Tragic Comic by Russell D. Moore

Book Review

Tragic Comic

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
by David Michaelis
HarperCollins, 2007
(655 pages, $34.95, hardcover)

reviewed by Russell D. Moore

Very early in my ministry, I found myself in a bitterly divided congregation. I saw things I wished I’d never seen and heard things I wished I’d never heard. More depressingly, I thought things I wish I’d never thought.

Finally, I did the best thing I knew to do for my family and for me, and resigned my position. While the church voted to accept my resignation, I sat at home wondering if I really wanted to serve in church ministry—or even to go to church—knowing what I knew about human depravity. I turned on the television for some background noise to quiet my mind, to see the opening credits of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

As a child of the 1970s, I had seen this thing a thousand times, with all of its maudlin sentimentalism about commercialism and the “real meaning of Christmas.” But then the cartoon figure of Linus, dressed as a shepherd complete with blanket headdress, recited Luke 2, a text I had heard thousands of times before. This time was different, though, and I wept violently, shaking in the chair.

“And the glory of the Lord shown round about them, and they were sore afraid.” The gospel was true, and it was beautiful, and nothing else mattered.

What people are saying about Touchstone:


A Sad Story

I thought about that television special as I opened the cover of the promised definitive biography of Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. It appears that the Charlie Brown Christmas special plays a revealing role in the Schulz story—a story that should speak sadly to any Christian, whether or not he has ever opened the Sunday funny pages.

In Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, David Michaelis, who previously penned a biography of the illustrator N. C. Wyeth, tells the story of the shy Minnesotan whose imaginations now float along in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and smile out from every first-grader’s stuffed toy collection. He traces Schulz’s life and career from Midwestern barber’s son to smalltime graphic artist to (in the words of a Democratic National Committee member courting the cartoonist for the Adlai Stevenson campaign) the nation’s “youngest existentialist,” to hand-over-fist moneymaking entrepreneur.

A Christmas program was a natural next step once the Peanuts brand proved to be marketable. The powers-that-be at CBS butted heads with Schulz immediately: Over the musical score (Schulz wanted only classical music, the network wanted a “bluesy jazz,” and the network won); over a laugh track (Schulz despised the “hyena hilarity of canned merriment” and opposed any pre-recorded laughter, and Schulz won); and finally over Linus’s rendition of Luke 2, which the network found in poor taste (Schulz, of course, won that one too).

“We can’t avoid it—we have to get the passage of St. Luke in there somehow,” Schulz told the network. “If we don’t do it, who will?”


Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more on culture from the online archives

6.1—Winter 1993

Civilization Without Religion?

by Russell Kirk

23.2—March/April 2010

Job’s Progress

on Maturity for a Rising Generation by Peter J. Leithart

31.6—November/December 2018

Virtue Gone Mad

Victimhood Culture Scapegoats Its Very Source by Michael P. Foley


more from the online archives

32.6—November/December 2019

Strategic Christians

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis by Alan Jacobs by Jesse Russell

22.8—November/December 2009

Looking for Wenceslaus

on the Real Men Behind the Christmas Carol by Michael Baum

31.1—January/February 2018

Mere Sexuality

Getting Sex Wrong Is a Foundational Error by James M. Kushiner

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00