Saturday, December 26, 2009

CHRISTMAS BRINGS BIOGRAPHY OF CHARLIE BROWN’S CREATOR


Charlie Brown, Lucy, and other “Peanuts” comic strip characters often people the sermons I deliver at both the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia, Louisiana and at St. Mary’s chapel in Sewanee, Tennessee. The strip runs in over 2,000 newspapers and has inspired a book entitled THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PEANUTS by Robert Short in which this author writes about theological themes that occur in the cartoon strip. I confess that I find these themes also, and I’m always referring to Lucy as the ultimate anti-Christian because she debunks the behavior of her friends, especially Charlie, and emerges as a thoroughly spiteful character.

This Christmas, my friend Janet Faulk (author of ROAD HOME), gave me a biography of Charles Schulz written by columnist and reporter Rheta Grimsley Johnson entitled GOOD GRIEF: THE STORY OF CHARLES M. SCHULZ. I was pleased that the book was personally inscribed by the author. Rheta is remembered by New Iberians as the author of a book about Cajun country entitled POOR MAN’S PROVENCE published in 2008. Rheta often enjoys trips to this area to visit her good friend Greg Girard, eminent photographer of the Atchafalaya Basin. My friend Janet has also met and befriended Rheta and admires her unpretentious writing style.

Rheta lives in Iuka, Mississippi, a town of nearly 3,000, in northern Mississippi near the Alabama border (which is an attention getter for Janet who is a native Alabaman). She’s won a plentiful number of awards, including the National Headliner Award for Commentary in 1985, the Scripps Howard’s Ernie Pyle Memorial Award for outstanding human interest reporting in 1984, the Scripps Howard Writer of the Year from 1983-1985, and in 1991 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

I like Larry King’s remark about Schulz’s characters being in all of us – a point that I often make in my sermons when I invoke Charlie Brown. I also liked Rheta’s comment that rejection is Schulz’s specialty… “he has spent a lifetime perfecting failure.” Indeed, the characterization of Charlie Brown bears out the remark, and Lucy is a strong supporter of that failure.

In GOOD GRIEF, Rheta tells about Schulz’s wartime experiences, explains how Charlie Brown came into being, and describes his life-long battle with depression and agoraphobia. Again, Charlie Brown reflects that struggle in “Peanuts.” The book is a very honest, intimate account of Schulz’s life, and Rheta presents the paradox of Schulz in a graceful, insightful manner.

This biography is complete with family photos and is a “must read” for lovers of “Peanuts.” Rheta has earned many cudoes for her accessible, charming style of writing, and I look forward to reading more of her stories centered in the South.
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