Belief is a peculiar thing. Just the very act of having faith is an incredible achievement. Sure, science can come along like an all-knowing bully with a big smug tape ball on its glasses and human logic can easily dictate like Mussolini, but sheer raw belief can overtake both of those, disregardless of their respective positions. For instance, the more grammar-sensitive among you are saying right now, “Ahem, ‘disregardless’ is not an actual word, you buffoon.” Au contraire! I have supreme faith that it is an actual word and your subsequent arguments are worthless. Ah hah!
Upon reflection, this is quite a heady beginning for this admittedly rather trivial blog! I could go anywhere with it and I can especially sense your anticipation and/or apathy towards what barely salient point of view I will have going forward. Should I go down a path where I take some figurative piss out of the world’s other religions? Perchance I could invite a fatwa of sorts on my positions and I’d have to go into hiding. Picking a nondescript name such as Turkeyloaf Reginald, the Duke of Upper Western Flatulence, I could continue to correspond from a bunker in Tahiti or at the very least, in Rhinelander, WI.
Allow me to alleviate your qualms and assure you that I won’t be poking a stick into the eye of any of the world’s major religions today. Well, save for one… (And no, I’m not talking about those folks that followed the inscription on some gold plates that were discovered in New York back in the early 19th century. I could go into more detail, but I would need my special decoder glasses to explain further.) No, dear readers, today I will go into as much detail as I feel like making up and explain that most baffling religion, that faith of one: belief in the Great Pumpkin.
Of course it is a purely contrived coincidence that I’m also writing about It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. But thankfully it is the most in-depth record of the Great Pumpkin faith we have so I would be foolish to ignore the wealth of information that it provides. Also one of the main attributes of the animated special is that it has a knack to make me very hungry for Zingers snack cakes for an unknown reason. Fortunately, this is an affliction that only the faithful suffer from, so I feel blessed. (Do they still air the Peanuts Zingers commercials? I don’t watch TV anymore really so I don’t know. All I know is that Zingers are/were/will always be miles ahead of Twinkies in this man’s soul. No, they are. They are.)
This simple story involving the Peanuts gang had a simple origin as well. Frankly, their Christmas special did well with the advertisers, so why not follow-up with a cash in? After all, this was a good six years before CBS could air M*A*S*H ad infinitum, so they needed to broadcast something. By an incredible stroke of good fortune, a team of television paleontologists have discovered the origins of this animated special! The following information was achieved from a combination of extensive carbon dating and a team member accidentally tripping over a box of scripts in a warehouse.
The original plot of the special derived from a hitherto unknown and obviously unused script for The Andy Griffith Show. Gullible deputy Barney Fife is trying to convince Andy that there is a magic gourd that comes out at night and would give everyone in Mayberry gifts if they just believed in it. So Andy, being the good sort that always humored his deputy, sits up all night with Barney in a farm field, until a gourd actually seems to rise. In a panic, Barney takes out his bullet, puts it in his gun, and shoots at the dark form rising in the field. Andy discovers that it turns out to not be a magic gourd at all, but rather it was Aunt Bee!
You see, Frances Bavier and Andy Griffith did not really get along that well behind the scenes. So having Don Knotts gun her down in cold blood, while rather shocking for the overall established tone of the show, was a handy way to write her out with dignity. This of course was all mooted when Don Knotts left Andy Griffith to star in a series of movies that eventually would make Jerry Lewis cringe. (Knotts and a toupee both eventually shared the aptly-named role of Mr. Furley in that hard-bitten cynical drama, Three’s Company.)
CBS, not wanting to waste a prime opportunity with a script that they already owned, foisted it upon the Peanuts crew and hoped for the best. After editing the part where Linus would have shot Snoopy, the writers opted to have Linus faint instead. But otherwise the script was mostly shot intact, with Goober, Otis, and Helen Crump being changed to Charlie Brown, Pigpen, and Lucy respectively. As there was no real parallel for Floyd the Barber, his character was just written out and Snoopy was given even more moments to shine in order to pad the runtime.
But getting back to before the television paleontologists irresponsibly burned through the grant money that was recklessly given to them in the first place, tremendous faith is shown in Great Pumpkin. Who better to showcase that belief than Linus Van Pelt? After all, he was the voice of faith in A Charlie Brown Christmas, bringing everyone back to the main point of that season in a succinct and poignant moment near the end. Who better than him to declare his unwavering conviction in the Great Pumpkin?
Digging back even further into the origins of the Great Pumpkin, recent research, hastily dating back to about ten minutes ago, has uncovered in ramshackle fashion that the basis for this faith does extend back to the Netherlands of the mid-1300s or so, give or take a century or two. Back then, the Netherlanders were only mainly concerned with not starting the Dutch East India Company. Even the tulip was only in the very earliest planning stages, with only several sketches of concept art that have hopefully survived to the present day due to their never being discovered in recorded history. It was here that the legend of the Great Pumpkin fictionally emerged.
A local farmer named Hjørn Väïndënschnöük, after a hard day’s work in his similarly umlauted pumpkin fields, came upon one of his crop that not only appeared to be bearing a smile but also had various trinkets surrounding it. Thinking this to be the work of a sentient being, this humble farmer, whose name I am not even going to attempt to pronounce, decided that he would stay up all night and see if the pumpkin would produce gifts in the morning. In between moments of falling asleep and passing out due to a combination of weariness, drunkenness, and fatigue from even more drunkenness, the farmer finally discovered nothing at all. Rather than just sensibly giving up, he decided to inform all of his neighbors of the occurrence. The citizens of the town reacted with quiet moderate reflection as they burned him alive as a witch.
The legend grew throughout the country as generations of Hollanders passed along this tale to their children and their children’s children. Soon the story came over to the New World and while relaying the events to the local indigenous tribes, the settlers were respectfully slaughtered and then ignored. But a colonizer, one Silas Van Pelterin, managed to survive. He then cruelly made his descendants pass along the legend of the Great Pumpkin. This Dutch tale eventually became the overriding faith of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandnephew: Linus Van Pelt.
And so it all comes full circle! We are back to where we almost started, which is actually quite a feat considering the amount of total dithering that exists in the above paragraphs. But on the subject of faith, it is quite prevalent throughout the special. Linus of course has faith in the Great Pumpkin. Sally has faith that Linus is right about the Great Pumpkin. Snoopy has faith that he can pull off being a World War I pilot behind enemy lines. Charlie Brown has faith that he will kick that football and that he will get candy for Halloween. However, only Snoopy’s faith is rewarded, while the others get burned. Linus doesn’t see the Great Pumpkin, Sally thinks Linus is a blockhead, and Charlie Brown sails through the air after his kick attempt and gets nothing but rocks from the cruel townspeople of the Peanuts universe.
By the way, why rocks? Why such overwhelming and unnecessary malice directed at Charlie Brown? Is this a subtle way of saying that Charlie Brown is actually being stoned for his faith as a martyr? Is this the deeper subtext that I have stumbled on? But that doesn’t make sense because why would the town just treat Charlie Brown with such vitriol? After all, the obvious religious nut of the town was at that point in a pumpkin patch, freezing his tuchas off with Sally Brown, awaiting a large present-bearing pumpkin. Shouldn’t the townspeople have shown that same contempt to Linus instead? But Linus gets viewed as a harmless kid and Chuck gets treated like a leper. Well, a leper that should have thrown those rocks right back at the houses that gave them in the first place.
Perhaps I am diving too far into Great Pumpkin. Perhaps my children have watched it so much at this time of year that my mind overthinks this ½ hour cartoon. Perhaps I cannot wait for the Peanuts Thanksgiving special because the only faith portrayed involves Peppermint Patty’s belief that she can be a massive imposition on Charlie Brown. Perhaps all of these perhapses could be avoided with just one simple thing. Faith. The shining misguided faith of one Linus Van Pelt.
Let’s all try to be more like him in our daily lives. Let’s always try to have the music of Vince Guaraldi in the background. Let’s never draw pumpkin faces on the back of the bald kid’s head no matter how much pre-visualization help it could provide prior to carving. And above all else, as there are a great many beliefs that are actually dangerous to others, remember that the Great Pumpkin isn’t one of them. So let the Great Pumpkin believers have their brief shining moment of faith this time of year.
And let Charlie Brown try to kick Lucy instead of the football next time. If he gets to at least do that, then I know at least my faith will be rewarded.