If the Charlie Brown Christmas special is about how the true meaning of Christmas lies in honoring the religious significance of the holiday, what can be said about “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” an animation special that both mocks and undercuts the spiritual fervor of Linus, the exact same protagonist portrayed as the moral touchstone in the aforementioned Christmas special?
Linus’ obsession with The Great Pumpkin is played as a humorous case of mistaken identity in this special. The concept for the show was: “Hey! What if some kid effectively mixed up his holidays and attributed Santa behavior to a Halloween figure analogue?”
It’s supposed to be cute, but watching Linus struggle year after year can become pretty frustrating for the hardcore Peanuts fan. No matter how many times we watch, there’s never any payoff for Linus. There’s never any real growth or resolution at the end of the show. Instead, we are only promised that next year it will happen all over again. Weirdly enough, Linus’s naive resolution to “try again next year” becomes true in a meta-narrative sense if, like me, you masochistically watch the special every Halloween season only to witness one of your favorite character being beaten down time and time again.
I think the big question here is:
Why has this special stood the test of time when the story is so depressing?
Linus writes a fan letter to Kim Kardashian…
Why do I say the special is depressing?
Uh, have you actually ever watched the show? Like, all the way through?
The emotional injuries Linus sustains throughout the special are as numerous as they are severe. He was dismissed by his friends, rejected by his only disciple (Sally), sustained physical trauma during his veneration via exposure, and most importantly of all, was never once rewarded for his faith.
Like Job from the Old Testament (or maybe even Wile E. Coyote), despite his suffering, Linus ultimately remains steadfast in his convictions. To his credit, the only difference between the two figures is that Linus never received reparations to make up for all the trials and tribulations he experienced as a result of his faith. Biblical Job made out like a bandit by comparison.
But maybe Linus doesn’t need reparations. Despite the lack of spiritual dividends, Linus still shrugs off the naysayers and resolves to try his hand at meeting the Great Pumpkin next year.
So…what sort of message is this special trying to send us exactly?
The Great Pumpkin is a supernatural character who rewards the faithful/moral with an abundance blessings. How is that not a possible analogue for God or some other divine figure?
But lets look at the end result of this set up! Linus attempts to find a “sincere” pumpkin patch during the show, arguing that this quality will please The Great Pumpkin. Linus’ beliefs are then persecuted and ridiculed. In the end, at the height of his mania, Linus’ “Great Pumpkin” ends up being a dog in a WW1 aviator costume.
The curtain is pulled back, and the audience (like Sally) is left with a profound sense of emptiness, hopelessness, and futility.
A cynic might look at this show and see it as a microcosm of our own society’s doe-eyed beliefs. Why bother believing in anything at all if this is all that happens to the faithful? The special seems to ask us this question:
Is it useless to believe in God or goodness or sincerity when we cannot always see evidence of their existence?
Sincerityis the most questionable element of all, because, as Linus indicates in the special, it is the sincerity of a pumpkin patch that matters most to the Great Pumpkin. How could Linus, the most earnest and devout Peanuts character ever, be lacking in this virtue? If Linus doesn’t deserve to be rewarded for his faith and his honesty, who are we to say we deserve better? How can we believe that God, fairness, karma, or the Great Pumpkin exists when this injustice is allowed to persist?
Still, perhaps this show is actually demonstrating what real faith is all about: Rising above our limitations and clinging to the courage of our convictions despite overwhelming opposition and evidence to the contrary.
That’s sort of inspiring, but hardly the definition of benign family entertainment.
I’ll be the first to admit it, out of all the Schulz holiday specials, this show is sometimes the hardest for me to sit through. The Linus storyline is engaging enough, but also slightly sad and emotionally draining more than it is entertaining. Charlie Brown’s perpetual loser-dom is shoved down our throats when he famously receives nothing but rocks when he goes trick-or-treating (a gag which seems more absurd than laughable as I get older). The worst offense, I feel, is the strange “Snoopy as WWI Flying Ace" extended flight sequence that seems to eat up an inordinate amount of time during the show without providing much plot contribution until the anticlimactic climax. People I know frequently refer to this as the "piss break" moment in the show, and I really can’t argue with them.
Easily, my two favorite moments are Sally’s angry tirade (wherein she rebukes Linus) and that moment at the end of the show when Linus’ sister, Lucy (the biggest metaphorical “pharisee” of them all), goes outside to help her brother out of the pumpkin patch and into his warm bed.
This seemingly small gesture suggests that for all her vehement protesting, Lucy still expects Linus to go through with his plans to sit in the pumpkin patch, and year after year, despite the fact that he defies her time and time again, she still takes care of him. Like clockwork. Literally. She even sets an alarm to remind herself to wake up and check on him!
Just as Linus is ever faithful to the myth of the Great Pumpkin, so is Lucy ever faithful to her duties as Linus’ big sister. Supporting family or loved ones in their craziest efforts can be difficult but we still do it because we love them so entirely.
Maybe that’s why this lesson is intertwined with Halloween. It’s a little scary how much we can love people. How we can love them despite whatever sort of obstacles logic or reason might impose. How we can love them no matter how painful or futile it may seem at times to do so. It’s downright frightening when you think about it long enough…And isn’t that a part of faith too? Fear?
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is strange, awkward, funny, discouraging, hopeful, subtextual, subversive, and slightly avant-garde…
That’s a lot for a kid’s show.
But, that’s exactly whyit’s at the top of my Halloween Special list.
Links to My Other Posts about Halloween Themed Television Specials: