Yesterday I explored the Christmas theme in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Today I want to do the same with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of Christmas and Halloween, birth and death, in these two films.
Great Pumpkin opens with Linus and Lucy going out to the pumpkin patch to select a pumpkin. Once they bring it inside, Lucy dives right in to carving it. Linus bursts into tears, “You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!”
After Lucy plays an old gag on Charlie Brown, we witness Linus writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin, with the same formula that would be expected in a letter to Santa. All his friends laugh at him, and say “the Great Pumpkin is a fake!” Linus concludes his letter: “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you. P.S. If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
Linus’ description of the Great Pumpkin closely parallels the Santa Claus mythology. “On Halloween night the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch, then flies through the air to bring toys to all the good little children everywhere.” But the Great Pumpkin doesn’t rise out of every pumpkin patch – the Great Pumpkin only chooses the one that is “most sincere”.
Linus seems to be fixated on the idea of “sincerity” and refuses to dress up and go out trick-or-treating. Lucy is horribly embarrassed by her brother’s belief in the Great Pumpkin. She heads up the group going out for “tricks or treats” announcing her costume philosophy that “a person should choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality.” She then ironically pulls a witch mask over her face. Meanwhile, Snoopy has been out reenacting a World War I Flying Ace who has been shot down and is forced to make his way through the countryside.
While the others are out trick-or-treating, Linus camps out in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. Sally abandons trick-or-treating to stay with him, but it is not because of her own faith in the Great Pumpkin. She stays for Linus, with whom she is utterly smitten. She listens attentively cooing, “you say the cutest things”, but it is clear that she doesn’t really hear what he is saying.
When the long-awaited moment comes, there’s a rustling in the leaves, and a figure rises up amongst the pumpkins. Linus faints, initially thinking he “missed” the Great Pumpkin’s arrival, unaware that it was only Snoopy whose play-acting has led him to the pumpkin patch. When he comes to, Sally leaves him, angry that she’s wasted her whole evening waiting in a pumpkin patch for nothing, “missing out” on trick-or-treating.
Linus spends the night in the pumpkin patch. In a surprising act of kindness and compassion, Lucy wakes up, notices her brother is not in bed and goes out to find him shivering under his blanket. She brings him home and tucks him into bed, never having seen the Great Pumpkin.
The next day, Charlie Brown and Linus are talking about their disappointing experiences of Halloween night. When Linus tells him that the Great Pumpkin never came he says, “don’t take it too hard, Linus, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too”, perhaps referring to going trick-or-treating only to end up with a bag or rocks. Neither of them got what they’d hoped for on Halloween. Linus, however, is resilient in his faith in the Great Pumpkin. He declares that next year will be the year, he’ll find a pumpkin patch that’s “real sincere”, and the Great Pumpkin will come.
There is no omniscient narrator to tell us why the Great Pumpkin never comes or if he did come once Linus fell asleep. We don’t even know if in the world of the Peanuts characters the Great Pumpkin really exists or not. I’m tempted to think that Linus has invented the Great Pumpkin mythology himself. It is interesting to examine the popular heroes of a culture, and to ask what these heroes are being asked to do or to be that is missing from that culture. For Linus, it is “sincerity”, and I can’t help but wonder if he is looking for sincerity amid all the candy, costumes and parties (or maybe that’s just what I’m looking for in my hero).
Both Jack and Linus borrow (sometimes wholesale) familiar traditions from Christmas to infuse Halloween with new meaning. And it makes me wonder what it is about Halloween that leaves them craving something more, and what it is about Christmas that they find inspiring enough to bring back to Halloween. Jack wants to know “what does it mean?” while Linus shouts “sincerity!” Maybe that is the question, and also the answer.