Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering the Great Pumpkin

(Note-- we're reviewing The Great Pumpkin at the Castle Dracula Podcast Wednesday at 10:30ET, so I'm reprinting this review to get in the mood. Enjoy!) 

My daughters and I watched IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN tonight. The Charlie Brown DVDs are a big hit with them, so we are careful not to break them out until the right month, so they retain their specialness. We can watch each over and over again, but only in October, or November, or December. The arrival of GREAT PUMPKIN announces the arrival of a bevy of  holiday specials that have drilled their way into my mind. Lately I've enjoyed  returning to these things with fresh eyes.

GREAT PUMPKIN in  particular resonates with me, particularly because of the strangely chilling  fantasy Snoopy the dog has about the most vile and butcherous war of the last  century.

The center of GREAT PUMPKIN is  Linus, whom we recall as the voice of reason in the 1965 CHARLIE BROWN  CHRISTMAS. There, while Charlie Brown obsessed about the growing  commercialization of Christmas, Linus was the even-handed guy who said, 'Charlie  Brown, you're the only guy I know who can take a nice holiday like Christmas and  make it a problem." And at the end, it is Linus who steps to Brown's rescue,  tapping the microphone and simply reciting the Christmas story. That's 1965.

Now, in GREAT PUMPKIN, it's a year later and we find Linus in the thrall  of complete religious fervor of his own device, as the boy proselytizes to the  gang about the impending arrival of a giant pumpkin-being who favors the  children with the "sincerest" pumpkin patch with a visit and gifts. The gang  thinks he's a loon, the girl who loves him loses a whole evening coming to the  same conclusion, and in the end Linus shivers in the cold until being rescued by  his hateful but ultimately caring sister Lucy.

What is this supposed to  mean? If CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS was about keeping the true spirit of Christmas  (while enjoying the benefits of a commercialized holiday), what is GREAT PUMPKIN  about? It seems to be a satire on fringe religion ("we're separated by  denominational differences," Linus insists when Charlie Brown professes faith in  Santa Claus.) But it's kind of sad that Linus, the voice of wisdom in the  Christmas special, is so misguided here. We close out the special with Linus  raving-- RAVING-- that this time something went wrong, but next year his pumpkin  patch will be sincere enough to merit the arrival of the Great  Pumpkin. In this he sounds like one of those cultists who keeps moving back the end of the world.

Meanwhile, I don't think when I watched this as a child that I  realized that these children are all just little adults. There are no parents in  sight, and they get around about as well as college students. Better: in the  beginning, Lucy and Linus pick a pumpkin and carve it with a butcher knife in  the span of about forty-five seconds. They throw a killer party whose only  non-child visitor is a beagle that fantasizes about war and mayhem, and swims in  punch.

I still love Snoopy's fantasy of the Red Baron, the moment I  waited for every year, the dark water-color world made ominous by the high hat  and woodwinds of Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack. Snoopy creeps through bombed-out  France, and all the images of the Great War-- barbed wire, cratered earth, ruined shelters,  blackened skies, bullet-riddled fuselages, churning black smoke-- all become  playthings, and beautiful and chilling ones. Barbed wire is stuff that you  and I don't blink at, but there's a generation-- some of whom still breathe-- that  grow nauseated at the sight of it. Barbed wire was the patchy stitching that  only festered and worsened the wounds of World War I. But there it is, amid the  ruined houses of Snoopy's imagination, and suddenly I realize Disney could have  made a park called Somme Land, named after the famous battle that spat out men like pumpkin seeds.

1 comment:

  1. I came here on the trail of Dracula(inspired, initially by the discovery of Carmilla, stoking, if you will, my own creative energies), who I've been writing about via Stoker;s original text on integr8dfix.blogspot.com---but this was wonderful. I believe the Red Barron sequence was my favorite of all the Peanuts cartoons, and I just happened to catch the last of this in the gym, this year.
    This was also my introduction to the concept of Alex Van Helsing; that seems to be going well for you!