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Waiting for the Great Pumpkin
Maybe this will be Linus's year. And maybe Lucy will let Charlie Brown kick the football.
Peanuts easily ranks among the greatest newspaper comic strips of all time. Perhaps Calvin and Hobbes surpassed it, but that would be about it.
Charles M. Schulz wrote and drew Peanuts for 50 years, from 1950 until 2000. He didn’t settle for cheap gags or pat life lessons. Rather, Schulz seemed to understand that children’s entertainment requires just as much effort as any other type. So, he imbued each child character (and each animal character) with an inner life. These kids had desires and worries, giving the reader plenty to relate to. The fact that Schulz conveyed this in such limited space is all the more remarkable.
“Well! Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown,” Shermy tells Patty as Charlie Brown approaches. “Good ol’ Charlie Brown … yes, sir!” he continues as the subject passes by. “Good ol’ Charlie Brown …” Then, once Charlie Brown is out of earshot, “How I hate him!”
So that’s a warm and cuddly opener.
Whichever way Charlie Brown wants things to go, they tend to dash off in the opposite direction. The most famous example, of course, is Lucy always moving the football right before he can kick it. He keeps finding some reason to believe that maybe this time she’ll be nice; maybe this time, unlike all those previous times, she won’t yank the football away at the last second. Charlie Brown keeps hoping, and Lucy keeps dashing that hope.
In the 1966 Halloween special, a different character’s hopes and disappointments take center stage. Sure, we see the obligatory football tease, but It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown focuses on Linus and his eternal optimism that the mythical Great Pumpkin will finally appear this year.
The special clocks in at under a half hour, and it’s essentially a collection of animated comic strips loosely structured around a Halloween theme. Snoopy never needs an excuse to dress up as a World War I flying ace, but he will happily accept Halloween as one.
Written by Schulz himself, Great Pumpkin is all very much in the Peanuts spirit—and better yet, it’s Peanuts in its prime, shortly before everything solidified.
At the start, Linus and Lucy set out for the pumpkin patch. Linus relishes the fall atmosphere and enjoys kicking the leaves. His smile grows as they reach the pumpkins, and he begins selecting options for Lucy’s approval, like he’s picking out a pet that will add brightness and cheer to their household. Lucy approves the biggest, heaviest pumpkin, which Linus struggles to carry while she lifts not a single finger to help.
Once they get home, Lucy whips out a big knife, stabs the pumpkin, and rips out its innards, prompting Linus’s anguished reaction: “You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!”
From smiling to crying, from hope to defeat, all in under two minutes—the Peanuts way!
The special strings together various vignettes, such as Charlie Brown somehow managing to receive a rock from every house he trick-or-treats at, but the main story is Linus spending the evening in the pumpkin patch, certain that he’ll see the Great Pumpkin this year. Other kids pick on him about it, but their taunts do not deter him from his pumpkin-based faith.
“There are three things that I’ve learned never to discuss with people,” Linus says, “religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”
Sally, always eager to spend time with Linus, winds up subscribing to the Great Pumpkin hype, never mind that all the hype is coming from a single source. Sally wants Linus, and Linus wants the Great Pumpkin, so their interests align.
Until reality catches up.
For one of them, anyway.
Once she realizes that no Great Pumpkin is coming, Sally lashes out at Linus for robbing her of the trick-or-treating experience. Halloween comes once a year, and she “missed it by sitting in a pumpkin patch with a blockhead.”
Demanding restitution, Sally storms off, but Linus stays in the pumpkin patch, clinging to his belief in the Great Pumpkin as tightly as he clings to his security blanket. The entire night passes without a single Great Pumpkin sighting, and yet Linus’s belief endures—surely next year he’ll see it!
It’s the same concept as the football. Linus bounces back much more quickly than Charlie Brown, but in both cases, they maintain the hope that someday things will work out for them. Sally, too, will no doubt forgo her claims of restitution and resume pining away for Linus. In the face of life’s disappointments, they all find something to look forward to, something to keep them going.
In this clever cartoon, Schulz proves that Halloween specials don’t need to frighten. And, more importantly, he demonstrates that you don’t need to talk down to children to entertain them.
The special is currently streaming on Apple TV+.
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