There are two ways of looking at the latest collection of The Complete Peanuts, which has now arrived at all of the strips that were published over the course of 1975-76: one is the autobiographical route, partaking of a detour via David Michaelis’ excellent biography, Schulz (which actually doesn’t tell us much in this period, beyond sharing the fact that Schulz, a perennial wallflower of sorts, much given to staying at home and hiding away from people like a character from a Woody Allen film, dipped his toes in adventure of sorts, flying abroad despite the fact that travel both bored and terrified him, and was, if the biography is to be believed, still caught up in the first full flush of happiness following his second marriage); the other is, of course, to cast away all thought of biographical intent and just relish the book and the strips and the characters.
If you follow the latter route, you will see that Schulz maintains his surreal streak here (the streak that we first saw when the sun became a baseball, in the book that collected 73-74), with the school building that shares its thoughts with us but also in Snoopy’s ongoing alter-egos. As with previous collections, Schulz enjoyed returning to seasonal motifs, and sporting motifs (Charlie Brown’s fortunes on the baseball mound provide a constant source of amusement) and schoolroom motifs; but of course the real pleasure is to be had in seeing how the world impacted on Schulz, and his muse sent him off in different directions – so here we have Snoopy’s country cousin, Peppermint Patty’s time in a dog training school and Marcy’s unwanted suitor. It’s also interesting, knowing that Schulz, a man of no small faith for many years, was wavering in his affection for the church at this point and you can see a greater questioning of religion than ever before.
But all of this is by the by, really. The draw of Peanuts is in the joy of reading the strips, relishing each four panel run, smiling wryly as he sets up a joke on Monday that doesn’t land until Friday, each character (Charlie Brown himself, of course, but also Linus, Sally, Lucy, Pigpen, Snoopy, Woodstock – every one is a winner) a pleasure, from the simplicity of the drawing to the charm of the humour. And, it’s safe to say, Peanuts remains a pleasure. I first read a lot of these strips when I was four; reading them again some 38 years later, they are as profoundly moving, as funny, as original and as worthwhile as they were then. I’m still learning from Peanuts. I have yet to get to the bottom of them. There are not many books that give to the adult as much as the child.
Any Cop?: Utterly essential. Your bookshelf is incomplete without it.