A kite-eating tree, a gift-giving pumpkin, an all-purpose blanket and a gang of very imaginative kids entertained the readers of Peanuts for 50 years.
The famous comic strip, created and illustrated by the late Charles Schulz, was set in a fictional world where the children, pets and inanimate objects did the talking while the adults were unseen and unheard.
Peanuts is known for its fantastic yet child-like storylines, ranging in setting from pumpkin patches to foxholes. Several recurring characters were absent from view. Inanimate objects, including trees and schools, had thoughts and emotions. Even the pet dog walked on two feet and pretended to fly a fighter plane atop his doghouse.
Peanuts was laden with charming violations of nature and order, and I think Schulz recognized a little bit of that could add whimsy and humor to a straight-forward strip of kids, said Derrick Bang, a historian of the popular comic strip.
The comic strip was grounded enough in a recognizable reality that readers embraced the side steps to fantasy, Bang said.
Schulz was known for converting complicated issues into simple, clever funnies with a creative twist that sparked imagination. Friends remember him for his creativity and humor.
Hed break everybody up, all the time, said longtime friend Chuck Bartley of Santa Rosa, Calif. He always had comments that were laughable and clever.
Funny-Looking Kid with a Big Nose
The premise of Peanuts was imaginative in itself, said Bang, co-author of www.fivecentsplease.org, a resource for Peanuts fans.
It was a kid-size universe with no adults. These little kids have these adult conversations, he said.
The gang enjoyed doing what kids like best imagining. One comic strip from 1964 has Lucy, Linus and Charlie Brown lying on their backs, watching the clouds overhead.
Lucy said, If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations. What do you think you see, Linus?
Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of British Honduras in the Caribbean, he replied. That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor.
Linus continued, That group of clouds over there gives me the impression of a story from the Bible. I can even see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.
Lucy said, Uh, huh, thats very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?
He replied, Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind.
Terry Plumb, a longtime columnist and former editor of The Herald, said, I do think Peanuts carried a subtle, but important message about childhood and how kids mirrored adults in many ways. Charles Schulz clearly respected children and tried to convey a sense of the importance of treating everyone with respect and helping them preserve their dignity.
For Bang, a favorite gag was Peppermint Patty not realizing for years that Snoopy, Charlie Browns pet beagle, was a dog. She referred to him as a funny-looking kid with a big nose.
Even as a child, I thought that was hilarious, Bang said. It was so absurd. I could never mistake a dog for a child, and that made it funny.
When Marcie finally told her freckled-faced friend that Snoopy was a dog, Peppermint Patty stayed in shocked. She finally accepted the truth and told Charlie Brown in a phone call, Lets just say my pride had the flu, okay, Chuck?
The Great Pumpkin
The Great Pumpkin was a never-seen character first mentioned in 1959 that seemed only to exist in the imagination of Linus.
Each year, after writing him a letter, the little boy sat in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night to wait for the Great Pumpkin to appear. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin was supposed to rise out of the pumpkin patch he deemed most sincere and bring toys to good little children.
According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin was sensitive and easily offended, bypassing those who denied his existence. In letters, the writer was instructed to not ask for specific gifts, but wait and accept what the Great Pumpkin brings.
Linus was adamant the Great Pumpkin existed.
Year after year the Great Pumpkin failed to appear. On Nov. 3, 1959, he was so disappointed, he said, I was a victim of false doctrine. But ever-faithful Linus would vow to wait for the Great Pumpkin again the next Halloween.
The rest of the Peanuts gang went through periods of belief and disbelief. Some even joined Linus in the pumpkin field. Linus always kept his faith and went door-to-door to tell others about the Great Pumpkin.
Schulz said the boy got one holiday ahead of himself.
It was a point of pride, said Bang. You never admit your mistakes. You stubbornly carry through. You are right, the rest of the world is wrong.
In a strip dated Oct. 25, 1960, Lucy tries to convince Linus that he is confusing the Great Pumpkin with Santa Claus. Linus believed he could tell them apart because Santa was simply doing his job, giving toys as it was expected of him, while the Great Pumpkin gives toys to fulfill a moral obligation.
In the Oct. 25, 1961, strip, Lucy calls her brother crazy and stark raving stupid for his allegiance to the fictional character. Linus said his famous line, There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin!
The storyline inspired the popular 1966 television special Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
It was inevitable that if Charlie Brown attempted to fly a kite, the tree would eat it. The Kite-Eating Tree was his nemesis. It first appeared in Peanuts on April 12, 1956.
Schulz was inspired by his own childhood, living among the generation of Americans who made their own kites out of newspaper and sticks, Bang said. The cartoonist grew up in St. Paul, Minn.
Its not hard to extend what was probably a real-life situation to a running gag where we gradually realize that Charlie Brown will always have his kite eaten by a tree, he said. And it seemed to be the same tree.
Charlie Brown claimed it was impossible to tell a kite-eating tree from a non-kite-eating tree until the kite was caught in its branches and munched. The tree would come to life with a huge grin, possibly a figment of Charlie Browns imagination.
The kite-eating tree could even distinguish flavors. Charlie Brown chose a lemon kite in a 1982 strip, since the kite-eating tree took the strawberry kite the previous year.
Schulz created a five-week long storyline in 1977 where Charlie Brown feared action by the Environmental Protection Agency after biting the tree that his kite got wrapped around. The strip is part of the Peanuts Naturally exhibit that is currently on display at the Museum of York County.
If you bite my kite, Ill bite you, Charlie Brown said before taking a huge chunk out of the tree.
A few days later, he received a letter from the EPA.
A few days after that, he confided in Snoopy that he needed an attorney. Snoopy took the job and practiced, My client was confused, your honor. He thought he was a beaver!
Charlie Brown ran away to avoid being sent to jail. He became the coach of a baseball team. Linus eventually convinced him to come home because the tree had fallen over in a rainstorm.
But the kite-eating tree, or another of its species, returned in later comics to continue its torment of Charlie Brown.
If it happened to you in your lifetime, it was more meaningful, said Bartley, who remembers as a kid, his kites getting caught in trees.
Other inanimate objects in Peanuts also came to life. Sallys school expressed its feelings about students, and Charlie Browns pitching mound hoped he would learn how to pitch.
Schroder & Beethoven
In the imaginary world of Peanuts, Schroder played classical music at virtuoso level on a toy piano where the black keys were painted on.
It is a wonderfully rich fantasy concept that never could have happened in real life, said Bang.
Schroder, the blond-headed boy who worshipped composer Ludwig van Beethoven, spent most of his time hunched over the instrument. His friends were often seen leaning on the piano.
Lucy, who was infatuated with Schroder, was jealous of the piano and set out to destroy the object of his time and affection.
In a series of strips beginning January 1969, Lucy threw the piano into a tree. It was later discovered that it was the dreaded Kite-Eating Tree, which ate it.
Schroder ordered a replacement. When Charlie Brown asked if the piano was covered by insurance, Schroder replied, How do you explain to the insurance company that your piano was eaten by a tree?
Linus Security Blanket
Linus, always seen carrying a blue blanket and sucking his thumb, popularized the term for a comfort object as security blanket.
The blanket, first seen in a June 1, 1954, strip, had the ability to be reshaped into nearly anything from a hammock to a slingshot.
They were visual things that would provoke a giggle, said Bang.
In March 1965, the blanket came to life to wage war on Lucy, who threatened to throw it in the trash burner.
And nothing was more comical than the storylines when Linus unseen blanket-hating grandmother came to town and the boy was forced to hide his prized possession.
In the Jan. 14, 1963, comic strip, he said, She no sooner got in the house when she took my blanket away! She gave me a dollar to make up for it, but Im gonna look awfully silly sucking my thumb and holding a dollar. And I dont feel very secure, either!
Other storylines involved Lucy trying to get rid of the blanket and Snoopy trying to take it for himself. But Linus, much like any addict, recognized his dependency and would ask his friends for help.
Beginning April 11, 1983, Linus stopped carrying his blanket. He was proud of himself and went door to door to tell everyone he was cured. He opened a clinic to help other children with security blanket dependency.
It looked like he kicked his habit until he became upset and nervous, and he needed his blanket again.