I still have four `really down' days left, and I haven't even touched my sixty crabby days."
Over time, "Peanuts" itself, the strip, became its own monument to constancy. Long after he'd hit the peak of his profession and made boodles of money, Charles Schulz kept writing and drawing the strip, every word, every panel. The news that he has finally retired, as he struggles with cancer, should prompt everyone to thank him for his incredible, heroic run of creativity.
We think of genius as coming in spurts, in God-given spasms of brilliance, but in fact most geniuses are laborers, putting in long hours in the shop, cranking out prodigious quantities of material from which a few gems may shine.
"Peanuts" was genius. Charlie Brown will fail to kick the football from now until the end of time. That round-headed kid is immortal.
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