Good Grief! : Celebrating Peanuts # 2: Linus Van Pelt

When we first meet Charlie Brown in the comic strips we see the round-headed kid running down the street. Two of his peers, Shermy and Patty notice him coming and Shermy , as soon as Charlie runs by says ,”How I hate him.” Thus, in one sentence, Shultz set the stage for one of the most well known facets of Charlie’s world, that being that it seems that ever one around him appear to hate him.

While he certainly had his share of playmates, more often then not Charlie was often ignored and belittled by the other kids, even the girls. This became even more evident as some of the younger children added, like Lucy, and Schroeder were aged up to Charlie Brown’s level and he ceased to be a mentor to the younger kids. Naturally he would need someone, aside from his dog, to act as a best friend in order for the character to thrive.

Every hero in fiction needs a good friend. Hamlet has Horatio. Sherlock Holmes has Dr. Watson. Frodo Baggins has Samwise Gamgee. Batman has Robin. Superman has Jimmy Olson. Iron Man has War Machine. Captain America has Bucky Barnes. Captain Kirk has Mr. Spock. Han Solo has Chewbacca. Indeed, it’s hard to mention any one of these heroes without immediately thinking of their trusted best friend.

They act as a sounding board, a moral compass, a counselor, and serve as our window into the hero’s respective journey. Whether or not these characters like Horatio, Watson, Sam, Robin, Jimmy, War Machine, Bucky, Spock and Chewie could be called sidekicks, it cannot be denied that they have a very important emotional role in the lives of the heroes. In the

Linus Van Pelt

Linus Van Pelt

case of Charlie Brown he needs someone who will listen to his problems and offer him advice, someone who when everyone else seems to laugh at him will stand by him.

That someone, is  Linus Van Pelt, who is coincidentally the younger brother of Charlie’s primary antagonist.  With his trusty security blanket, his childlike faith, his wild imagination, and his simple wisdom, Linus is the embodiment of everything Charles Dickens wrote when he described childhood,

“..(T)he dreams of childhood – it’s airy fables, its graceful, beautiful, humane, impossible adornments of the world beyond; so good to be believed in once, so good to be remembered when outgrown…”

Producer Lee Mendelson, who worked on a number of the Peanuts specials and features said in an interview with ComicBookmovie.com, conducted when the film Race for Your Life Charlie Brown was released on DVD when asked who his favorite character, said,

“My favorite character is Linus. He made sucking your thumb and holding a security blanket ok. I think he’s one of the most original fictional characters of all time – blending childish behavior with great wisdom.”

Even before he became the groups blanket carrying sage, Lucy was already antagonizing her baby brother and trying to get rid of him. The first time he was ever even alluded to came in a strip from July 14, 1952. Charlie Brown is riding around on his tricycle, and Lucy comes up to him and says,

 

“I’ll tell you what, Charlie Brown…I’ve got a baby brother at home…I’ll trade your for him for your tricycle!”

Charlie doesn’t hesitate to even think about it, refusing her offer, and saying a baby brother would do him no good. Lucy is dejected as she admits,

“I knew you would say that, and I don’t blame you at all…he’s no good to me either!”

He would appear a few months later in a strip dated September 19, 1952. Lucy happily hurried to tell Charlie Brown that her baby brother could it up. Charlie Brown was impressed ad hurried to see this for himself. Lucy admitted to Charlie that she had to prop him up a bit to help him out. Much to Charlie’s surprise, this “propping up” meant that Lucy literally used boards that she nailed to the ground to prop him up.

Much like Lucy and Schroeder before him, Charles M. Schulz would age up Linus closer to Charlie Brown, and in some respects he caught up faster. It became somewhat difficult to tell exactly how old Linus was as he tended to be in the same class as his sister and Charlie Brown, leaving some speculation that due to his intelligence he was actually skipped a grade or two, something that actually happened to  Schulz, as the Peanuts creator was skipped 2 ½ grades in grade school.

Throughout the strip and the special, Linus is like a veritable fountain of knowledge .When Charlie Brown complains about having to read War and Peace for a book report over Christmas vacation in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown, Linus informs him of all the hard work Leo Tolstoy put into writing the book, including his wife copying it for him by hand with a dip pen and trying to make sense of the great Russians master’s handwriting by candlelight in order to provide him some perspective and help his friend gain appreciation for the work. When Sally complains about not being done with her Halloween candy by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, Linus informs her,

“Sally, Thanksgiving is a very important holiday. Ours was the first country in the world to make a national holiday to give thanks.”

 Later, during Charlie’s make-shift dinner, Linus gives a prayer so eloquent it would put any preacher to shame, recounting the story of Thanksgiving, saying,

“In the year 1621, the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving feast. They invited the great Indian chief Massasoit, who brought ninety of his brave Indians and a great abundance of food. Governor William Bradford and Captain Miles Standish were honored guests. Elder William Brewster, who was a minister, said a prayer that went something like this: ‘We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice.”

Later when Peppermint Patty sends Marcie into speak for her on her behalf and straighten things out, Linus likens it to the story of the Courtship of Miles Standish. Yet, despite his intelligence, he was never far from his security blanket. While Charlie Brown perhaps possessed the most traits of his creator, Linus embodied some other aspects of him. As Schulz stated,

“Linus, my serious side, is the house intellectual, bright, well-informed which, I suppose may contribute to his feelings of insecurity.”

Naturally, being not only the youngest kid in class, but being  constantly tormented by his older sister could only increase the need for such an item to provide him some level of stability, consistency and comfort. When asked by another boy if Linus ever gets teased for it, he simply made his blanket into a whip, cracked it against the air and said “They don’t say much.”

His blanket helps convey that he is the youngest of Charlie’s friends, and yet this youth is juxtaposed with his wisdom. Linus is able to quote the King James Bible verbatim, and discuss a wide array of topics including politics and philosophy. While Charlie is overwhelmed by his anxieties, Linus is always calm and reflective. He is perhaps the most nuanced member of the gang.

In fact while he may be smart, there is a much deeper burden that is coupled with his intelligence. As Schulz stated,

“Linus is strong enough to carry a strip by himself. His biggest wakens of course, is the blanket. But he’s very bright. If I want to quote the Bible or something profound, it comes best from Linus. But he’s not a little intellectual. Linus’ problem is that he’s under the thumb of this dominating sister and a mother who puts notes in his lunch telling him to study harder. As Charlie Brown says, ‘ No wonder he carries that blanket.’ I like to work with Linus. He’s a neat character.”

This blanket becomes a lynch pin for many strips where his sister tries to destroy it, or Linus’ blanket hating grandmother comes for a visit. These strips were adapted into the special Happiness is  a Warm Blanket, in which Linus grandmother is coming to town and is demanding Linus give up his blanket once and for all. Towards the end of the special, after the blanket has been taken away, shipped away and lost, Linus is questioned as to why he has the blanket.

In that moment he calls out the rest of the gang for their hypocrisy, as he knows that deep down each one of them has their own struggles. As he tells them,

 

“I need my blanket! I admit it! Look at all of you. Who among you doesn’t have an insecurity? Who among you doesn’t depend on someone or something……to help you get through the day? Who among you can cast the first stone? How about you, Sally? You with your endless Sweet Babboos. Or you, Schroeder? You with your Beethoven, Beethoven, Beethoven. And you, Lucy. Never leaving Schroeder alone. Obsessing over someone who doesn’t care if he ever sees you again. What do you want? Do you want to see me unhappy ?Do you want to see me insecure? Do you want to see me end up like Charlie Brown? Even your crazy dog, Charlie Brown. Suppertime, suppertime, suppertime. Nothing but suppertime, 24 hours a day. Are any of you secure?!”

In fact, during the whole ordeal while Linus was separated from his blanket he was on the verge of a nervous break down.  As such, Charlie actually agreed to sit up all night with Linus while he was going through withdrawal, understanding that the first night was going to be the hardest. At one point he even noticed that Linus felt feverish. Linus awoke and asked Charlie Brown if it was morning yet. When he learned it was 10 O’clock Linus moaned,

“Ten O’clock ?! Good grief! This night is going to last forever! I’ll never make it! Why did Lucy have to bury my blanket? Why? Anyway, Charlie Brown it’s nice of you to sit up with me this first night.”

Charlie simply told him that was what friends are for, to which Linus shook Charlie’s hand and said “good ol’Charlie Brown.”  Charlie, ever modest, blushed at the gratitude, understanding just how much the blanket met to Linus. This underscored one of the things that made Charlie and Linus such great friends. They may disagree from time to time, they may not always say the right thing to help the other, but they understand each other better then they know themselves. In fact, Linus knew just how insecure Charlie was to the point that when he, Lucy and the rest of the Van Pelt family temporarily moved in the special Is This Good-bye, Charlie Brown that Linus actually gave his blanket to Charlie.

In some ways, it appears as though Linus is closer to Charlie then he is to his own family. In fact in the special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Linus spends the day with Charlie and his family, even going over to Charlie Brown’s grandmother’s house for the big dinner, before the idea of “friendsgiving” was even a thing. Considering how put upon he is by his mother, bullied by his sister, and his tenuous relationship with his grandmother, it is no wonder he’d rather be with his best friend. Because of everything they go through together, Linus and Charlie show that King Solomon was right when he wrote in Proverbs,

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”

 Their friendship didn’t fully begin until a strip from January 18th, 1959, in which Linus approached Charlie and literally asked him to be his friend. Charlie happily accepted to which Linus informed him,

“Lucy told me it was about time I made a few friends…so I figured I’d start right at the bottom.”

Despite this initial barb, while Linus may get angry or upset with him, such as when Charlie accidentally calls waiting or the Great Pumpkin “stupid”, he has remained loyal to Charlie. While Lucy may be the one who has the psychiatric booth, Linus is usually always the one to offer Charlie the more rounded advice, usually talking to him by their classic brick wall as the two often discuss whatever issues they were facing. While Lucy would spout off psychobabble, or say whatever she could to hurry the discussion along, even forcing Charlie into roles she should know he probably wasn’t qualified for,  Linus, however, tends to actually listen to Charlie, sometimes saying nothing, other times sharing profound wisdom that left his peer silent. This is best seen in A Charlie Brown Christmas. While Lucy is just as caught up in the commercialized even wanting a pink, shiny aluminum Christmas Tree, Linus sees it differently. Lucy even calls it a big commercial racket run by a big Eastern Syndicate, while Linus thinks it a wonderful season.

He has every good reason to. While he may try to dissuade Charlie form his dingy tree, he still lets his friend pick the scrub brush-look alike. When everyone, including Sally, Schroeder and Snoopy laughs at Charlie for his blunder, Linus is the only one who abstains, not just out of loyalty to his friend, but because of his deeply held beliefs. Finally when Charlie asks if an one knows what Christmas is all about, Linus simply says, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about,”

Then heading out to the stage Linus begins one of the most iconic scenes in animated television history as he says,

“Lights, please…And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:”… for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men…That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

It should be noted that this is the one of the rare times we see Linus actually drop the blanket of his own free will. He does it again at the end of the special to wrap up Charlie’s scraggly tree and give it a little love.” In these simple acts Linus shows just how far his faith and compassion go. It gives him just enough strength to set his blanket aside, even for a moment a he finds the confidence and security he normally lacks.

Linus can’t even muster this same faith in his fictional holiday patron, The Great Pumpkin. The boy clutches his blanket while writing a letter, uses it to reach the lid of the mail box to send his letter to the Great Pumpkin and has it with him in the Pumpkin Patch. He is certainly adamant in his believes, even at one point risking his chance at student body class president in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown by taking the time to talk about the Great Pumpkin. He might insist, as he tells Charlie Brown,

“This is the time of year to write to the Great Pumpkin. On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children!”

While other critics look at the Great Pumpkin as comical, in “The Charlie Brown Theory of Personality” from Psychology Today, seeing Linus as one of the more mentally healthy characters, seeing it as a sign that he was actually open to new and exciting experiences James C. Kaufman noted,

“Linus is clearly the brightest of all of the Peanuts gang. Witty and knowledgeable, he is prone to passionate monologues. He has invented his own creation, the Great Pumpkin, and faithfully waits in the pumpkin patches for him every Halloween. Linus has his own idiosyncrasy, an ever-present blue security blanket – but he does not seem particularly sensitive about it; it’s who he is. Too young to active(ly) try new things, he must instead use his intellect to mull over new and interesting ideas.”

However, towards the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Pumpkin hasn’t shown up, and instead all he saw was Snoopy’s shadow. Sally was angry at him for a disappointing night and missing out on the fun with their friends and he looked like a fool. Linus tried to urge his friends to stay, and it was in that moment that he showed just how fallible his faith in the Great Pumpkin really was as he was besieged by an existential crisis and said,

 

“Hey, aren’t you going to wait and greet the Great Pumpkin? Huh? It won’t be long now. If the Great Pumpkin comes, I’ll still put in a good word for you!…Good grief! I said “if”! I meant, “when” he comes!…I’m doomed. One little slip like that could cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by…Oh, Great Pumpkin, where are you?”

If anything Linus’ Great Pumpkin obsession came from, according to Schulz that Linus was just a holiday ahead of himself. Thus, when Linus goes on a spiel about the Pumpkin he echoes the same statements made by children when it comes to Santa Claus . It then takes on the qualities of the commercialized aspects of a religious holiday, an aspect that is worthy of parody.

At the same time, Schulz saw, through Linus a level of humor that could be had with Religion. After all, while British writer CS Lewis was known for Narnia and his works of apologetics, one of his other well known works is the novel Screwtape Letters, which is a satire. Using humor, Lewis could better poke fun at such things as Christians getting so caught up in a cause they make that their idol, or parent child relationships.

Schulz could then use Linus to criticize some of the commercialized aspects not only of holidays but the more westernized ideas of the Christian religion. More importantly, Schulz saw humor as a key part of all aspects of life, including religion, saying once that,

“Religion without humor is a worthless religion. Humor is part of man and man never would have survived without humor. It’s the only thing that makes life palatable—if that’s the word. And to say that there’s no room for humor in religion is like saying there’s no room for humor in life. The scriptures themselves have quite a few incidents of humor—probably more than we realize especially if we had the ability to go back and understand the culture which contain some of the occurrences reported in the Bible. Of course I do believe that the scriptures are holy, but I do not believe that the Bible itself is a holy instrument to be worship. After all, the words are only the words which men put down under inspiration.”

In fact sometimes, these religious moments can bring on their own natural humor. In the special It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, the humor comes simply in Linus trying to use scripture to explain what a “calling bird” would be, all while she rails about gifts. In You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown his speech to the students takes on the tone of a passionate preacher as he promises,

“If I’m elected student body president, I will purge the kingdom! My administration will release us from our spiritual Babylon! My administration will bring down all false idols in high places!”

It strikes the right tone as the students cheer for his passion and his rhetoric, especially as he goes on to talk about school reforms, but the humor comes when Schroeder looks over and wonders why the principal looks so pale at Linus’ pronouncement.

In many ways this devotion he shows translates well into Linus’ friendships. Anytime Charlie is clearly in over his head, Linus is the first by his side. He is always the one of the first to try and stand up for him when others mock him. When Charlie has to go get a tree, Linus is right beside him.  When Charlie is roped into making a Thanksgiving dinner, and Charlie admits he can’t cook and can only make cold cereal and maybe toast, Linus says,

“That’s right. I’ve seen you make toast. You can’t butter it, but maybe we can help you.”

More over, despite how often his older sister may antagonize Linus and his best friend, Linus is more than adept at using his wit and his intelligence to outsmart her. In one strip, dated February 17, 1974, Lucy tells Linus to “buzz off” when he comments on how all she ever does is watch reruns on TV.  He lets out an exasperated sigh, to which she tells him to stop. Linus simply replies that there is nothing wrong with sighing, even if it does bug someone like his sister insists, by pointing out that it is “scriptural.” She is confused by this, and then Linus, tells her,

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we did not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words…‘Romans’ …eighth chapter!”

This leaves Lucy dumfounded as he walks away, to which she wonders if she should either slug her brother or start going back to Sunday School. More than his wisdom, what makes him such a great friend not only to Charlie Brown and all the other kids, but such a long suffering and patient younger brother to Lucy is his kind and loving heart.

This is best shown in a strip from June 30, 1963. Lucy is grousing complaining about how nothing in her life turns out how she would like and that’s he has nothing to be grateful for. Linus tells her,

“When you’re in a mood like this you should try and think of the things  you have to be thankful for…in other words, count your blessings. …Well, for one thing, you have a little brother who loves you…”

Lucy is then reduced to tears, perhaps realizing how cruel she is to the boy, an giving him some momentary relief.  Linus simply smiles and admits that sometimes he knows just what to say. Time and time again, Linus continually shows this tendency. Whether it’s in standing up to his sister or a bully picking on a friend with cancer in the special Why Charlie Brown, Why? or cheering up Charlie Brown, or encouraging Peppermint Patty, Linus is not only the smartest, but the kindest and most good natured member if the Peanuts cast.

With out him, the strip would be a lot more colder, and considerably more cynical. Moreover, Charlie would not have a much needed best friend by his side through all his adventures, ready to give him an encouraging word. Of any of the cast, he knows the most about the importance of just going with the flow in life, and being ready for anything. As he reminds Charlie in the movie Snoopy, Come Home as they lean against their wall, and Charlie asks for an encouraging word,

“Happiness lies in our destiny like a cloudless sky before the storms of tomorrow destroy the dreams of yesterday and last week!”

 

Bibliography:

 

TV SPECIAL: Beall, Andy and Frank Molieri. Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown. Starring  Austin Lux , Amanda Pace, Trenton Rogers, Grace Rolek, Shane Baumel, Blesst Bowden, Ciara Bravo, And Pessoa, and Andy Beall. Charles M. Schulz, Craig SHulz, and Stephan Pastis ( writers). Charles M Schulz Creative Consultants/WildBrain Animation Studios/ Warner Bros. Home Video . 2011.

Kaufman, James C. “The Charlie Brown Theory of Personality” Psychology Today. March 3, 2010. Archived. Last Accessed: November 17, 2016.

TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill (Dir.) A Charlie Brown Christmas. Starring Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratford, Kathy Steinberg, Chris Doran, Karen Mendelson, Geoffrey Orstein, Sally Dryer, Anne Altieri, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (Writer.)Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1965.

TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill (Dir.) It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Starring Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratford, Kathy Steinberg, Chris Doran, Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter, Lisa DeFaria,  Sally Dryer, Anne Altieri, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (Writer.)Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1966.

TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill (Dir.) You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown. Starring Todd Barbee, Stephen Shea, Hilary Momberger, Robin Kohn, Linda Ercoli, Brian Kazajian, Lynda Mendelson, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (Writer.)Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1972

TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill (Dir.) It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. Starring Jamie E. Smith, Mindy Ann Martin, John Christian Graas, Marnette Patterson, Jodie Sweetin, Phillip Lucier, Lindsay Bennish, Sean Mendelson, Deanna Tello, Matthew Slowik, Brittany M. Thornton, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (writer.) Lee Mendelson Film Productions, Bill Melendez Productions, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates / United Media Productions. 1992.

TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill and Sam Jaimes (Dir.) Happy New Year, Charlie Brown. Starring  Chad Allen, Jeremy Miller, Melissa Guzzo, Kristie Baker, Elizabeth Lyn Fraser, Aron Mandelbaum, and Jason Mendelson. Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1986

TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill and Phil Roman (Dir.) A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Starring Todd Barbee, Stephen Shea, Hilary Momberger, Robin Kohn, Christopher DeFaria, Jimmy Ahrens, Robin Reed, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (Writer.)Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1973

TV SPECIAL: Melendez, Bill (Dir.)  Snoopy, Come Home. Starring Chad Webber,  Bill Melendez, Robin Kohn, Stephen Shea, David Carey, Hilar Momberger, Johanna Baer, Linda Ercoli, Lynda Mendelson, Chris De Faria. Charles M. Schulz (Writer.) Cinema Center Films/ Bill Melendez Productions/SOpwith Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1972

INTERVIEW: Mendelson, Lee and Nate Best. “Exclusive: Q&A With Charlie Brown’s Lee Mendelson”. COmicBookMovie.com. February 2,2015. Last Accessed December 6, 2016.

Schulz, Charles M. “Peanuts.” GoComics.com. This comic’s first appearance:  July 14, 1952.Peanuts Worldwide,LLC.Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Schulz, Charles M. “Peanuts.” GoComics.com. This comic’s first appearance: 15th April, 1952 Peanuts Worldwide,LLC.Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Schulz, Charles M. “Peanuts.” GoComics.com. This comic’s first appearance: January 18th, 1959

Peanuts Worldwide,LLC.Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Schulz, Charles M. “Peanuts.” GoComics.com. This comic’s first appearance: June 30, 1963.

Peanuts Worldwide,LLC.Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Schulz, Charles M. “Peanuts.” GoComics.com. This comic’s first appearance: February 17, 1974.

Peanuts Worldwide,LLC.Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Schulz Charles M. Peanuts 65 years. Pg. 116,182. 2015. Andrews McMeel Publishing

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About jonathondsvendsen

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Somehow you stumbled upon it. Whatever brought you around, I'm glad you're here. I am a free-lance writer and independent scholar of pop-cultural mythology, living and working in Minnesota. An aspiring mythmaker, I dream of voyages through space, fantastic worlds, and even my own superhero or two. I am also an established public speaker and have guest-lectured for college classes on the topic of comic book superheroes. I graduated from Bethel University in 2007 with a degree in Literature and Creative writing. I also write for the website NarniaFans.com. Head on over and you can check out my book reviews , a few fun interviews and even my April Fools Day jokes.
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One Response to Good Grief! : Celebrating Peanuts # 2: Linus Van Pelt

  1. Anonymous says:

    this blog is amazing! congratulations! I really like this, you’re a genius

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