The Theology of Peanuts

The Theology of Peanuts: Table of Contents

Prelude: Is Peanuts Funny?

Part 1. The Human Condition: "Good Grief!"
Chapter 1. Self: "My soul is full of weeds."
--i-iv. The Duplex Self, v-ix. Goat
Chapter 2. Humanity: No valentines and "the tragedy of non-integration"
--i-ii. Ache, iii. Hell, iv-x. Exclusion, xi-xx. "It's him or me."
Chapter 3. Creation: Kite eating trees, Snowmen, and Security Blankets
--i-v. Snowmen, vi-x. Thorns, xi-xv. Small, xvi. Security Blankets
Chapter 4. God: The Great Pumpkin

Part 2. Pseudosalvations: "Snap out of it!"
Chapter 5. "Five cents please."

Part 3. Moments of Grace: "Happiness is a Warm Puppy."
Chapter 6. Wisdom: "Happiness is..."
--i-vii. A Fearful Gift, viii-x. "...a warm puppy."
Chapter 7. Charlie Brown: Lamb
Chapter 8. Linus: Depth
Chapter 9. Snoopy: Resurrection

Dear Reader,
Welcome to my online book (more like a series of essays) The Theology of Peanuts.

The first thing I ever remember reading was Peanuts books on long drives to my grandmother's house. I also grew up loving the Charlie Brown TV specials, mainly A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. But it wasn't until recently when I took note of the psychological and theological depth of Peanuts.

Two things converged to bring about this revelation. First, I read the wonderful biography, Schulz and Peanuts, by David Michaelis. The genius of Michaelis' biography is how he shows Schulz's life mirrored and revealed in the Peanuts strips. Sprinkled through the biography are illustrative strips. Often, the juxtapositions are profound and moving. Michaelis' biography provided me with the idea to juxtapose Peanuts strips with theological and psychological observations.

The second event that helped to create this book was Fantagraphics Books republication of the entire 50 year run of Peanuts. It is an amazingly ambitious project but they are pulling it off with panache. Each volume is beautiful and the introductory essays are wonderful. But importantly for this project, by publishing every Peanuts strip we now have access to the more melancholy and painful episodes in Peanuts that tend to get passed over for inclusion in the more sunny and upbeat anthologies and collections. Many of the strips being published by Fantagraphics Books have not been seen since the one time they appeared in American newspapers. Unless you clipped the strip that day, it was lost to memory. But now they are back.

Writing the The Theology of Peanuts has been by far the most ambitious thing I've done to date here at Experimental Theology. The biggest task was getting my head around the source material.

In The Theology of Peanuts I worked with the Peanuts strips from 1955-1966. As of this writing, Fantagraphics Books has only published up to the year 1966. I also passed over the first four years of Peanuts, years where the Peanuts characters were still being developed and thus not in their mature characterizations (they still resembled the Li'l Folks of Schulz's first comic strip).

I read through this eleven year's worth of comics and coded them by theme. For example, here's a copy of one of my notebook pages:

After reading the source material I grouped all the themes into an overarching theological structure. Here is a copy of the outline that ultimately produced the structure of the book. If you look closely you'll see in these jottings many of the ideas that emerge in the chapters:

All in all this has been a labor of love. And it has bridged the generations in my own home. The other night, Aidan, my youngest son, came into my room while I was selecting strips for a chapter. Peanuts books were all over the bed. Aidan climbed on the bed and began to read. He's just starting to read so the short sentences of the strips fit his reading level very well. He started laughing and talking about Snoopy and his adventures with all the birds that stop by his doghouse. I told him I loved reading Snoopy books on long drives to Grandma's house. He was intrigued by this vision of me being a little boy. And he read on.

And we sat, for a long time together, laughing and reading Peanuts books into the night...

I hope you enjoy The Theology of Peanuts. See you in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night.

Best wishes,

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3 thoughts on “The Theology of Peanuts

  1. Your work sounds very similar to one of my favorite books: The Parables of Peanuts, by Robert L. Short (see amazon link)

    Pretty good book with a few theological flaws, but of course, great comic strips to illustrate the point (pun intended!) :)

    This book also introduced me to Kierkegaard back in my early teens years...

    Doc Rings

  2. Are you familiar with the book "The Gospel According to _Peanuts_" by Robert Short? His was more a work aimed at getting Sunday School teachers (in 1965) to "think outside the box", but as I recall, he included some interviews with Schultz in his book commenting on the message in some of his strips.

    Thanks for your good work.

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