Kierkegaard in the Pumpkin Patch: What We Can Learn From Linus

Posted: October 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Kierkegaard in the Pumpkinpatch: What We Can Learn From Linus

Never mind Christmas, Halloween is the most magical day of the year. I know because my Thaumatometer is going haywire. Okay, so maybe I don’t own such a device and maybe nobody will ever build one. But some things you can just feel. Dead souls on the wind, the devil walking about, giant gourds of agape love. Halloween is about tuning into these things, empowering ourselves with them, bettering our world with them and just unleashing a massive outpouring of primal fear, chaos and excitement- and of faith.

In certain ways, The Christian Right has a point in pegging Halloween for a religious holiday and one that contradicts their values. It is a religious holiday. A celebration of the dead and a celebration of possibilities, possibilities beyond those outlined in the bible. Possibilities that there are things, entities and powers that be that it might be in their best interest to deny. Entities like The Great Pumpkin. If the Christian Right’s  Jesus had thought Santa was a threat, the awe-inspiring power of The Great Pumpkin makes him look pathetic.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of the greatest philosophical statements on faith and magic ever. Some who watch it think the iconic Halloween special is about futility, naivete and quixotic insanity. To those who don’t know the plot, the special tells three stories: that of loveable loser Charlie Brown’s attempt to enjoy Halloween festivities, that of his dog Snoopy’s delusional World War 1 escapades and that of Linus, a contemporary Abraham with a security blanket and a heart full of hope. Individually, these three stories are cute Halloween tales about kids and an eccentric dog. Together they form a ritual celebration of faith, imagination and magic.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’s A-Plot does not really involve Charlie Brown. It’s Linus’ story for the most part, but Charlie Brown does play an important part in it. Not just in that it’s his little sister Sally that Linus ends up taking in the pumpkin patch with him and not just in that his dog momentarily passes for the Great Pumpkin. Charlie Brown has an important part to play, but in this piece, he is once again muscled out of the starring role in favor of his more articulate mad prophet companion, Linus, whose belief that The Great Pumpkin will rise up from the sincerest pumpkin patch to deliver toys to all the good girls and boys drives much of the action.

On the surface, Linus looks pretty foolish. Everyone else attends a Halloween party, while he’s standing in a pumpkin patch with Charlie Brown’s indignant sister, Sally waiting for an entity you cannot help but feel Linus made up. Linus has no reason to believe the Great Pumpkin will ever show up, yet squanders the most magical day of the year on a fool’s errand. He may even have managed to alienate the affections of Sally, the only person that thought he wasn’t completely nuts. He looks like another great example of how religious zeal and blind faith makes fools out of people who might otherwise be the smartest and wisest people you know.

For one thing, how did Linus come to the conclusion that The Great Pumpkin would show up in the pumpkin patch and reward his faith and good behavior?  His sister, Lucy doesn’t seem to believe this. Nobody else in the Peanuts reality has brought up the possibility of The Great Pumpkin. Linus is certainly more well read than the other Peanuts, but there isn’t too much cultural precedent for flying gourds that reward sincerity. Linus takes the whole thing beyond “imaginary friend” territory and into paranoid schizophrenic territory.

Magician Pete Carroll, comics writer Grant Morrison and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wouldn’t be so quick to judge. Carroll and Morrison in their writings discuss chaos magic and interacting with thought forms. For Morrison, Superman is as valid a spiritual guide as Mohammed or Vishnu. Indeed, The Great Pumpkin in his current pop culture context could provide a lot of wisdom for the chaos magician. He preaches blind faith, he preaches giving, he preaches sincerity.  He preaches what Kierkegaard, in his book Fear and Trembling called “the strength of the absurd”. Linus has found a pretty good totem, from a chaos magic perspective, a great being to learn from. For the modern laws of attraction aficionado, you could say he is embracing prosperity and a universe that gives.

Kierkegaard would go beyond that in praise of Linus. For his devotion and his belief in “the strength of the absurd”, Kierkegaard praises Abraham, a man who lived by faith and was willing to give his son, a miraculous gift granted to him by God, back to God simply because he was instructed to go to the mountain of Moriah and sacrifice him. Abraham does not doubt, does not hesitate, does not rationalize. He simply does. He takes the mandate and he performs it.  “Faith” says Kierkegaard, “is the highest passion in any human being.” And Linus has faith in spades, even though his faith manifests itself in standing outside on a cold October night, torturing Charlie Brown’s poor sister and “missing Halloween”. And The Great Pumpkin doesn’t even show up.

Charlie Brown’s evening provides an argument against Linus having wasted his evening. Charlie Brown begins Halloween by making a failed ghost costume. He trick or treats and gets only rocks instead of the treats the other kids seek. He attends a Halloween party where he’s mocked and has an outline for a jack-o’ lantern drawn on the back of his head. Charlie Brown’s Halloween is actually pretty terrible. Even Lucy, who mocked Linus’ faith in The Great Pumpkin has a terrible evening. She’s just as miserable, just as cold and just as unlikeable as always.

The only one that has a worthwhile Halloween is Snoopy, who like Linus has embraced the strength of the absurd. He’s not just way into his very unusual costume. He’s having a long, magical experience, undergoing an epic quest. The backgrounds and the world change around Snoopy, the World War One flying ace, who is as desperate to find and bring down the Red Baron as Linus is to witness the Great Pumpkin rewarding his sincerity. Snoopy is not disguised as a World War One flying ace, he has tapped into the magic of Halloween and Kierkegaard’s Strength of the Absurd and more or less become one. How does a dog know what it is to be a World War One flying ace? Why would a dog feel it’s necessary to shoot down the Red Baron? For the same reason a small child knows that a giant pumpkin will reward sincerity. Perhaps even in the same way Abraham understood he would have to give his son to God.

At the end of the night, Sally is mad, Linus has seen no trace of The Great Pumpkin and Snoopy has yet to find his German archnemesis. Things in the pumpkin patch look rotten. Linus’ sincerity has not been rewarded. The only real benefit Linus seems to get from all of this is a moment of tenderness from his abhorrent sister Lucy when she carries him home to bed. It’s a wash out, like Charlie Brown’s night. Charlie Brown even attempts to commiserate with Linus the next day over their mutual bad times.

Charlie Brown believes that Linus has had a miserable wasted evening like his own.  Charlie Brown is not a knight of faith. Years of being picked on, years of having a football pulled away by Linus’ sister and years of suffering have left Charlie Brown with no expectations in life. Linus however stands behind The Great Pumpkin and the possibility of next year and the strength of the absurd. He has not lost any of his faith. If we substitute “Great Pumpkin” for God, more of Kierkegaard’s words in Fear and Trembling nail it down:

“But he who loves God, has no need of tears, needs no admiration and forgets his suffering in love, indeed forgets completely that afterwards not the least hint of his pain, would remain were God himself not to remember it; for God sees in secret and counts the tears and forgets nothing.”

Linus’ secret divine connection is still secure. Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin and most of all, he believes in sincerity. Something which Sally, who is only there because of her crush on Linus and a nebulous possibility of even more toys never grasped. It’s not altogether impossible that The Great Pumpkin didn’t come to the patch because Sally made it less sincere. If a dog can be a World War 1 flying ace, if God can grant a 130 year old man a son and test his faith by taking him away and if Grant Morrison can commune with Lex Luthor via Chaos Magic, then Sally’s insincerity can have cosmic consequences. There is something about that pumpkin patch, Snoopy on his Halloween magic crusade ended up there after all, and came as a sign of The Great Pumpkin. Snoopy’s sincere convictions have made him into a sign of The Great Pumpkin’s power. Maybe Linus didn’t mistake the dog for The Great Pumpkin after all. Maybe The Great Pumpkin was working through Snoopy. This is usually the nature of ritual, miracles by proxy. Lucy reveals her true feelings about her brother and the best things in her nature, Linus’ convictions are tested but remain. The night in the pumpkin patch was actually a success. Score some points for sincerity.

And for those who would try and stifle the magic of the season like all the naysayers that try to scoff away The Great Pumpkin, Halloween will stand up to you. The magic will stand up to you. Faith will stand up to you. Magic is magic, faith is faith, sacred is sacred whether it meets your definitions or looks positively ludicrous to you. Christians should remember that there are some who think their god might as well be a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Anyone who has faith, works off of Kierkegaard’s strength of the absurd, tasks themselves with shaping chaos into wisdom and makes magic happen. Be respectful and sincere. Bizarro authors, Bizarro fans, brothers in sisters in the absurd, I wish you all a Happy Halloween. And may The Great Pumpkin not pass your house by.

  1. Lee Widener says:

    Beautiful article. Halloween is greater than us all. Even though Christians try to wipe it out, the primal drakness is more powerful than their fear of something outside their belief system… or maybe more powerful because of their fear….

  2. Actually, I believe you missed the point of time spent in the Pumpkin patch.

    It doesn’t matter how strong and sincere you believe, the Great Pumpkin never comes, because there is no such thing as the Great Pumpkin.

    • garrettcook says:

      I am not missing the point, so much as positing another possibility through the lens of esoteric and religious thought. The obvious surface conclusion is that Linus’ faith is misguided and there is no potential outlet for his “sincerity”, but for the magician or the ecstatic or the knight of faith, sincerity is enough.

  3. […] Kierkegaard in the Pumpkinpatch: What we can Learn from Linus… […]

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