The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 9: Resurrection

i. Snupi
It has been suggested that much of Schulz’s depression was rooted in two young adulthood traumas that happened close to each other: The death of his mother and this being shipped off to war. Both events seemed to infuse Schulz with a deep sense of loneliness.

As Schulz’s mother lay dying he remembered her saying, “If we ever have another dog, I think we should name him Snoopy.” (1) As David Michaelis notes, snupi is a Norwegian term of endearment, a name that a mother would call her young child. (1)

As we all know, Charles Schulz did have another dog. When this dog entered his life he reached back in time to that place of death and honored the request of his mother. He named the dog Snoopy.

ii. Resurrection
Given that Snoopy is a character that for Schulz represents both life and death, it should perhaps come as no surprise that in the character of Snoopy the motifs of hope and transformative new life are to be found. We end this book with thoughts on Snoopy and resurrection.

iii. New Life, New Adam
In the Christian witness the resurrection is not simply an event. It is, rather, the inauguration of a new age. The first fruits of something that is breaking into this world.

This frame fits Snoopy well. Snoopy is the only dynamic character in Peanuts. None of the children change much over the course of the strip. Charlie Brown remains Charlie Brown, start to finish. This stasis represents a kind of death or deadness in Peanuts. Life, however, emerges in the character of Snoopy. Snoopy is the symbol of life “breaking into” the Peanuts world. Snoopy begins the strip as a simple dog and is wordless. Later we see human thought emerge in Snoopy's thought balloons, human words to express a dog's sentiments. But in 1965 we get this:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

Snoopy writes novels. And he eventually skates, plays sports, dances and falls in love. In short, Snoopy becomes more and more human. More human, even, than the children of the strip. In this, Snoopy also captures a critical feature of the resurrection: Christ as the New Adam, inaugurating the start of a New Humanity. A humanity breaking into a inhumane world.

iv. Peace
Resurrection is not just about new life. It is also about a kind of life, a quality of life. In the book of Isaiah it is described like this:

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

Fittingly for this image of resurrection life as "peaceable kingdom," Schulz uses Snoopy to reflect on peace. Snoopy, although very feisty, is a peaceable dog. Snoopy’s friendship with birds and bunnies, particularly Woodstock, is legendary. For example, in the mid-1960s strips Frieda, the vain and irritating girl with "naturally curly hair", consistently tries to get Snoopy to attack rabbits. But Snoopy refuses:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

Schulz explicitly makes the Isaiah linkage between peace and resurrection in the title of one of his strip collections: And the Beagles and the Bunnies Shall Lie Down Together. Further, Snoopy often brings peace through love. As Michaelis writes, “Snoopy is the one character in the strip allowed to kiss, and he kisses the way a child does: sincerely, and to disarm.” (2)

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

And this brings up another connection. Isaiah says that a “child shall lead them.” In the world of Peanuts the children are, in essence, adults. As Umberto Eco noted, “the poetry of these children is born of the fact that we find in them all the problems, all the sufferings of the adults, who remain off-stage.” But not so with Snoopy. Snoopy is the real child in Peanuts: “In this world without adults, [Snoopy] now behaved for all intents and purposes like the only and only child.” (2)

In Isaiah a child leads us toward the peaceable kingdom. In Peanuts, it’s Snoopy.

v. Power
Christians believe that with the resurrection a transformative power has entered the world. This resurrection motif also centers on Snoopy. Specifically, in 1966 Schulz introduces Snoopy’s fight with the Red Baron. After these strips Peanuts would be wholly transformed as Snoopy displaces Charlie Brown as the main protagonist of the strip. With the Red Baron strips Snoopy becomes, and remains to this day, the star of Peanuts.

But for our purposes what is important about these strips is that Schulz does something surprising. Specifically, we see Snoopy introduce a new power into the Peanuts world where the fight with the Red Baron is no longer simply an “imaginative” event but something that begins to affect and change what was previously the “real world.” Here is the very first example of this interplay:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

In short, not only has Snoopy been transformed in the strip he has brought something transformative into the world of Peanuts.

vi. Joy
Finally, what do you think of when you think of Snoopy? I think of joy:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

In Snoopy’s dancing there is joy breaking out, a joy that overcomes the dreariness of the Peanuts world. Over the course of this book we have found Peanuts to be a melancholy place. A place filled with loneliness, alienation, antagonism, violence, unrequited love, competition, depression, insecurity, trouble, hardship, disappointment, and failure. The world of Peanuts is one of predicament and struggle. But as Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, has noted, the "occasional sadness [which] comes up in Peanuts" makes the world of Peanuts "emotionally real." Throughout this book we have deeply tasted that sadness and realness.

And yet, in the midst of all that trouble and sadness we come across Snoopy dancing.

And we see in that dance the hope of things to come.

--The End Chapter 9--
--The End of the Book--

(1) p. 128 Schulz and Peanuts
(2) p. 391 Ibid

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4 thoughts on “The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 9: Resurrection”

  1. You know, Richard, with all of the Gospel/pop culture tie-in books being written right now, you could probably get a contract to publish a book-length treatment of this topic. have you considered shopping this around to a few publishers?

    This is at least one case where the ties are very real (and even intentional). Some of the other books being published in this area are a bit strained in what they consider to be reflective of the Gospel.

    Good luck,
    Brian Krumnow

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