Waiting For The Great Pumpkin
By Charles M. Schulz
It’s probably a toss-up as to what is ultimately the best-known contribution of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts into our pop culture, the animated Christmas special or the animated Halloween special. Which is appropriate, given that the second of those is based around Linus’ peculiar belief in The Great Pumpkin. That Santa Claus-like figure, as Linus would be only too happy to tell anyone willing to listen, rises out of the pumpkin patch on Halloween night and brings toys to all the good little children in the world.
The particular beats of that Halloween special, 1966’s It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, were all culled from Schulz’s original strips, of course, and in their latest Peanuts gift book, Fantagraphics has collected a batch of the 1959-1962 strips that first gave rise to the Great Pumpkin.
Read (or re-read) in 2014, Schulz’s Great Pumpkin strips offer a lot of interesting angles to an adult reader.
Certainly there’s the hard-to-miss, powerful reading of The Great Pumpkin as a stand-in for any applicable form of religion or belief, which elicits punchlines ranging from pointed gags to profound statements (“I was victim of a false doctrine” or “I’m always disturbed by denominational squabbling” or “The way I see it, it doesn’t matter what you believe just so you’re sincere!”).
By creating his own, humorous belief—one that, on its face, is so silly that no one could possibly believe it—Schulz was able to, first and foremost, tell funny jokes about the kid who does believe it and also comment or even just meditate on faith and belief in general, without offering any offense to anyone.
It also seems noteworthy that Schulz presaged the ever-increasing commercialization of holidays in some of his Great Pumpkin gags. These days, Halloween has turned into something of a fall mini-Christmas, with stores full of greeting cards and house decorations as well as the traditional costumes and candy. (Similarly, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day have become mini-Christmases, at least in terms of marketing and merchandising.)
While the Great Pumpkin might not have caught on, Linus’s insistence on treating Halloween like his own personal Christmas—writing letters to the Great Pumpkin, asking his sister if she wants to get the gang together to sing pumpkin carols—sure seems to have caught on.
Children encountering these comics for the first time might not stop to consider the tragicomic aspects of Linus’ belief in something that seems unlikely, something that he’s ridiculed over on all sides, that even he himself occasionally doubts (note the title of this collection’s echo of a certain Samuel Beckett play), but there’s still the comedic-comic aspects of a little kid so out-of-step with all of his peers. Waiting For The Great Pumpkin, like its antecedents Batter Up, Charlie Brown! and Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking, is perfectly sized for a child’s hands, most of its 60 pages containing a single strip quartered and set upon the perfectly square pages in perfectly square gags, divided into three sections.
Additionally, the dust jacket, covers, and chapter breaks include portions of Great Pumpkin jokes taken from other periods of Peanuts history, like a blow-up of a portion of a Sunday strip in which Peppermint Patty tells Linus what happens on Secretaries Day, when “The Great Secretary rises from her desk and rides through the city in a taxi cab with note pads for all the secretaries everywhere!”
She’s just taking the opportunity to make fun of Linus, of course. There’s obviously no such thing as The Great Secretary. The Great Administrative Assistant, on the other hand…