Waiting for The Great PumpkinA column article by: Jim Kingman
A significant comic strip anniversary is less than two weeks away! Linus began his annual anticipation of the Great Pumpkin’s rising from a sincere pumpkin patch in the “Peanuts” strip that appeared in newspapers on October 26, 1959.
It’s interesting that in that initial eight-strip sequence Linus isn’t actually seen in the pumpkin patch awaiting the Great Pumpkin’s possible, but never likely, arrival. In fact, in that original sequence, Linus never mentions having to actually be in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night. Instead, he happily and eagerly explains to Lucy and Charlie Brown about the Great Pumpkin’s epic overnight journey round the world to bring gifts to all the sincere little boys and girls. He even sends the Great Pumpkin a letter, and attempts to organize a sing-along of pumpkin carols. His belief is absolute and steadfast.
That sequence from 1959 was the beginning of many disappointing outings for Linus on Halloween night. Of course, those strips by Charles M. Schulz, along with others from later years, would be incorporated into the animated It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which was first telecast in October of 1966.
One of those later sequences occurred the following year in 1960 when Linus convinced Charlie Brown to join him in the pumpkin patch--the famous patch’s first appearance. That strip has Linus cautiously, even reverently (Charlie Brown less so), crawling through the patch so as not to disturb its sincerity. Linus explains that it’s the quality of the pumpkin patch, not its commerciality that draws the Great Pumpkin’s attention, to which Charlie Brown responds that he finds it hard to believe that a pumpkin patch could be sincere. (I would think that a sincere pumpkin patch would be one pretty much picked clean of pumpkins by Halloween night, but a pumpkin-less pumpkin patch wouldn’t be much of an associated visual.)
A silhouetted figure that Linus believes to be the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch, causing an overwhelmed Linus to pass out. It turns out to be only Snoopy. That classic Sunday strip appeared on October 30, 1960, and it would be used as the climatic scene in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, with Sally replacing her brother as Linus’s companion in the pumpkin patch.
Though always crushed and exhausted come the morning of November 1, Linus remained a trooper--visiting the pumpkin patch every year, never aging, always vigilant, perpetually hopeful, and convincing anyone he could to join him. And many came--Snoopy, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, even Charlie Brown would return. Sally joined Linus on numerous occasions. Practically every new, long-standing character Schulz introduced in “Peanuts” was invited to the pumpkin patch, and all of them came away doubting Linus’s sanity (but only in that one respect; he otherwise remained a popular guy with his peers).
Newspapers and radio stations would report of various Great Pumpkin sightings across the country over the years, and Linus would memorize each one--listing them off vocally, oft-times vehemently, to any individual in doubt of the Great Pumpkin’s existence. Linus tried everything to enhance his pumpkin patch’s sincerity, but the Great Pumpkin would never come--causing Linus at times to dramatically curse one of his strongest beliefs, an action he would always regret later and apologize for.
A year would then pass in which Linus would endure a crabby sister, a security blanket-hating grandmother, an infatuated Sally Brown, and other neighborhood traumas, only to have it all melt away as autumn tinged the neighborhood, the pumpkin patch bloomed, and a young boy’s self-absorbed, greedy, sympathetic, imaginative and magnificent faith rose to the occasion of All Hallows’ Eve.