Charles Schulz didn’t want his comic strip to outlive him, so he ended it in 2000 before he himself died. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, PigPen, Linus, Lucy, Shermy, all went away — except in re-runs of the iconic comic strips.
Despite what you may remember, the comic series, which began in 1950, was pretty dark.
“Although key characters were missing or quite different from what they came to be, the Hobbesian ideas about society that made Peanuts Peanuts were already evident: People, especially children, are selfish and cruel to one another; social life is perpetual conflict; solitude is the only peaceful harbor; one’s deepest wishes will invariably be derailed and one’s comforts whisked away; and an unbridgeable gulf yawns between one’s fantasies about oneself and what others see. These bleak themes, which went against the tide of the go-go 1950s, floated freely on the pages of Peanuts at first, landing lightly on one kid or another until slowly each theme came to be embedded in a certain individual—particularly Lucy, Schroeder, Charlie Brown, Linus, and Snoopy.”
Over time Snoopy took over from Charlie Brown as the lead character.
“But it’s Snoopy who is grappling with the big questions, the existential ones. Indeed, by his thought balloons alone, you might mistake him for Charlie Brown. The strip dated January 15, 2000, shows Snoopy on his doghouse. “I’ve been very tense lately,” Snoopy thinks, rising up stiffly from his horizontal position. “I find myself worrying about everything … Take the Earth, for instance.” He lies back down, this time on his belly, clutching his doghouse: “Here we all are clinging helplessly to this globe that is hurtling through space …” Then he turns over onto his back: “What if the wings fall off?”
As a measure of the reach and influence of this 50 year epic comic strip, is there anyone out there now reading this blog who hasn’t seen at least one of the strips, who doesn’t have a favorite episode, a favorite character, a favorite image? Is there anyone who doesn’t know that Lucy yanked the football away just as Charlie Brown was ready to kick, and that she did it every single time for all 50 years that the comic strip ran?
The strip changed over time, as Charles Shulz grew older and more embittered. But I loved it, and I’m glad he didn’t will his cartoon strip to someone else who might have taken it in a sunnier direction. I miss Charlie Brown and the gang, and my favorite episode — for reasons I can’t really articulate — is Snoopy v. The Red Baron.