Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pumpkinification I: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

It has been said that it is not A Halloween special, it is THE Halloween special. Charles Schulz first came up with the concept of the Great Pumpkin in 1959. It was a simple idea: Linus in his eagerness confuses the holidays and ends up with the idea of a holiday gift-giver who comes on Halloween. Schulz is reported to have said (by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson) something along the lines of "...the Great Pumpkin is really a kind of satire on Santa Claus, because Linus of course writes for gifts and expects to get them. And when the Great Pumpkin doesn't come, Linus is crushed. And it shows that you can't always get what you hoped for but you can still survive...and you can keep trying. Linus never gives up, just like Charlie Brown."[1] The special premiered in 1966, and has run every year since, entering the popular imagination of generations.
It has inspired parodies and tributes from Robot Chicken
And The Simpsons
To artists at DeviantArt.
An odd thing about these representations is the general consensus many people have about what the Great Pumpkin looks like, even though Schulz is commonly supposed to never have drawn any pictures of him. This might be true: but in October of 1977 a strip appeared with this image in the header, (here generously colored by my brother John):
Could this be the Great Pumpkin? The strip it appears with particularly mentions him flying through the air.

As a kid who grew up in a religion that strictly prohibited tricks-or-treats, it was a glimpse into forbidden fun for us. But Linus's situation as someone who believed in a system alternate to the mainstream paradoxically had special meaning to me at the same time. And it's applicability appears widespread: "Linus's seemingly unshakable belief in the Great Pumpkin, and his desire to foster the same belief in others, has been interpreted as a parody of Christian evangelism by some observers. Others have seen Linus's belief in the Great Pumpkin as symbolic of the struggles faced by anyone with beliefs or practices that are not shared by the majority. Still others view Linus's lonely vigils, in the service of a being that may or may not exist and which never makes its presence known in any case, as a metaphor for mankind's basic existential dilemmas. Charles Schulz himself, however, claimed no motivation beyond the humor of having one of his young characters confuse Halloween with Christmas."[2]

Little bits of animation (since edited out) announced the sponsors:
and I remember hearing about Dolly Madison cakes with every Peanuts special I watched up into the Seventies.

And I'd like to end by adding for the record that, for all her crabby reputation, Lucy shows herself to be a truly caring sister. Her objections to Linus's belief in the Great Pumpkin are partly worry for the social grief it could bring Linus himself. Throughout her own trick or treating she constantly asks for candy for Linus, so he will not be left totally out. In the end, she wakes up at four o'clock in the morning to herd her little brother out of a freezing pumpkin patch and into his warm bed. Pretty tender for a girl with such a hard outer shell.

[1] "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown": The Making of a Television Classic, by Lee Mendelson.
[2] Wikipedia.


Babel said...

I couldn't conceive of a Halloween season without "Great Pumpkin". The "I got a rock" jokes are always particularly cutting when you imagine the heartless homeowners who keep a supply of rocks next to their candy to dole out to unimpressive trick or treaters like Charlie Brown. On that note, I remember in my one and only trick or treating adventure as a boy of about 5- we got sweet potatoes from the little old German lady on the block, she had forgotten it was Halloween, and that was the closest thing to something sweet she had on hand. She also very nicely repaired the broken rubber band of my Black Cat mask. Oh, memories!

Hobgoblin238 said...

I wonder if we were in the same religion....Jehovah's Witnesses.

Brer said...

Yes, we were JW for most of my childhood.