The New York Times review of “Schulz and Peanuts” by David Michaelis makes the book sound not only like a brilliant read, but has some analysis that is, I think, useful for writers. Notice the way that Schulz’s fracturing of his own personality is described as the seeds of his character’s personalities:
The ever hopeful, ever rejected Charlie Brown; his cynical, rage-filled nemesis, Lucy Van Pelt; the philosophical and self-possessed Linus; the fanatic pianist Schroeder; and Snoopy, that bumptious beagle with the extraordinary fantasy life: these were characters who resonated with a generation that came of age during that perplexing period of transition as the country lurched from the somnolent ’50s into the psychedelic ’60s and ’70s. And they were characters, as David Michaelis observes in his revealing new biography, deeply rooted in their creator’s own life. It’s not just that Charlie Brown embodied Schulz’s own melancholy temperament and insecurities; it’s not just that Lucy represented his first wife’s bossy impatience. It’s that all the characters represented aspects of the deeply conflicted artist himself. As Mr. Michaelis writes, Schulz “gave his wishy-washiness and determination to Charlie Brown,” his sarcasm to Lucy, “his dignity and ‘weird little thoughts'” to Linus, his “perfectionism and devotion to his art to Schroeder,” his sense of “being talented and unappreciated to Snoopy.”
It is Mr. Michaelis’s achievement in these pages that he leaves us with both a shrewd appreciation of Schulz’s minimalist art and a sympathetic understanding of Schulz the man. He shows us how Schulz’s sense of vocation as a young child, fueled by a fierce ambition, led him to the career he’d always wanted, and how he gradually assimilated a host of influences to find a voice that was inimitably his own. He also shows us how Schulz constructed an anomalous fictional world that captured the public imagination, eventually reaching readers in some 75 countries, 2,600 newspapers and 21 languages.
If the goal of writing, or more accurately – art, is to self-examine (and I find that more and more that’s exactly what mine is) then it seems that for many decades we were blessed with a cartoon philosopher/psychologist who was brave enough to share himself with his readers, and we didn’t even know it. It’s a bravery I don’t know that I have, but to which I aspire.