Good Grief! : Celebrating Peanuts #3: Lucy Van Pelt

It seems ironic that Charles Schulz would give his comic strip antagonist the name “Lucy”. After all, in Latin it means “bringer of light”, and that is not something that she seems to do for Charlie Brown or any of the other characters. Crabby is one of the many words that are often used to describe her. By most current standards of today she could be considered a bully. After all, what else would you call someone who destroys her brother’s security blanket, smashes Schroeder’s piano and bust of Beethoven repeatedly, and continually tricks Charlie Brown into kicking the football, only to pull it away from him and land on his back?

In fact, Lucy has been tormenting Charlie Brown ever since she first debuted in the comic strips. When Charlie first met her she was only a toddler, and Charlie acted as a sort of older brother figure. In her debut,  dated   March, 30th 1952   , Charlie Brown is happily sowing her his record collection. She asks to hear “Three Blind Mice” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and finally asks for a glass of water. Charlie agrees to get her a drink, and when he returns he finds Lucy is actually eating his record collection. Charlie is in tears, and Lucy senses his distress, and offers him a bite of one of the destroyed albums.

Her antagonism extends past Charlie Brown. In one strip, dated January 24th 1954, we see

Lucy Van Pelt

Lucy Van Pelt

Lucy terrorizing very one in her town. Kicking over everything belonging to Linus, Schroeder, Violet, Charlie, Shermie, and Patty, saying, as she runs away from the now angry mob,

 

“This is what I  think of your box of cookies! That’s what I think of your ol’ piano! That’s what I think of your ol’ stamp collection. And that’s what I think of your ol’ picture puzzle! And THAT’s what I think of your stupid ol’ marbles. And that’s what I think of your silly ol color crayons! I’m frustrated and inhibited and nobody understands me.”

In “You’re Not Elected Charlie Brown” we actually see Lucy not only act as Linus’ campaign manager, but she goes so far as to threaten other kids if they don’t vote for Linus. Such behavior would be frowned upon not only in school settings but real politics. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, she actually informs Linus that he better memorize his liens and when he asks for one good reasons she gives him “five” as she makes a fist. Then she actually threatens all out to slug Snoopy.

Even when it seems to do something nice for Charlie Brown, she still finds a way to cut him. In Happy New Year, Charlie Brown she offers to pour him a glass of root beer and Charlie confides in her that the next year he will be “strong and firm” she dismisses it as impossible as she tells him he will always be “wishy-washy”.

When she isn’t antagonizing him, she’s finding ways to torment her brother by threatening to destroy his blanket. Nothing is more violent than some of her reactions to Schroeder ignoring her while he plays the piano. In one strip, which was adapted into Be My Valentine Charlie Brown, while the object of her affection is playing she interrupts him, gets him to stop playing, and ends up destroying his piano in a fit of rage as she tells him,

“Sometimes I don’t think you realize that you could lose me. Are you sure you want to suffer the tortures of the memories of a lost love? …Do you know the tortures of the memories of a lost love? …It’s awful! It will haunt you night and day! You’ll wake up at night screaming! You can’t eat! You can’t sleep! You’ll want to smash things! You’ll hate yourself and the world and everybody in it! Awwwwww! …Are you sure you want to risk losing me?”

Her role as antagonist became so prevalent that two other girls, Violet and Patty, faded into the background until they were written out of the strip all together. Their personalities were not that different from Lucy, and even at her crabbiest Lucy still had more to her character. Charles M. Schulz even noted that,

“Lucy comes from that part of me that’s capable of saying mean and sarcastic things, which is not a good trait to have, so Lucy gives me a good outlet.”

Further, while Lucy may have been crabby, Violet and Patty were just snobs. Among Violet’s many running gags in the short time she was a main character was to literally argue with Charlie Brown of why her dad was better, because of all the money he made, while Charlie would win out by point out that his dad actually had time for him. Lucy seemed to actually come from Charlie Brown’s middle-class,  upper-midwest world ( as is evidenced by her Dutch Last name and her German last named paramour Schroeder), while there was never any indication that Violet or Patty had much in common with Charlie.

Moreover, Lucy actually seemed to like being a crab.  In one strip from December 31st , 1956, Charlie asked her if she planned to make any New Year’s resolutions. She replied,

“WHAT? What for? What’s wrong with me now? I LIKE THE WAY I AM!WHY SHOULD I CHANGE?! WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH YOU, CHARLIE BROWN? I’m all right the way I am! I don’t HAVE to improve!  How COULD I improve? HOW, I ask you? HOW?”

Thus, while she is more than adept at telling everyone else what to do, she refuses to accept any criticism, or engage in any self-reflection that could lead her to growing. It actually doesn’t occur to Lucy that destroying Schroder’s piano will not endear her to him, and in any normal situations he would probably have a restraining order filed against her. James C. Kaufman notes in “The Peanuts Theory of Personality” from Psychology Today, in regards to Lucy,

“Defined by a single word (crabby), Lucy revels in her disagreeableness. Typical portrayals of Lucy feature her bossing around her friends, dominating her little brother, mocking Charlie Brown’s self consciousness, and generally being a pain in the (butt). Her attempts at psychiatry generally involve misguided advice delivered loudly and angrily.”

Despite this, Lucy was surprising counter-cultural. Back in the 1950s and 60s when she first debuted little girls were expected to be “sugar and spice and everything nice”. Consider if you will any of the immortal dilemma faced by the teen-aged red head Archie between his two great loves, Betty and Veronica. Both girls were equally beautiful, but the only thing that really made Veronica different from Betty was that she had money and was therefore a snob. Or on television, Marcia, Jan and Cindy on the Brady Bunch may have had their occasional hang-ups but they were still likable as people, and anytime they did something wrong they were quickly corrected and led back on the right path. Not so with Lucy.

As Jesse Fask noted in “‘Peanuts’ is Profound: A Tribute to Charles Schulz, The Feminist”, from a  series that celebrated the life and work of Charles Schulz after his death,

“For small children in the fifties, the Peanuts gang was one of the earliest displays of the baby boomers in pop culture, a generation of women which would, of course, experience far more change in gender equity than any generation in history… And Schultz foreshadowed this movement by creating some of the strongest female characters ever seen in mainstream American culture…His “Peanuts” defied all gender stereotypes–and no one noticed… Let us look at the girls of “Peanuts.” The comic strip is definitely ruled by a tyrant named Lucy Van Pelt. Without a sensitive bone in her body, Lucy yanks the football away from Charlie Brown every time, right before he’s about to kick it, just to show her dominance over him. She is the entrepreneur, starting her own business… She is bossy and inconsiderate, only looking out for number one. She thinks of boys as either stupid imbeciles to step on, as is the case with Charlie Brown and her oversensitive little brother Linus, or as sex objects, as she does with her beloved artistic Schroeder, who is only trying to master the works of Beethoven while he is continually sexually harassed by Miss Van Pelt. Lucy is clearly a female chauvinist.”

So, how could someone who is anything but a “bringer of light” have the name of the patron saint of light be an antagonist? If one considers that the name “Lucifer” one of the names for the devil comes from the same root word, perhaps it becomes more appropriate. Like Lucifer in the biblical book of Job, Lucy seems to take great joy in trying Charlie Brown’s patience, taunting and tormenting him at every chance she gets. She also seems to go to great lengths to twist and turn everything to her own desires.

Appropriately, in one strip in which we see Charlie Brown’s softball team spiral into a deep theological discussion about the book of Job, spurned by Schroeder quoting the scripture, saying “Man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward”, and Linus giving Charlie the full book, chapter and verse, Lucy takes the view point of Job’s three friends stating,

“If a person has bad luck, it’s because he’s done something wrong, that’s what I always say….Who wants to suffer! Don’t Be ridiculous!”

Thus, she knows how to try and exploit Charlie’s greatest weakness in order to try and cause him to fall, all so she can chastise him once again for being a “stupid blockhead”, or mock him for being so gullible. As was seen in one strip where she tries to get him to kick the ball, and he initially refuses  she appeals to his kindness and wiliness to believe in the best in everyone saying,

“You thought I was going to pull the ball away, don’t you? Why Charlie Brown, I’m ashamed of you! I’m insulted! Don’t you trust me anymore?  Has your mind become so darkened with mistrust that you’ve lost your ability to believe in people?”

Charlie then runs up to try and kick the ball, only to land on his back, and Lucy taunts him, “Isn’t it better this way Charlie Brown? Isn’t it better to trust people?”

As Schulz said in an interview,

“This was a flaw in Charlie Brown’s personality. He wants everyone to like him at all times, which is impossible. It’s his own weaknesses that cause him his trouble and make him so vulnerable. That’s why Lucy can do the things to him that she does because he’s so terribly vulnerable. That’s why she can fool him with the football every year. It’s so easy.”

Thus, with his neuroticism, anxiety and insecurity, she also sees him as a steady source of income, setting up her own (unlicensed) psychiatric booth, offering her services for the low price of five cents, a price that never went up with inflation in the 50 plus years that the strip ran. As was seen in A Charlie Brown Christmas,

“Wait a minute. Before we begin, I request that you pay in advance. Five cents, please…Boy, what a sound! How I love the sound of clinking money! That beautiful sound of cold hard cash! Nickels, nickels, nickels! That beautiful sound of clinking nickels!”

Unlike her younger brother, who clearly knows what he is talking about when he begins to wax philosophical , it is more than obvious based on some of her advice throughout the strip that Lucy actually doesn’t have any idea what she’s talking about.  She just believes that she is an expert on everything ( at one point in the strip she even told a much younger Linus that snow comes up from the ground like grass and gets blown around by the wind), and because Charlie is trusting and just a bit gullible, he believes her.  Then she dispenses with either curt, blunt responses like “Snap out of it”, or spirals into psychobabble, spouting off terms in hopes of diagnosing him, as was seen in that same special,

“Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypengyophobia…How about cats? If you’re afraid of cats, you have ailurophasia…Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacaphobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean, or gephyrobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?”

Charlie asks what’s pantohobia to which Lucy tells him it is the fear of everything, a diagnosis he can agree with. Then while talking with Charlie she ropes him into directing the Christmas play. Unlike most other times at her booth, she actually talks with Charlie Brown seemingly agreeing with him about how commercialized Christmas has become only to later tell him that part of why she ends up depressed at Christmas, and not for the same reasons as Charlie Brown, as she tells him,

“I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.”

However, on the converse some would be quick to describe her as a strong willed, determined leader, and the archetype of the liberated woman . She doesn’t suffer any of the idiot men in her life, continually putting Charlie Brown, Linus, and Schroeder in their place and forcing them to check their white male privilege.  As she tells Linus in one strip where he tells her that he does understand what she’s telling him and she doesn’t have to yell at him,

“Perhaps you’re right…perhaps I shouldn’t yell at you so much, but I feel if I talked to you as quietly as I do now…YOU’D NEVER LISTEN!”

Similarly, in one strip, she learns that Schroeder has forgotten Beethoven’s birthday. With him constantly ignoring her to play the piano and his obsession with the great composer, Lucy can’t help but laugh,  saying,

“HA HA HA HA HA HA! THAT’S THE FUNNIEST THING I EVER HEARD! HA HA HA HA HA HA !! ALL YEAR LONG HE WAITS FOR BEETHOVEN’S BIRTHDAY! AND THEN WHEN IT FINALLY COMES,HE FORGETS IT! HA HA HA HA HA!”

However, more than a cursory glance reveals that much like her own brother and Charlie Brown her apparent confidence is just a mask for her own insecurities. In fact the way she pines after Schroeder, and gets dejected when he spurns her romantic overtures, she clearly would love to have him reciprocate her affections. Ironically, despite how she tortures poor Charlie Brown, she often asks him if he thinks she’s beautiful, as was the case in A Charlie Brown Christmas,

“You DO think I’m beautiful, don’t you, Charlie Brown? You didn’t answer me right away. You had to think about it first, didn’t you? If you really had thought I was beautiful, you would’ve spoken right up. I know when I’ve been insulted. I KNOW WHEN I’VE BEEN INSULTED.”

In The Peanuts Movie, when Charlie goes  to her for advice on the “Little Red Haired Girl” and tells Lucy  how he gets nervous around a “pretty face”, she is quickly outraged and ask why he isn’t nervous around her. While Charlie may be exasperated when she asks these questions, it only demonstrates that that she actually values him and his opinion of her, she is just afraid to show it. In fact if she didn’t value him she wouldn’t have been so upset when he finally gathers the courage to tell her, in one strip, dated September 5, 1963, which was part of an arc in which she asked Schroeder, Linus, and Snoopy if she was cute. Through out the arc she got a blunt answer from Schroeder in which he told her he didn’t think she was very cute, a sarcastic response from Linus in which he told her that she wasn’t what anyone would describe as a raving beauty, and Snoopy even gave her a sarcastic yes and no response. However,  Charlie cut right to the chase and told her,

“You want someone to call you a ‘Cutie’! HA! That’s a laugh! You’ve never acted cute in your entire life. You’re crabby, you’re bossy and you’re inconsiderate! You’re just about as uncute as a person can get!”

While she may be capable of tormenting Charlie Brown and know he won’t fight back, her brother’s Linus and Rerun are more than capable of standing up for themselves, usually by playing wither her mind and driving her crazy. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Lucy demands that Linus get rid of his “stupid blanket” asking what is a Christmas shepherd going to look like holding onto a blanket. Linus tells her, that this is going to be one shepherd who would keep his trusty blanket with him, and with that, he promptly turns the blanket into a biblical shepherd’s head covering , smiles and asks her if she would really hurt an innocent shepherd.

In another instance, in the special It’s Christmas Time Again Charlie Brown, we see in the final vignette, as the Christmas holiday draws to a close Linus is relaxing in front of the TV and his sister comes into the room and orders him out. Linus looks at her and asks her to remember what she said on Christmas Eve, saying,

“Remember when we were all sitting around the Christmas tree, opening our presents? That’s when you said it…It was beautiful. You said: “Why do we have to be nice to each other only on Christmas? Why can’t we be nice to each other every day?”

Lucy, furious with his smart alec attitude storms off saying that he drives her crazy. Later, as their baby brother Rerun grew to a pre-school age, showed that the proverbial apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree, showing he was just as good at sparring with Lucy in a battle of the wits. In one strip, from October 24th 1999, the final football gag before the strip ended, Rerun comes out of the house to tell Lucy to go inside for lunch. Lucy is already getting the ball set up to do the football gag yet again.

Reluctantly, she agrees to come inside, and Charlie believes he is off the hook this time. However, Lucy hands the ball off to Rerun, insisting that he can do it. Charlie Brown admits to himself that this time, he will kick that ball, knowing full well that Rerun could never do to Charlie what Lucy had done so many times before. Charlie Brown runs up, determined to kick the ball, but then, in a demonstration of Schulz comedic genius, we skip the scene in question and see Lucy sitting at the table, and Rerun coming in with the ball.

She asks Rerun,

“What happened? Did you pull the ball away? Did he kick it? What happened?”

Rerun simply holds the ball, and smugly replies, “You’ll never know” as his sister lets out an anguished scream. What’s more, not only does Lucy never learn what Rerun did, the readers never learned ,making it all the sweeter. Even if Rerun pull the ball away, he and Charlie got to mess with Lucy’s head and that for the two of them is good enough.

Yet despite all this, she is more than capable of showing kindness to both Linus and Charlie Brown.  In It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Lucy has spent a good portion of the special railing against Linus belief in the Great Pumpkin even physically threatening to pound him. Despite this, she begrudgingly goes to each house and asks for an extra piece of candy for Linus. Then, towards the end of the special, she actually sets her alarm clock extra early. She heads to her brothers room, sees he isn’t there, then puts on her coat and shoes and goes out to the Pumpkin patch and brings him inside and puts him to bed.

Then in another series of strips, that saw Charlie Brown get woozy during a ball game and end up in the hospital from 1979, we actually saw Lucy’s veneer slowly chip away. Initially she was indifferent to Charlie’s plight, just relieved it wasn’t her in the hospital. Then as the arc went on she was confiding in Schroeder about how much she hopes he gets better, even crying into Schroeder’s piano. Then she even figured she could be her usual bossy self and threaten Charlie Brown in a letter to get him to recover. Then when Linus tells her in a strip dated July 19th, 1979, that he isn’t any better, she exclaims,

“HE’S NOT ANY BETTER! THAT’S CRAZY! HE’S GOT TO GET BETTER!! What’s wrong with a world where someone like Charlie Brown can get sick, and then not get any better! I NEED SOMEBODY TO HIT!!”

The rest of the cast was bewildered by her sudden concern for Charlie Brown. Schroeder would even comment on this, saying ,

“It’s interesting that you should cry over him when you’re the one who always treated him so mean! …And stop wiping your tears on my piano!”

Then, reaching a point of desperation in a strip from July 27, 1979, she vows,

 

“Charlie Brown, I know you can’t hear me, but I want to make you a promise…If you get well, I promise I’ll never pull the football away again!”

 

Linus overhears her promise and spends the subsequent trip inquiring if she was sincere in her vow only to learn that of Lucy’s many good traits, when she makes a promise she firmly intends to keep it. Linus smiles knowing his friend will get well as he know has something to live for, the unobtainable is now within reach, and thus, Linus informs Charlie of Lucy’s promise and once Charlie is home, he pays her a visit and collect on her promise.

Linus tried to talk him out if, not fully believing his sister would keep her word. Charlie Brown race up as usual to kick the ball, and Lucy is good upon her word and doesn’t pull the ball away. However, in the process, Charlie Brown kicks Lucy’s arm and puts her in a cast. All at once the animosity between him and Lucy is restored and their bizarre little dance begins again. However, something seemed to change in her attempts to pull the ball away.

As the seventies gave way to the eighties and eventually the nineties and the new millennium, Lucy began to soften. No longer was Lucy merely his adversary, always tormenting him, but she became a sort of teacher, imparting words of wisdom  to Charlie with each attempt, thus trying to become a bringer of illumination through knowledge. She also stopped destroying Schroder and Linus’s property. By the time she showed up in The Peanuts Movie she was less of an antagonist to Charlie Brown, even being the one to say “hi” to him in class when the other’s are disappointed when it’s not the “new kid”, but still calling him out when he acts like a block-head. After all, with countless news stories about bullying the last thing anyone wants for a children’s movie is for Lucy to engage in the deplorable behavior that she was most known for and get away with it. As Eric Schulmiller noted in “All Your Life Charlie Brown, All Your Life” for Slate that looked at the history of Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football gag,

 

“Interestingly, in the ensuing years, Lucy went back to her old tricks, yanking the football away every fall. Set in her ways, Lucy can’t change her behavior after 50 years, but the near loss of her bald-headed sparring partner served as a catalyst for her own personal “reboot” from teaser to teacher. Lucy now yanks the ball away not out of malice, but with a sly, loving intention. Her post-swipe comments in more recent strips range from the wistful…to the inspirational… Acting with a nickel’s worth of hard-won wisdom, Lucy now wields the football like a Zen master with a keisaku (awakening stick). After all these years, Lucy deals the stinging blow of failure each fall in order to recalibrate Charlie Brown’s focal point, and to drive home the lesson that Schulz may well have meant all along: It’s not the football that matters, Chuck, it’s us!”

 

Thus, now that the strip is in syndication in perpetuity, and there will probably be other films and animated shorts, she will always trick Charlie Brown with the football, and give him a little nugget of wisdom along the way in a game that will no doubt go on until long after we are gone. As she tells Charlie Brown in one strip where he calls out “how long oh, Lord”, wondering how long he’ll have to suffer her gag,

 

“You’re quoting the sixth chapter of Isaiah, aren’t you, Charlie Brown? ‘Until the cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate…’How long? All your life, Charlie Brown…All  your life.”

 

  Bibliography:

 

Fask, Jesse “Peanuts Is Profound: A Tribute to Charles Schulz, The Feminist” Baltimore Chronicle. Archived. Last Accessed January 12, 2017.

TV SHOW: James, Sam and Bill Melendez (Dir.) Happy New Year, Charlie Brown. Starring Chad Allen, Kristie Baker, Melissa Guzzi, Aron Mandelbaum, Jeremy Miller, Jason Mendelson, Elizabeth Lyn Fraser, and Bill Melendez.  Charles M. Schulz (Writer). Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1986.

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

FILM: Martino, Chris (Dir.)The Peanuts Movie Starring Noah Schnapp, Alex Garfin, Hadley Belle Miller, Mariel Sheets, Noah Johnston, Venus Omega Schultheis, Madisyn Shipman, AJ Teece, Marelik “Mar Mar” Walker, William Wunsch, Rebecca Bloom, Anastasia Bredikhina, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi, Troy “ Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Kristin Chenoweth, and Bill Melendez. Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano  (writers). Blue Sky Studios/20th Century Fox. 2015.

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: Roman, Phil ( Dir). Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown. Starring Duncan Watson, Stephen Shea, Melanie Kohn,  Greg Felton, Lynn Mortensen, Linda Ercoli, and Bill Melendez. Charles M. Schulz (Writer.) Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez Productions/United Features Syndicate.  1975.

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.

Schullmiller, Eric “All Your Life, Charlie Brown. All your life: A Complete History of Lucy’s Pulling the Football Away” October 8, 2014. Last Accessed, January 11, 2017.

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Schulz, Charles M. “Peanuts.” GoComics.com. This comic’s first appearance:24th July, 1979 Peanuts Worldwide,LLC.Web. January 11, 2017.

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Schulz, Charles M. “Peanuts.” GoComics.com. This comic’s first appearance:31st July, 1979 Peanuts Worldwide,LLC.Web. January 11, 2017.

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Schulz, Charles M. Celebrating Peanuts 65 years. Pgs. 144,255.

PhotoCredit: 2003,

 

 

 

 

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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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