This week, I watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” as I have every Halloween since I was a child. Many people have often found solace and deep meaning in the Peanuts cartoons, and especially in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The Halloween special is no different. In this case, the deepest meaning comes with a loving gesture by Lucy for Linus that has always touched me.
The Peanuts cartoons have been part of the fabric of my life since I was a boy. I watched all of the animated specials each year, and I religiously read the comic strip in the paper until Charles Schulz passed away. There is a simplicity to the strips, which present the views of the children involved – the adults appear only as incomprehensible squawking voices in the background. It reminds me of the prophecy that “a little child shall lead them.” Other than when Linus explains the coming of Christ in the Christmas special, there is no overt religious message in most of the cartoons. They are simply about ordinary children – the bossy sister, the naïve brother, the goofy kid picked on by others, the pretty girl, the tomboy, the brainy girl, the filthy boy, and the neighborhood dog. Yet these characters often present a genuineness and honesty that we don’t find in other cartoons.
Everyone seems to relate to one of the Peanuts children the most. Almost everyone likes Snoopy with his imaginative adventures, his hip attitude, and his “Joe Cool” persona. Some people like Linus because of his faith, his naivety, and his charm. Others relate to Charlie Brown, who is ridiculed and picked on yet remains the center of action in the neighborhood. Some prefer Peppermint Patty or Pigpen or Schroeder or Franklin. The one that most people seem to relate to the least is Lucy, Linus’ sister. Though some may like that she takes charge in almost every situation, her bossy demeanor, her know-it-all attitude, her blatant selfishness, her hostility toward other characters, and her frequent deception of others makes her difficult to like. She is, in a sense, the Pharisee of the Peanuts gang. Like the Pharisees, she prefers rules over faith, refuses to listen to others, and is often arrogant and self-righteous in her treatment of those beneath her. We see this in her ridiculing Linus about his beliefs, in running a psychiatric stand to make extra cash, and in always pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.
All of this in Lucy’s character makes the key moment in “It’s the Great Pumpkin” all the more surprising. You probably know the scene I mean. Her idiot brother, Linus, has stayed in the pumpkin patch all night again waiting for the arrival of the mythical Great Pumpkin. She has scoffed at him throughout the show. Despite this treatment, despite missing candy and parties, despite being rejected by his friends and abandoned by his love interest, Linus stayed all night in the pumpkin patch believing the Great Pumpkin would arrive. Lucy wakes up at four in the morning and checks on her brother. On finding his bed empty and still made, she puts on a coat and goes out to retrieve him, finds him sleeping shivering in the pumpkin patch, and takes him to his room, where she promptly takes off his shoes and tucks him into bed. Despite all the picking, despite her self-righteous attitude, despite her bossiness and hostility, she really cares about her brother deep down. This is the key moment of the show – like Linus’ Christmas speech – when we see God at work in this everyday, nonreligious cartoon. We find out that Lucy is a loving sister after all and that most of her gruff exterior is just show.
We may relate most to Snoopy, Linus, or Charlie Brown, but we should always keep in mind that there’s a little Lucy in all of us. It’s why, although she may not be a favorite, she remains a popular character that people relate to. We are all a little Pharisaical at times, a little self-righteous, a little selfish, and a little arrogant. Yet there comes a moment when we must drop the pretense and just reach out and take care of each other. This is what Lucy did for Linus. If we all could do the same, we would be better off.
© 2022 J.D. Manders