Franzen on Charlie Brown

Jonathan Franzen’s latest essay “Growing with Charlie Brown” ruminates on Schultz’s beloved “Peanuts” strip.

[excerpt:]

A well-meaning relative once also gave me a copy of Robert Short’s national best-seller, “The Gospel According to Peanuts,” but it couldn’t have interested me less. “Peanuts” wasn’t a portal to the Gospel. It was my gospel.

Chapter 1, verses 1-4, of what I knew about disillusionment: Charlie Brown passes the house of the Little Red-Haired Girl, the object of his eternal fruitless longing. He sits down with Snoopy and says, “I wish I had two ponies.” He imagines offering one of the ponies to the Little Red-Haired Girl, riding out into the countryside with her, and sitting down with her beneath a tree. Suddenly, he’s scowling at Snoopy and asking, “Why aren’t you two ponies?” Snoopy, rolling his eyes, thinks, “I knew we’d get around to that.”

Or Chapter 1, verses 26-32, of what I knew about the mysteries of etiquette: Linus is showing off his new wristwatch to everyone in the neighborhood. “New watch!” he says proudly to Snoopy, who, after a hesitation, licks it. Linus’s hair stands on end. “you licked my watch!” he cries. “It’ll rust! It’ll turn green! He’s ruined it!” Snoopy is left looking mildly puzzled and thinking, “I thought it would have been impolite not to taste it.”

Or Chapter 2, verses 6-12, of what I knew about fiction: Linus is annoying Lucy, wheedling and pleading with her to read him a story. To shut him up, she grabs a book, randomly opens it, and says, “A man was born, he lived and he died. The End!” She tosses the book aside, and Linus picks it up reverently. “What a fascinating account,” he says. “It almost makes you wish you had known the fellow.”

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