One of the earliest recorded stories of the friendship between humans and dogs comes from Homer’s The Odyssey. Odysseus, in disguise so he can take back his kingdom from the uncouth suitors returns to Ithaca after twenty long years away from home between the war of Troy and his wanderings. Upon returning one of the first to recognize him with his faithful dog, Argos, now blind from old age. The dog had patently waited for his master to return to him, but Odysseus could not greet him for risk of exposing his secret and being killed by the suitors. The beloved dog died, having fulfilled his duty and been reunited with his master once again.
Odysseus would not be the last hero to have a canine companion. American author Jack
London was fond of writing about between the friendship between man and dog in White Fang and Call of the Wild. Superheroes Superman and Batman had Krypto and Ace to help them feel less lonely in their never ending battles of good vs. evil. Archeologist Henry Jones, Jr. would choose his nickname “Indiana” because of the fond memories he had of his loyal Alaskan Malamute. Even Sherlock Holmes who could be condescending to any person, even Dr. John Watson, would say of the dog Toby, “I’d rather have Toby’s help than that of the whole detective force in London .”
In the world of fiction however, no dog has been more beloved and iconic, then the beagle, Snoopy. Charles Schulz always had a great fondness for dogs, ever since he was a child. Thus, it was only natural for the cast of his comic strip to be completed with a lovable and wildly imaginative beagle. As Schulz admitted,
“I patterned Snoopy in appearance after a dog I had when I was about thirteen years old. His name was Spike, and he looked a bit like the original Snoopy. But Snoopy didn’t start of being a beagle. It’s just that Beagle is a funny word.”
Slowly, Snoopy began to take on a life of his own. The first big change in this beagle that we would see, would be him thinking in thought bubbles, and react to the world around him. Then, in a strip from October 19th, 1952, Snoopy would learn to stand on two legs. This achievement would be marked by the birth of the iconic “Snoopy Dance” as he pranced away happily to the music that Schroeder played his piano and Charlie, Patty, and Lucy cheer him on. Suddenly, Charlie and the gang realize that it is getting late and that they need to be getting home. Disgusted, Snoopy thinks to himself,
“They’re they go…leaving me alone again! Do any of them invite me over to spend the night? NO! All I’m good for is a few laughs! Rats! …They’re willing to have me entertain them during the day, but as soon as it starts getting dark, they go off, and they leave me!…Well, I’ll show them…I don’t NEED they’re company! I can sit at home , and watch television.”
Sure enough in the last panel, we see Snoopy curled up in his dog house, watching TV. Aside from Charlie not being his owner, everything that is key to what we know about Snoopy is set in that one story. We have the classic “Snoopy Dance”, him thinking in thought bubbles, and his doghouse being bigger than it seems. This would lead to him walking on two legs like a person thus signaling a change in comic strip animals. Some animals, like Marmaduke, act like a normal animal, others like Fred Basset, tend to use the thought bubbles but still act like ordinary animals. Then there are the likes of Dogbert in the strip Dilbert, and Garfield who tend to behave more like Snoopy in that he walks on two legs and thinks in thought bubbles. At the far end of the spectrum is Bucky Katt and Satchel in Get Fuzzy who may more like normal animals but they can talk out loud to their owner.
Snoopy started it all. As Schulz said,
“I believe Snoopy was the first to think conversationally, in bubbles, while standing on his hind legs. Quite a few cartoon animals have learned the trick now.”
With the exceptions of the productions You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Snoopy: The Musical, the specials have tended to avoid having the audience hear Snoopy’s thoughts like they did with Garfield. However, Snoopy was still able to convey a great deal of emotion and personality through his expressions, and emotional reactions like laughing, crying or letting out a long heavy sigh. Like a canine Charlie Chaplin, the Snoopy of the specials acted, and reacted, in pantomime to the world around him.
Not only would he develop a more human like personality, but he would serve as Charlie’s short stop for his ball team, act as the Easter Beagle for the kids in It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown, help Charlie and Linus prepare a Thanksgiving dinner and play all the animal roles for their Christmas play including cow, sheep, penguin and even throwing in his classic vulture. More importantly the relationship between Charlie and Snoopy changed.
Actor Eddie Deezen noted in “Charlie Brown and Snoopy: A Brief History” an article for Neatorama
“Over the years, almost in an inverse ratio to his owner Charlie Brown, Snoopy became cooler and more confident…Charlie Brown and Snoopy became a kind of yin-yang of the two sides of all of us. One side, Charlie Brown, symbolized the lack of confidence, shyness, and insecurity we all harbor, to a greater or lesser degree. And the other half, Snoopy, is the confident, totally-in-control, cool character we all, in our hearts (and fantasies) want to be.”
Snoopy originally started out simply as the neighborhood dog in the strips. It was not uncommon back when Schulz first developed the strips for neighborhoods to have a dog that ran around and played with the kids. As the strip evolved the location of Snoopy’s house was centralized to Charlie’s back yard and Charlie and Snoopy became inseparable.
While Linus may be Charlie’s best friend, the name of Charlie Brown and his Beagle are always mentioned in tandem with the other making them one of the classic duos of popular culture. Their popularity even extended to the space race as it was “Charlie Brown” and “Snoopy” that got a Command Service Module and a Lunar Excursion Module named in their honor. There’s no node on the ISS named for “Garfield”, and there is no Mars probe named in honor of “Marmaduke”. In fact it wouldn’t be until 2009 when another cartoon character, Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, get to travel to the stars as his 12 inch figure would not only be taken up to the International Space Station, but go on to be put on display at the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institute.
Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the gang would receive numerous accolades in their 65+ year history, but it was having his characters immortalized as space vehicles that Schulz considered a huge honor. As he recalled,
“I think it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened. Snoopy was the first character in comic strip history to literally land on the moon! It wasn’t just a story! No, he was there! And they brought back all sorts of beautiful little lapel pins which were given as safety awards to people on the assemble line. It was a wonderful thing, very flattering.”
Unlike the rest of Charlie’s friends, we never saw the moment when the round headed kid and his dog first met. The two of them were just “always there”. However, Schulz would go on to retroactively provide some level of a back-story about Charlie and Snoopy, and like everything else in Charlie’s world it all starts with a very bad day. In one strip, from January 30, 1972, Linus is talking with Charlie about how a friend wants to get a gold fish, and wonders why people get pets. This leads Linus to wondering just how Charlie first got Snoopy.
Charlie tells him,
“Well, I’m not quite sure because I was kind of young…I think it started because of something that happened at a playground…I was playing in a sandbox with a couple of other kids…I can’t even remember who they were..anyway, all of a sudden, one of them poured a whole bucket of sand over my head..I started crying, I guess and my mother came running up, and took me home. It’s kind of embarrassing now to talk about it. Anyway, the next day, we drove out to the Daisy Hill Poppy Farm, and my mother and dad bought me a dog…”
Even Snoopy can’t help but admit “good grief” upon hearing about this indignity that Charlie suffered. Yet it also underscores just what Charlie and Snoopy frequently bring to one another. As Evan Rytlewski notes in the essay “In Each Other, Charlie Brown and Snoopy Found Solace in a Cruel World ” for The A.V. Club in anticipation for The Peanuts Movie,
“Indeed, Snoopy is the one character who openly loves Charlie Brown. The strip frequently has the two greeting each other with enthusiastic hugs, and several of its dramatic arcs find the two separated then happily reunited. Few comics have so perfectly captured the mutual joy that a pet and his owner bring each other. In these strips, Snoopy serves as a sort of karmic reward for all the indignities life hurls at Charlie Brown—if he’s got to be miserable, he should at least have a dog at his side.”
Snoopy had an equally sad back-story. As revealed in a story arc form the strips that later became the inspiration or the movie, Snoopy Come Home, the beagle had another owner before Charlie Brown, a little girl named Lila. Lila and her family lived in an apartment and the landlord soon imposed a “no dogs allowed” rule, and that meant that Snoopy had to go back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm where he had lived with his mother and siblings. It was not long after this, that Charlie’s parents adopted Snoopy for Charlie and brought him home to live with them. As rejected as Charlie Brown is at times, his dog has felt it just as much.
Theirs is a very interesting and complex relationship. On the one hand, Snoopy seems to forget Charlie Brown’s name, only referring to him as “the round-headed kid”. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Snoopy even laughs at Charlie Brown’s tree with the rest of the kids. In It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown, Snoopy runs out of Easter Eggs before he can give an egg to Charlie Brown and resigns himself to just shaking his master’s hand.
Snoopy also doesn’t like being treated like a “normal dog”, and seems to think himself a human. Frieda often gets on him about not wanting to chase rabbits as he sees it as beneath him. When Linus and Lucy’s younger brother Rerun asks to play, Snoopy will usually refuse to do typical dog things like catch a stick, or pull a sled, and even hates being called a “puppy dog”. He also doesn’t see the point on waiting outside the school for the kids to come home, as is seen in one strip from December 27th, 1960
“Here’s the faithful dog following the kids to school….here’s the faithful dog sitting down outside while the kids go inside…here’s the faithful dog lying down outside waiting for school to let out…here’s the faithful dog suddenly realizing he’s wasting his time!”
The only time he does wait outside the school for the kids is a strip from January 12th, 1970 in which The Head Beagle gave Snoopy a very important job of watching over the school. Snoopy’s time doesn’t last very long, as school bureaucracy trumps the Head Beagle any day. As Snoopy reflects,
“The Head Beagle has given me a special assignment. Here I am on duty at the school playground. Sometimes you’ll see a dog being chased off the school playground by the authorities…So I’m leaving, but the school principal does not out rank the Head Beagle.”
In an arc from October 21st 1968, he even tried to attend as a student, only to be told by Charlie Brown that he’s not allowed in class. Rather then leave outright, Snoopy just sat in front of Linus, only to be told that he had to leave the school. In his anger the dog ended up kicking the building, only to be told by Linus to knock it off. Crestfallen, Snoopy returns to his dog house and thinks to himself of all the things he missed out on due to his species,
“I could have gone to school and become educated…I could have studied The “Odyssey” and “Lord Jim” and “Bleak House”. But Just Because I’m a dog they say I can’t attend their stupid school. I could have been great at the senior prom!”
He certainly would have done well at school, perhaps more than some of the kids. In one strip from September 4, 1971, Sally is seen writing a letter to her grandmother about school. In her letter she expresses hope that she will get the same desk on the aisle, but ends up spelling it “I’ll”, a contraction for I will. Snoopy is reading over her shoulder and bursts out laughing at the spelling error, causing Sally to fume,
“That stupid beagle is making fun of my lack of formal education!”
Also, while Lucy may torment her brother and rag on poor Charlie Brown, Snoopy acts as her antagonist. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, after Snoopy does is vulture impression on her head, the dog begins to mock her as she goes on a rant about how everyone needs to listen had have respect for their director and tries to punch Snoopy. Snoopy defuses the situation by licking her, causing her to go off, saying,
“Ugh! I’ve been kissed by a dog! I have dog germs! Get hot water! Get some disinfectant! Get some Iodine!”
Snoopy didn’t take too lightly to being belittled or excluded because he was a dog. When he aspired to write a book on theology, in a strip from August 14, 1976 Lucy says he would be a terrible theologian because he was too “Dogmatic”. Snoopy, hating that kind of joke throws his type writer at the back of the head. In a strip from January 22, 1967, Charlie Brown was busy petting Snoopy when he is called to dinner. Sally tells him that their mom told him to wash his hands because he touched the dog. Snoopy then chases Sally around the house, thinking to himself,
“‘Touched the dog?’’ ‘Touched the dog’?!! Look out! I’m covered with diseases! I’m filthy dirty! …Here comes the bubonic plague! Pat my head and get a handful of germs! Here comes the walking disease carrier! Beware! Beware! Look out for me…I’m diseased! I’m contaminated! …’Touched the dog!’ Good grief!’”
Conversely, Charlie Brown will often wonder why can’t he have a normal dog like everyone else. After all, not many kids have a dog who pretends to be a World War I flying Ace and battles the Red Barron atop his dog house. Most dogs don’t try to write the Great American Novel on a type writer, or have a bird act as his secretary. While a normal dog may certainly enthusiastic about meal times, they also don’t go into a big song and dance number when their supper is served.
Most kids also don’t have a dog who acts as their short stop for their ball team. In fact Snoopy is the best player on Charlie Brown’s team. So much so, that when Peppermint Patty is open to trading players with Charlie, the only one she’ll take is Snoopy. Charlie, desperate to win agrees to the trade, an act that Linus and Schroeder call him out for as Snoopy is ,after all, his dog. The deal falls through and Charlie shreds the contract.
However, no matter how much Charlie may complain, he wouldn’t have Snoopy any other way. Despite what Snoopy may think, he needs Charlie Brown more then he’d like to admit. As Schulz once stated,
“Snoopy is a very contradictory character. In a way he’s quite selfish. He likes to think himself as independent, and he has dreams of doing great things. Without Charlie Brown he wouldn’t survive, but Snoopy won’t give Charlie Brown the love and affection he deserves. That’s part of the humor.”
This is best seen in a strip from May 20, 1989. Charlie and Snoopy are resting under a tree, and Charlie says to his dog,
“We’ve been pals for a long time, haven’t we, Snoopy. I think it’s because we not only like each other, but we respect each other…”
Snoopy thinks to himself in response, “Don’t forget the supper dish.”Apparently, someone in Charlie’s world had figured that Snoopy only loved Charlie because he feeds him and pointed it out to him. In a strip from May 24, 1989, he asked his dog if this was true. Charlie further demonstrates how well he understands his dog when he rolls his eyes as his dog thinks,
“I think I’ll choose another category…I’ll take famous characters in history for four hundred dollars, please!”
Despite this, it is not uncommon for Snoopy to give Charlie a big hug when he returns home from school. In fact, Snoopy is usually one of Charlie’s first sources of comfort and support in the strips. During the story arc from October 1971, where Peppermint Patty and Marcie came over to play “Ha, Ha, Herman”, with Charlie and Snoopy, Snoopy was elated to play a game. However when his master left heartbroken after hearing Patty say no one could love him, Snoopy loyally walked home with him.
In another strip, from July 11, 1975 a bully took Charlie Brown’s baseball and refused to give it back to him, unless he fought him. Charlie ended up not having to fight as Snoopy bit the bully on the hand and promptly, in his World War I flying Ace persona, carried his master home to safety. The Peanuts Movie extrapolated upon this aspect of their relationship. Not only does Snoopy act as Charlie’s “Wing-Man” and help him try to win the heart of the “little Red-Haired Girl”, but when a model biplane of the Red-Baron’s aircraft destroyed Charlie’s book report, Snoopy vowed eternal vengeance on his hated foe.
This was especially evident in a strip from June 11, 1999, towards the end of the strips run. Charlie had gone to camp and met up with his crush, Peggy Jean. He learned from her that she wasn’t planning on coming but heard her boyfriend was going to be there. This was a girl who meant so much to him that in a series of strips that became one of the vignettes in It’s Christmas Time Again, Charlie Brown, that Charlie sold his entire comic book collection to buy a gift for Peggy.
Heartbroken, Charlie called home and asked Sally to put Snoopy on. Snoopy, being a dog, can only bark, it’s enough to cheer up Charlie Brown. He thanks his dog, telling him he needed to hear a friendly voice. Like any “normal dog” snoopy may not say much to his master, but just his simple presence or the fact that he seems to listen is enough to brighten his day. Further when he left in Snoopy, Come Home, Charlie was an even bigger nervous wreck without his dog to the point he couldn’t eat or sleep. It also isn’t uncommon to see Snoopy and Charlie not only hugging each other, but to even see the beagle sleep with him, or rest his head on Charlie’s lap listen as he expressed his fears and anxieties. In many ways Snoopy acted as a form of Emotional Support Animal for Charlie before that concept became common place.
According to Rebecca F. Wisch of the Animal Legal and Historical Center for the University of Michigan,
“An emotional support animal is an animal (typically a dog or cat though this can include other species) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship. The animal provides emotional support and comfort to individuals with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments.”
Considering Charlie’s well documented struggles with anxiety and borderline depression, someone like him would need an ESA to help cope with his struggles. Even earlier, in the story arc from June of 1989 that saw Marcie and Charlie go to camp while Peppermint Patty was stuck in summer school, Patty was crushed to hear that Charlie Brown had left early because he missed his dog so much. In the June 10th strip, Charlie came racing out to the backyard, saying,
“Snoopy, I’m home! I missed you so much I came home! Aren’t you glad to see me?”
Then in the strip form the following day as Patty called Charlie out for leaving summer camp, and was ready to chew him out. Charlie was at a loss for words, but Snoopy gave him his version of puppy dog eyes and urged him to hang up, as he was in his World War I flying ace costume and figured Patty was a spy. No matter how hard things are for the round headed kid, Snoopy is always there to bail him out.
Further despite how Snoopy can’t remember Charlie’s name, Snoopy needs Charlie to do more than just feed him. Charlie is his “forever home” and the beagle doesn’t take too lightly to letting just any one take care of him. Appropriately in a strip from June 11, 1969 when Charlie and Sally go on a family vacation Snoopy cries when he has to be left with Lucy. Then in issue of the Peanuts comic book that adapted the story “Get Well, Charlie Brown”, Snoopy missed Charlie Brown so much that he disguised himself as a doctor so he could sneak in and snuggle up next to his master.
Even Snoopy acknowledges how good he has it with Charlie. In a strip from November 10, 1989, that sees Charlie Brown tell Snoopy, Charlie tells him.
“I really thought I could devote my whole life to making you happy. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
The beagle just thinks to himself,
“Oh, no problem. I was already happy.”
And well he should be, and not only because of Charlie Brown. Like any “good dog” despite the trouble they may seem, their undying loyalty and friendship, will win out over even the hardest heart towards them. Deep down all the kids in their little town love the dog, even Lucy. As Lucy herself admits in one strip from February 7, 1968,
“You know, there are times you really bug me! But I also admit there are also times when I feel like giving you a hug…”
Then Lucy bends down to give Snoopy a hug, making the beagle smile and say that he is bugable and hugable. He’s a part of their lives the kids can’t imagine being without. This is best scene in Snoopy, Come Home when he has gone off to see his sick former owner Lila. In one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments each of the kids thinks how they probably did something to upset Snoopy to make him run off. Charlie has the hardest time with it, but they all miss the dog and know that he brings something more to their lives, much like what Snoopy and the rest of the gang have brought to legions of fans.
The anxiety ridden every man, the blanket arraying sage, the love struck baby sister, the crabby know-it all, the musical prodigy, “the only sane man”, the tomboy, the bookworm, and goofy beagle all form a rich and wonderful panoply of characters that have become part of our American lexicon. They could talk about religion without being preachy, political issues without being condescending, anxiety and depression without being to clinical, and it was because those were all just one small part of their complex lives.
They celebrated the joys and triumphs of childhood, all while reminding us that it was also the most difficult time of life, and that while kids may be sweet and good natured, they can also be first class jerks, like any other person. They reminded us that in life you can’t always win and that in those moments what matters most is being able to get back up and try again. They show us that it’s more important to just have a few really good friends then be extremely popular. More importantly, they have been able to appeal to at least four or five generations of readers and viewers.
It was for this reason that when they worked with the producers on The Peanuts Movie, the Charles M. Schulz estate fought for a “G” rating, threatening to walk if there was even one fart joke in the script. Now a days it is rare for a family movie, even those from Disney, to get that rating. Yet, while that “G” can be seen as a death kneel for a film, for the Schulz family knew that “G” meant that they were true to the spirit of these beloved characters and their adventures. They knew, that the crowing Legacy of the strip, according to Schulz, was,
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that we have established a climate of- I don’t know what would be the word- of good, clean humor and things which are decent. We’ve proved that things which are clean and decent can survive. Happiness Is a Warm Puppy sold more copies than any other book in 1963; You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was one of the biggest hits on Broadway…our television shows are watched by more people that most other television shows. Yet all of these things are good and clean and decent. Why? …People are still clamoring for something like this.”
And well it should be. A kid as young as three should be able to get just as much enjoyment out of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang as someone who is 93. And in these increasingly difficult times with our pervasive 24 hour news cycle that gives us up to the second bad news, we all could use a warm puppy to cheer us up with a big hug. Sure enough, whether it’s in the comic pages, or when the first wisp of fall roles around and we see the first advertisements for the Charlie Brown holiday specials, we know that beagle and his friends are right around the corner to bring that to us. Thus, we can all say with Charles M. Schulz as he said in the final Peanuts strip, that saw Snoopy conclude the series on his old type writer,
“Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy…how can I ever forget them?”
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