Favorite Fictional Characters, #352: The Fourth Day of Christmas: Linus Van Pelt
Yeah, he sucks his thumb. Yeah, he carries around a security blanket and lets his big sister push him around. His head is lumpy and his hair is sparse. But Linus Van Pelt has ever been the guiding light and spiritual conscience of the Peanuts gang. Steadfast consigliere to perennial hard-luck case Charlie Brown, reluctant sweet baboo to Charlie's little sister Sally, and frequent foil to Snoopy, Linus is much of the glue to Schwartz's iconic comic. Decades ago, before syndication and merchandising and (ironically) commercialism conspired to water it down, Peanuts was one of the more insightful and incisive strips in the business, using children to explore and expose universal truths, many of which were not particularly cheerful. Before Snoopy's ubiquity, Charlie Brown and Linus and the rest confronted a world of hardship and unfairness and yet also with loyalty and friendship. That loyalty, along with his fervent optimism and precocious insight, have always been Linus' signal qualities.
Despite his obsession with Halloween and the Great Pumpkin, despite his half-century of tireless pre-adolescent philosophy, Linus will forever remain inextricably linked to his seminal role in the franchise's signature broadcast special. A Charlie Brown Christmas is unanimously beloved for its unflinching criticism of the secular commercialization of a holiday with deep Christian importance, and that spotlight moment when Linus nails his lines and preaches the true meaning of Christmas is the centerpiece of the morality play. But Schultz gives us more than a bland sermon here, more than a dutiful nod to the birth of Christ as a static stained-glass opportunity for genuflection and wonder. The special, this animated fare for children, takes it a step further. Christmas may be about the Son of God, but none of that matters unless it's about all of us, too. Faith unpracticed is meaningless faith.
So while the others frolic and demand that Charlie Brown find the biggest and best technicolor aluminum Christmas tree, the round-headed kid listens to his heart. Rather than buying something shiny and perfect, he brings back that classic little runt of a shrub. Why? Because he felt it needed him. Because the Holy Grail would be a wooden cup, not a golden chalice. Because the core tenets of Christianity aren't brash dominance and conspicuous displays of profession. They're humility, and service, and sacrifice. And knowing that love is usually the answer. That's something Charlie Brown understood, despite the howls and derision of his classmates.
And Linus understood too. As always, he stood by his friend, defending him, and as he so often did, giving greater articulation to his choices. If Charlie Brown is the downtrodden heart of Peanuts, then Linus is its voice, the shrewd observer and able chronicler of their trials.