The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Snoopy is the first perfect pick to be the ALA’s Library Card Month luminary

(Courtesy of Peanuts Worldwide and the ALA)

FOR ONCE, it was a dark and stormy writer.

And the American Library Association, on its eighth attempt, has finally hit upon a deeply inspired celebrity selection.

That’s because the ALA has announced that Snoopy is its honorary chair for this year’s Library Sign-Up Card Month in September.

This is not to knock the ALA’s previous — and magnificent — seven selections. If anything, that’s been the hitch since the 2008 kickoff: All the big names attached to the honor prior to the “Peanuts” pooch have been symbols of success and achievement. The first six picks were all highly accomplished athletes, so anyone afterward follows in the sizable steps of, say, pro-basketball stars like Candace Parker and Luol Deng. That list also includes such sports greats as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Cal Ripken Jr. and Dwyane Wade, who are not only champion athletes, but also published (and often best-selling) authors. Talk about big shoeprints to fill.

Then last year, the ALA switched things up from sports and chose Marvel mastermind Stan Lee. Now, at least Stan the Man knew some years of struggle as a writer before seemingly everything he touched with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko et al. during Marvel’s Silver Age in the ’60s turned to commercial gold. (And according to lore, his nom-de-toon became Stan Lee because he was saving his real name, Stanley Lieber, for that great American novel he hoped to write someday.) But now, especially as Lee has an ever-growing list of screen credits attached to billion-dollar films, Stan is far too successful a writer for mere creative mortals to relate to.

No, for all the success of the multi-billion dollar franchise that is the larger “Peanuts” empire, Snoopy himself remains a literary figure that we, the card-carrying library visitors, can not only enjoy, but also identify with. For a half-century, Charlie Brown’s beloved beagle has been a steady collector of rejection slips — that is to say, he’s the long-suffering writer who can call himself “the World Famous Author” only ironically.

Yes, we have met the literary friend and, to purloin from “Pogo,” he is us.

This July 12 will mark the 50th anniversary of Snoopy’s first strip as an aspiring writer — the first time that Charles Schulz’s iconic dog lugged his typewriter atop his doghouse and, co-opting Bulwer-Lytton’s oft-mocked “Paul Clifford” prose, tapped out his purple opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Thus began Snoopy’s long, mental tempest as a tortured creative — the portrait of the artist as a young, publisher-spurned dog.

Typically, of course, it is Charlie Brown who is forever thwarted — though nearly every “Peanuts” character has unrequited desires and dreams, be it Linus’s hope to view the Great Pumpkin, or Lucy’s attempts to woo the preoccupied artiste Schroeder. But Snoopy is prone to so many flights of fancy that he often seems elevated by his élan. If only he could catch the Red Baron — and catch a break with the publishing world.

Adding to Snoopy’s misery — and to our warm connection to the character — is the fact that not only do the rejection notes pile up in quantity (at one point, Woodstock makes a quilt of them), but that they also can turn so personal, and nasty. One notice begins with boilerplate: “We regret to tell you that your story does not suit our present need.” Then comes the cruel kicker: “On second thought, actually we don’t regret it at all.”

And even when Snoopy finally does sell a story, after three decades of crumpled-dreams effort, no one buys a copy.

This is the writer most of us can relate to. The diehard who endures remarks from the “Peanuts” gallery when such walk-by commenters as Linus and Lucy offer the kind of casual criticism that rarely helps, and often simply stymies us more. Like the time Lucy questions Snoopy’s would-be crime fiction, and so a percussive “shot” is changed to a nonsensical “kiss” — a literal kiss of creative death, as the prose dies on the platen.

Of course, as sometimes-spurned, forever-pitching writers ourselves, we literary readers form a bond not just with Snoopy, but also with Schulz, and the growing pains he endured on his journey toward becoming one of the 20th century’s most-read writers.

“The constant rejection of Snoopy’s writing certainly goes back to when Charles Schulz was getting rejections for his early work,” Emmy-winning “Peanuts” producer Lee Mendelson tells The Post’s Comic Riffs.

Part of Schulz’s genius, too, was knowing what an apt visual metaphor it is to have the typewriter so precariously perched on the doghouse, a literal symbol for the tricky equilibrium of a writer’s life. “Balancing a typewriter on the doghouse,” Mendelson tells Comic Riffs, “is the equivalent of gymnasts on the balance beam.”

Our bard-beagle’s years of yearning to be a “world famous author” even inspired an excellent book, 2002’s “Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life” (Writers Digest Books), which collects insights by a wonderful array of authors — representing genres from sci-fi to crime to comic and romance — and features an especially illuminating foreword by son Monte Schulz.

So bravo, ALA, and thank you — ahead of November’s “The Peanuts Movie” — for giving us a library-card luminary we can relate to, line for line, page for rejected page.

And now, I would write more, perhaps another thousand words, but then thoughts turn to submitting this to an editor, and I anticipate the rejection, and the river of prose suddenly slows, till all I can think of is this classic strip, which says it all in so few words:

— The End. —