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Interview with Robert Short

BROADCAST: Feb. 10, 1969 | DURATION: 00:57:14


Discussing the book "Parables of Peanuts


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel About a year ago Robert L. Short was a guest on the program. You recall his book, "The Gospel According to Peanuts," his theological analysis, you might say, of Charles Schulz's remarkable strip comic strip. Harper and Row published that, and his new one has now just come out, "The Parable of Peanuts"[sic]. But, if we could recall, Bob's guest this morning, recall the theme that he was hitting at the moment, and the natural continuity is today. About a year ago Bob was saying this, if I remember, about Peanuts itself.

Robert L. Short And this is why art, in a sense, is like a parable, or a parable is an art form, in that the parable wasn't originally an illustration for something in order to make it perfectly clear because, as in the New Testament, you read over and over that Jesus said nothing without a parable, and yet these parables were obviously not always understood by the people who heard them. And this is the way with art. Art is a form of communication that forces us back on ourselves to want to know what the answer is that's hidden in this parable.

Studs Terkel The reason I marked this because I thought -- I don't know why Goya came to mind. Goya and his his paintings on war. For the first time we saw through this artist what it means to an individual human being, hitherto for it was a spectacle and something, and was a new revelation through this artist, indirectly, it made us look for a new answer to this horrible old phenomenon.

Robert L. Short Yes.

Studs Terkel That was a fragment of our conversation, Bob, about a year ago and remarkable how it just connects with your work now, this this one, "The Parables of Peanuts." And this is your very theme, and you begin immediately speaking of this of this phenomenon, the art parable: how something said not directly, not head on, but indirectly has that much more impact.

Robert L. Short Yeah. This is a question that's still being asked. Of course it's a question that Jesus asked during his time. He says, "Where are the parables?" He said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God or what parable shall we use for it?" And this, in a way, is the same question that Bonhoeffer, it seems to me, is asking when he says, "How do we speak in a secular way about God?" Because this is what parables are designed to do. They're designed to talk in a secular way about God. Oftentimes people I don't think have the idea that there's anything religious at all about Peanuts or some of the art they might happen to be looking at. But when we look a little closer perhaps a bit between the lines we can see that there's something being said or implied there that is religious. So, Peanuts is this kind of parable, I think.

Studs Terkel I think a question should be asked once, Bob. I asked it last time because in case some may wonder: are you reading something into it that isn't there, and perhaps you could touch on that reading something that isn't there, and also Charlie Schulz's, Charles Schulz's own thoughts. He makes it quite clear, does he not?

Robert L. Short That's right. Schulz has gone on record as saying that he always attempts to put his faith in his work, otherwise he knows his work wouldn't really be worth doing or at all satisfying to him. But at the same time he knows this has to be done in a very subtle way or else, for one thing he could offend a great many people who might not care having their Peanuts salted like this, if you'll pardon the pun. So my purpose in these two books then, "The Gospel According to" and "The Parables of Peanuts," is simply to point out some of these things that he has woven in a very subtle way into the fabric of the strip. Although I don't want to say that everything I've said in the book he has said. We were on a television program together out in San Francisco one time and I was using some slides of about five five of his cartoons. And after the fourth one he said, well I'm glad we finally came to one like this because although I did intend the things that we saw, or that you said about the first three cartoons we saw, I didn't intend this message, although I do agree with what you're saying about it and for that reason I'm glad to see it be used this way-.

Studs Terkel Well, of course, those come to the theme about: what did the artist have in mind? It's the right, certainly -- you bring your own experience with you, too -- the right, certainly, of a viewer to be a participant and to read something in that the artist himself consciously may not have had in mind.

Robert L. Short That's right. I think that this is one of the reasons why artists have traditionally talked of having a muse, in that in a sense they're not even quite sure what they're saying themselves. But there is a power that's simply outside of themselves that overcomes them that has something to say that perhaps they're not fully conscious of themselves.

Studs Terkel I think we should get to the, to our friends involved, Charles Schulz's friends. You yourself in your preface say, you identify with Linus and there's Linus and his blanket-.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel Linus and his-.

Robert L. Short That's why I identify with Linus. He's the most insecure of the bunch-.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert L. Short And that's the way I feel about half the time, I think.

Studs Terkel And Linus then -- there are several, there are several sequence in the book involving Linus and his blanket-.

Robert L. Short Oh, there yeah. [laughter] There are

Studs Terkel countless of them, as a matter of fact. And all the implications of it, too. If you could begin, perhaps, as any one of those strips that -- we should point out that Bob Short's book, "The Parables of Peanuts" throughout has a number of -- well, scores and scores, of Peanuts strips-.

Robert L. Short It has 250 as a matter of fact, Studs.

Studs Terkel And your comments about them, and the implications that you see, or that Schulz may have had in mind, or certainly you think he he had in mind.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel Which is more to the point. So there's Linus and there's Charlie himself. Charlie is kind of a patsy isn't he, in a way? Charlie is sort of an every man, his face like a globe.

Robert L. Short That's right. Schulz has said this of him as a matter of fact. He has this globe-like head and sort of shirt of thorns kind of thing. I think this is one of the reasons, Studs, why so many people can identify with him so easily, is that he's sort of a blah personality but, at the same time really mirrors the anxieties of all of us and the anxieties that he goes through daily, what with Lucy and after him and this kind of thing.

Robert L. Short Things has happened to him.

Robert L. Short He's a loser. He always loses-.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But things happen to him, isn't that it?

Robert L. Short That's right.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert L. Short And I think that when you and I are honest with each other, or honest with ourselves, we have to admit that our lives are more often made up of losing than of winning. And this is certainly the story of Charlie Brown's life. He is a loser. And I think this is, again, one of the reasons why we can identify with him-.

Studs Terkel Almost any one of those strips, certainly with him and with him and Lucy -- we can come to Lucy in a moment too. Lucy who is like-.

Robert L. Short Yeah, there's a Charlie Brown strip in one of the chapters called "The Broken Heart" that I coupled with one of the scriptures from Jeremiah, in Lamentations where Jeremiah -- this is very heavy stuff when Jeremiah says that of course he says, "I have become the laughingstock of all the peoples, the burden of their songs all day long. My soul is bereft of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is." As Jeremiah. Now you read Schroeder there.

Studs Terkel So, Schroeder's talking to Charlie Brown. Schroeder says: "I guess I won't be seeing you until Monday, Charlie Brown, so have a happy weekend."

Robert L. Short "Thank you."

Studs Terkel And Charlie's all alone.

Robert L. Short And he says, "Incidentally, what is happiness?" [Laughter] So there's Jeremiah for you: I've forgotten what happiness is.

Studs Terkel So, there's the parable, again the parable as a comic strip.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel And so, throughout the word of God is alive and active. Quoting Hebrews: "There is nothing in creation that can hide from everything that is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one with whom we have to reckon."

Robert L. Short And Linus is standing there with his blanket and he says, "You should have a blanket, Charlie Brown. When you get real depressed you just scrunch your face into it and everything you" -- plunk! He run- he walks into a tree. And he says, "Is there no hiding place?" And, of course, this is what the writer of Hebrews has just said, that there is no hiding place from the one with whom we have to reckon.

Studs Terkel Insults, and here perhaps one of the classics involving two, the protagonist and the antagonist, if you want to call Lucy that. Charlie Brown and Lucy. And they're leaning on a fence or over a wall and above, you quote from the Psalms: "Insults have broken my heart. I'm in despair. I looked for pity but there was none. And for comforters but I found none." And-.

Robert L. Short Charlie Browns says, "I'm depressed. I'm completely depressed. I am firmly convinced that there is no one in this world who really likes me."

Studs Terkel And there's a pause, and then Lucy looks at him and says,"So what else is new?"

Robert L. Short [Laughter] Oh.

Studs Terkel So, as we come to Peanuts and the reason for its hold, over and beyond entertainment, we come to that in a moment, too. Lucy. Lucy, for all her aggressiveness, all her shouting, all her domineering, is -- wants to be well-liked. Throughout, she wants she's asked a variety here -- if we can find one of those -- what they think of her.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel What they think of her.

Robert L. Short Yeah. I think that she does want to be liked, but at the same time she's the only one of the strip who seems to have enough confidence in herself not really to care so much about what they like. Although, she is really taken aback when she finds out that they don't like her. It's just inconceivable to her how anybody could not like her, of course. And this is one of the things-.

Studs Terkel This is a-.

Robert L. Short That gives her, her particular personality of the crabby little girl. She's just quite sure that everybody does like her and everything is going to turn out all right for her and so on.

Studs Terkel It's interesting, you have this in the chapter, "Savior, Who Needs a Savior."

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel And her own thoughts. But throughout here, if we could find the the some of those involving Lucy.

Robert L. Short Oh, again the book is-.

Studs Terkel Oh here, Lucy and Charlie Brown, again. On "Savior, Who Needs a Savior?" The the love-hate relationship. You know, man, man himself, and the conflicted man.

Robert L. Short Oh yeah.

Studs Terkel Now, if it's offered by a theologian, offered by a preacher, or by a teacher in the form of a sermon, the audience might just turn away.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel But offered by Schulz it's something else, isn't it? As Charlie Brown encounters Lucy. You be Charlie.

Robert L. Short Okay. He says, "So long Lucy. I'll see you tomorrow."

Studs Terkel "Okay." And he leaves her and she's alone in the panel. She says, "Good old Charlie Brown." And then she hollers, "You blockhead!" And then: "There's a very fine line between love and hate."

Robert L. Short And so that's true. As Bon- I use a quotation from Bonhoeffer again just above that, who is saying precisely the same thing that oftentimes contempt for man is very close to a kind of shallow philanthropy. That is to say, a person who has high ideals about man himself, to the point that he almost worships man, is very easily discouraged when man doesn't do what he expects man should do. And so then, he becomes contemptuous of man because he's giving, given man all of these good things and been so kind to him, and lo and behold the man is turned on him so. Then he then he is contemptuous of his fellow man. And this is why, as Bonhoeffer can say, this kind of shallow phi- philanthropy is very close to co- to a contempt to man.

Studs Terkel Yeah. It's also -- isn't is one of the first, you point out here -- I forget which one of the sequences, one of the very first strip that he wrote of Peanuts, deals with this, this conflict, this ambivalence.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel It's not about a little boy. It's about man himself, And again it's about the fall.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel It's about-.

Robert L. Short This is a theme that Schulz of course is constantly dealing with, and as you say, this is the very first -- I think a lot of people might be interested in what Schulz's first strip was. But it -- when Charlie Brown was introduced, and this was in October October the first of 1950, I believe it was, yeah, 1950. And Shermy, whom we see very seldom anymore, and Patty are sitting on the curb and Shermy is saying, "Well here comes old Charlie Brown." And Charlie Brown doesn't even have the sweater that he now wears at that time. He doesn't even look like the Charlie Brown that we know. You wouldn't even think that Schulz had done this drawing, as a matter of fact. And Charlie Brown is walking by and Shermy says, "Good old Charlie Brown. Yes sir. Good old Charlie Brown. How I hate him." And this is a kind of theme that's constantly being emphasized in Schulz, the kind of cruelty that exists between these kids.

Studs Terkel There's that there's that first strip, then, that had it right there. The first strip had the-.

Robert L. Short There's a-.

Studs Terkel [added?] touch.

Robert L. Short There's a real honesty. And of course, there is the cartoon that I think that most of your listeners will be familiar with, because it's a thing that's being repeated every year.

Studs Terkel This is the this is the patsy one, '67. Yeah.

Robert L. Short Yeah. She promises, Lucy promises to hold that football for him. And she says, "I'll hold the ball Charlie Brown, and you come running up and kick it."

Studs Terkel "Well every year she pulls the same trick on me. Well, okay this year it's not going to work," as he goes away. "This year I'm not going to be fooled." And he runs toward the ball, and Lucy is holding it as though as to kick. And she says "Well?" He stops, and he turns away. And Lucy's indignant.

Robert L. Short "You thought I was going to pull the ball away, didn't you Charlie Brown? Why Charlie Brown, I'm ashamed of you. I'm also insulted. Don't you trust anyone anymore? Has your mind become so darkened with mistrust that you've lost your ability to believe in people?"

Studs Terkel So, now Charlie Brown is ashamed, and he rushes toward the the football and as he does it, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie Brown falls on, on his back. Whoop. Bang!

Robert L. Short And sh-.

Studs Terkel He's out on the floor.

Robert L. Short She comes up and is standing over him, and she says, "Isn't it better this way, Charlie Brown? Isn't it better to trust people?" [Laughter].

Studs Terkel Of course, now this theme is repeated a number of times, this football. And she does it once more. Several plays, a variation on this theme again-.

Robert L. Short Sh- they -- He does it every year. He has the same theme, every year around-.

Studs Terkel No but there's -- not the same strip. Also variations on this too, are here-.

Robert L. Short Oh that's right. Yeah.

Studs Terkel So here's man the patsy. How many times he's been had. How many times have been taken. And in all literature we see this. In "The People, Yes", Sandberg asked the question. Man, you know a gargoyle, laughing gargoyle-.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel Crying at th- how many time- how many times he's been had, gets up off the canvas again and back again. Here's Charlie.

Robert L. Short Yeah, this is one of the things that I think that Schulz wants to emphasize to us and that is that, as much as he can also be called a lover of mankind or a philanthropist or something like this, he wants to emphasize that man is not God. And any time we attempt to deify man himself then we're in for this kind of disappointment. That this kind of false trust in man, or idolatry of man, can bring about for us just like it constantly brings about this disappointment for Charlie Brown.

Studs Terkel But he also takes whacks at original sin too, doesn't he?

Robert L. Short Yeah, this is one of the thing- as a matter of fact these strips are used in the chapter on original sin. That that it's important for us to understand that from the biblical point of view, at any rate, although when we say that God loves man we're not saying so much what the man is like as we're saying what God is like. God loves us not because we're good or because we're next to the angels or something like that, but he loves us in spite of who we are.

Studs Terkel As you have in Mark Twain, your chapters all open with the various quotations, whether it be from the Bible, the Testament old or new, or Mark Twain. It's a familiar old maxim.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmmm.

Studs Terkel I remember Hal Holbrook did this a lot.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel The familiar old maxim, which assures us that man is the noblest work of God. Who found that out? [laughter]

Robert L. Short That's a great remark.

Studs Terkel And of course the Einstein comment. This came in 1952. This came after he had discovered that fission can occur, and as a result of that saw Roosevelt and not as a result of what Einstein had in mind, Hiroshima, and so his comment: "Saddest of all is the disappointment one feels over the conduct of mankind in general." And he goes on, you know, to speak of the split. "We believe the brutality of former times had been eliminated forever, and it yielded to an age of reason and stability. Now it's clear our only hope is a slender hope. For our faith in human nature has been so severely shaken. Let's hope posterity can have more than a smile of pity for this hope." That's Einstein in his most depressed moments.

Robert L. Short Yeah. Toward the end of his life, as a matter of fact, he really became disillusioned, as Mark Twain did also, about about a lot of things and especially with some of the presuppositions he had had about mankind. He he was brought up in this very liberal atmosphere in which they believed that this was the best of all possible worlds, and that man could go it alone and do it himself. And toward the end of his life, he said that "it is easier to change the nature of plutonium than to change man's evil heart."

Studs Terkel Yeah, but at the same time Schulz, and to some extent in a different way Einstein, but as Schulz also spoke of the good news, spoke of gospel.

Robert L. Short That's right.

Studs Terkel Good news.

Robert L. Short Yes.

Studs Terkel As well as a baleful-.

Robert L. Short Oh yes, yes.

Studs Terkel News and consequence. He was not he was not the priest who terrified James Joyce, the artist as a young man. That's the point, you know. [They're? Their?] original sin all the way.

Robert L. Short Yes. This certainly is true of Schulz, and this is one of the reasons why I place this business about original sin or doctrine of man first in the book, because it seems to me that the good news really can't be heard as it needs to be heard until you first look the problem in the face, squarely in the face. That is to say, the good news always comes in answer to this particular problem. Otherwise, it never is an answer for anybody. It's just something that's out there and irrelevant to life as it really is. But when we really come up against this kind of question, what can help us out of this situation that we find ourselves in, what makes us this way, what's going to help us here? Then the good news has some relevance if it's in response to this kind of question.

Studs Terkel In between the good news and, you know, the heart the heart being the lonely hunter in the dark place.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel In between you have the broken heart.

Robert L. Short That's right.

Studs Terkel And here again we have we have Charlie Brown and Linus, aren't they? Leaning on the wall on page 124.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel Again we come to the to the human condition here.

Robert L. Short Yeah. This is out of the New Testament where Jesus says, "Alas, alas, you are like unmarked graves over which men may walk without knowing it." And then Linus and Charlie Brown are leaning against the wall again, looking over the wall, and Linus says, "Sometimes I feel that life has passed me by." [dramatic sigh] "Do you ever feel that way Charlie Brown?"

Studs Terkel "No. I feel it has knocked me down or walked all over me."

Robert L. Short [Laughter] Life has passed you by, too.

Studs Terkel So so Charlie, then, he's a step beyond Linus, is he not? And his slough of despond is even deeper.

Robert L. Short Yeah I think so. Charlie Brown really knows what it means to have hit the the depths. As he does in the following cartoon, as a matter of fact. I quote from the Psalms preceding this cartoon where it says, "They say a deadly thing has fastened upon him. He will not rise again from where he lies. Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me." And Charlie Brown is lying down on the ground, his face up to the sky and its night time. And he's saying.

Studs Terkel "Oh why did I go and have to try to steal home? Why, why, why?" The next strip is in the dark of night. There's half moon out and Linus here, comes along, and Charlie's still on the ground, head up, as Linus passes by. "Why, why, why?"

Robert L. Short And Linus hears him and goes over and walks up and looks at him and walks off and he says, "I thought I heard a cry of anguish."

Studs Terkel As Charlie's voice is still going: "Why, why, why?" [laughter] So there's his friend passing him by.

Robert L. Short Even my bosom friend-.

Studs Terkel Even bosom friend did it.

Robert L. Short Lifted his heel against me. That's actually what happens in that cartoon.

Studs Terkel Well, throughout the craziness and the comic, the tragic-comic quality of man is is here, there's one that, it's funny sometimes certain -- your own experiences are evoked as you read Peanuts and certainly reading Robert Short's very very, to me, very perceptive analysis. Highly, almost entertaining in a very exhilarating one. Of course, you speak of it -- something as Peanuts beyond entertainment.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel In entertainment, you are fed.

Robert L. Short That's right.

Studs Terkel Whereas, here the reader participates.

Robert L. Short That's right, and I think also this is one reason why Peanuts is to be, seen to be an art form, as opposed to simply an entertainment. And I think this is one of the things that distinguishes between all entertainment and art, in that entertainment, it seems to me takes us away from reality and just leaves us there. It wants to give us this kind of dream world in which we can enjoy ourselves and forget about reality-.

Studs Terkel But there's no participation by the audience-.

Robert L. Short That's right.

Studs Terkel That's the point. There's no participation.

Robert L. Short That's right. And this is what art does. It seems to me that art also entertains us.

Studs Terkel But-.

Robert L. Short As it well can, but it brings us back to reality and helps us see reality, or participate in it, in a way that we hadn't participated before, and in a way in which we hadn't seen it before. Seems to me.

Studs Terkel You know, just an idea. I think a perfect example, at least for me as a reader of your book and occasional reader of Peanuts, on page 43: "Interpreting Signs of the Times; A Sequence Interpreting Signs of the Times." This is the valentine. And Lucy is about to give Charlie Brown a valentine and Schroeder is standing by watching.

Robert L. Short And she says, "Charlie Brown, I've been feeling awfully guilty about not giving you a valentine this year. I'd like for you to have this one."

Studs Terkel And Schroeder interrupts. "Hold on there. What do you think you're doing? Who do you think you are?" And he's balling out Lucy's -- "Where were you, February 14th? Everyone else was giving out valentines. Is kindness and thoughtfulness something you can make retroactive? Don't you think he has any feelings? Well, you and your friends are the most thoughtless bunch I've ever known. You don't care anything about Charlie Brown. You just hate to feel guilty." And he's shaking his finger now at Lucy, as Charlie's watching this. "And now you have the nerve to come around a whole month later and offer him a used valentine just to ease your conscience. Well, let me tell you something. Charlie Brown doesn't need your" Charlie interrupts.

Robert L. Short "Don't interfere. I'll take it!" [Laughter]

Studs Terkel So he's telling this one -- he's telling Schroeder who was interfering, he thinks, on behalf of Charlie's dignity and pride. You stay out of it. And here again, why this is apt, because immediately on reading that I thought of an experience. I was about 17 or 18, didn't know any better. And I was going along North Clark Street and I saw a man and a woman having a fight. They both were pretty drunk, and he was socking her. And she fell down. And then she got up she hit him, you know. [laughter] They were battling. And so I thought, "Gee." So he went to hit her again. They were pretty hard punches and so I said, "Hey, really?" And suddenly she hit me, from behind. [laughter] "You mind your own business [unintelligible]! You stay out of this! And mind your own-." Said I was interfering what seemed to be a domestic dispute, you see.

Robert L. Short I think this is one of the reasons why this strip is really a work of art, Studs, in that it can elucidate so many experiences from everybody. There is not, there's probably not a single strip that passes-.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Robert L. Short That doesn't remind us either of something that's happened to us in our past, not necessarily in our childhood. It is -- he really has touched some very universal themes in this strip, which makes it so much a part of all of our lives and so easy to see our own lives in it.

Studs Terkel You see it all, of course. You see it with scripture, you see it with various commentators. You see also Zorba. You quote your your -- the sources you call upon are pretty 'small-C' Catholic -- the the "Zorba the Greek" and freedom, at talking about-.

Robert L. Short Well, a lot of these things Schulz has read himself, I happen to know. We've become very good friends since this first book came out, "The Gospel According to Peanuts." As a matter of fact I hadn't met him until the first book was published, but since then I see him quite frequently-.

Studs Terkel What are Schulz's thoughts about your interpretations?

Robert L. Short Oh he's -- well he likes it very much and I -- he's said so publicly and privately. Again, for instance, the people at the Christian Century called him one time and they said, "Well how about this? Just how accurate has Short been in actually pinpointing your own intentions?" This kind of thing. And he said, "Well, of course, I didn't intend all of the things he gives me credit for. But I do mean to say a lot of them." And he's told me that he likes the second book much better than the first, although he liked the first one. He raved over it. So I'm very pleased that he's so pleased. It really is a wonderful feeling to me. As a matter of fact the best review an an author can have, it seems to me, is when he gets this kind of review from man, a man that he's worked closely with.

Studs Terkel And a good example of Robert Short's work in drawing his own analysis of of Peanuts, the strip -- "The Parables of Peanuts," this book that Harper and Row has just published, it's in paperback too -- is page 111, "The Broken Heart" again. And you quote Lewis Mumford.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel And Mumford, saying, "We've lost any other basis for conduct and the will to survive. A world that becomes even feebler and more subject to suicidal turnings upon itself." And Mumford now speaking about our day and Mumford's feelings are pretty much Einstein's-.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel But that's about our technological -- the way we handle technology today. And he says, and what what has happened is: "As a people lose its religious sense of a goal and purpose beyond mere existence." Then you have a strip -- Linus, the kid brother of Lucy.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel And he's getting dressed and Lucy's saying.

Robert L. Short "Hurry up, you'll be late for school. Here, don't forget your lunch. So long. Have a good day," as he goes out the door. And then she stands there at the front door and she says, "Survive."

Studs Terkel That's it. [laughter] Survive. Survive.

Robert L. Short So it's a -- we actually look upon it as a pretty good day if we can get through the day just surviving. And this is what Mumford has just said. And this is the this is the only goal we have anymore, it's just mere survival.

Studs Terkel Robert Lowell was once asked, "Why, why do you write poetry?" He said, "to survive the day."

Robert L. Short [Laughter] That's very good.

Studs Terkel So here's survival. But as Mumford is saying and here is the day, Mumford says, "Even our even our will to survive becomes more feeble.

Robert L. Short Yep.

Studs Terkel Witness the good citizens of Libertyville quiet as the missile, anti-missile, base so-called is set up there. Even the will to survive becomes enfeebled. And so, Pea- Peanuts is relevant all around the [line?].

Robert L. Short One of the things I attempted to do in the book that I thought was a lot of fun, Studs, was I wanted to show how existential Peanuts is. And I did this by taking some of the more characteristic utterances of one of the more characteristic existentialists, and coupling these with some of the more characteristics- characteristic Peanut cartoons. And I quoted Pascal. It seems to me that Pascal is pretty characteristic of the existentialists, and also he wrote in these kind of cryptograms that were almost cartoons themselves. And for instance, one -- in one of the Pascal's thoughts, he says, "He who does not see the vanity of the world is himself very vain. Indeed who does not see it but youths who are absorbed in fame, diversion, and the thought of the future. But take away diversion and you will see them dried up with weariness. They feel then their nothingness without knowing it. For it is indeed to be unhappy, to be in insufferable sadness as soon as we are reduced to thinking of self and have no diversion." And then it seems to me that Schulz has said precisely the same thing in the following cartoon.

Studs Terkel That's with Charlie.

Robert L. Short Yeah. And he's walking out in the field, he has his head down and looks very depressed and he says -- you read Charlie.

Studs Terkel "I hate it when the baseball season is over and the leaf is falling. There's a dreariness in the air that depresses me. Everything seems sad. Even the old pitcher's mound is covered with weeds," as he stands on the mound. And he's lying on the mound now as a pillow. "I guess all a person can do is dream his dreams. Maybe I'll be a good ballplayer someday. Maybe I'll even play in a World Series. Be a hero." And Lucy's coming along, unobserved by Charlie. "I bet out in the World Series someday. I'd bet I'll-."

Robert L. Short And she says, "Hey look who's out here talking to himself! What are you doing Charlie Brown? Thinking about all the times you struck out?" And she walks off.

Studs Terkel "There's a dreariness in the air that depresses me."

Robert L. Short [laughter] Oh. Yeah.

Studs Terkel Again this matter of identification by the reader and in this instance, reader and interpreter. Robert Short, you identify as with with Linus in contrast to, what may be molasses and treacle entertainment that is forgotten the next moment. Pete Seeger's comment about how [the artificial?] -- watching TV sometimes, the treacle aspect. So, today you don't have to tell a story, an expert storyteller does it. You don't have to be witty, you watch a comic on TV being witty. Don't have to be an athlete, you watch an athlete doing it. And he said, "The crowning shame," said Pete, "is for man and wife to sit and watch two expert lovers pretend to make love."

Robert L. Short [laughter] That's very good. Yeah.

Studs Terkel And so here-. This is the floss. This is the ersatz. And in contrast to the genuine, the participatory part, which is Peanuts.

Robert L. Short Yeah. I would certainly agree with that. That this really turns us back to ourselves, gives us something to think about, and perhaps helps us to see our own lives as they really are.

Studs Terkel There's one again -- always association. We- we've come to various chapters -- I forget which one this involved. When Charlie is making a point. It's a philosophical point to Lucy and her comment is a non-sequitur, something way out of left field and just destroys him. And again brings back a memory -- we'll find that -- oh here it is 217, 218. Again a memory comes to mind, just in reading it. 217 where it states, this is: "You shall GOD Your Neighbor as Yourself." We'll will come to that in a moment.

Studs Terkel All right.

Studs Terkel The matter of Snoopy too, our friend the dog, and God.

Robert L. Short Oh, yes.

Studs Terkel This is -- what'd I say, 217?

Robert L. Short Yeah, that's a beautiful cartoon.

Studs Terkel Is that the one I'm looking at now?

Robert L. Short Yeah that's a non-sequitur. That really is. That's a non-.

Studs Terkel That's the one. That's the one. Yeah.

Robert L. Short Yeah. You read Charlie Brown. He's talking to Lucy.

Studs Terkel Charlie's is talking to Lucy leaning over the the fence, the wall, the wall, really, it's a wall, isn't it? That wall itself [unintelligible]-.

Robert L. Short Yeah, it's a stone wall.

Studs Terkel Stone wall. "I wish I could be happy. I think I could be happy if my life had more purpose to it." He's looking at Lucy who seems to been looking at him, listening. "I also think that if I were happy I could help others to be happy. Does that makes sense to you?"

Robert L. Short And she says, "We've had spaghetti at our house three times this month."

Studs Terkel "Good grief." [laughter] Now this -- Again, everyone has an experience like that. I was about -- it was about 1943 in a greasy spoon talking to a jazz friend, a jazz musician. And he's very interested in the world. He's very renowned jazz musician Midwest now. He's tenor sax. And we're talking and he asked about the Spanish Civil War. What my thoughts about it at the time, '36. He'd played at benefits. And I gave my thoughts about Franco and and Guernica and Hitler's role, the Blue Division, Goering, and the great heroic Professor Unamuno. And talking, he's listening and nodding. And as I pause, waiting, he says, "Studs, may I ask you something? I say "Sure." I think it's [unintelligible]. "Do you think I'm getting bald?"

Robert L. Short [laughter] This happens to me, Studs. I guess it happens to everybody every day. But you know I go out and lecture on Peanuts and I make it quite clear in my lecture, I think, that I'm not Mr. Schulz. I'm not the artist. I have no talent myself. I'm simply, short of being Schultz, I am Mr. Short who simply does a commentary about the strip. And the lecture lasts an hour and afterwards people will generally come up to me and say that they like the lecture. But usually there's some little old lady who says, "I just enjoy your strip in the paper so much every day, Mr. Schulz-.

Studs Terkel Yeah of course. Oh, sure. Oh,

Robert L. Short sure. And then you realize that she hasn't heard a word you've said.

Studs Terkel Not the slightest, no, not the slightest, no. This happens regularly. Yeah.

Robert L. Short [laughter] Yes. Every day as a matter-.

Studs Terkel It's the not listening -- But which we come to the one who wants you to listen but in a very, perhaps too aggressive a way, overwhelming, "The Vulture Evangelist." Before we come to Snoopy himself and the significance, or perhaps we should say the insignificance of Snoopy.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel Theological insignificance [unintelligible] using in in a perverse way, used. But he's he pretends, he acts, our friend Snoopy the dog. Doesn't he?

Robert L. Short Yeah. He takes on these different roles.

Studs Terkel Yeah. And there's the the vulture, the vulture evangelist. Now this would be the fire and brimstone preacher, wouldn't it?

Robert L. Short Yeah, that's right. And Snoopy is up on a little tree and he's got this very long morose face and with his neck bent down and he says, "The early morning light reveals a vulture perched high on the limb of a tree." And he looks around in both directions and then he says, "Ah, a victim." And Linus walks by and he says, "The vulture peers. He swoops." And Snoopy jumps down on Linus attempting to jump right on top of him, but he falls short and hits -- lands straight on his head. Bong! Linus picks him up and carries him over to his doghouse and Snoopy says, "Rats. How humiliating." And he's lying there on his doghouse and he says, "A good vulture hates to accept charity." [Laughter]

Studs Terkel So there it is. This is again the the vulture can't be lat- there's no sense of humor to the vulture evangelist, either-.

Robert L. Short That's right. And a- actually-.

Studs Terkel There's no joy.

Robert L. Short The reason they're this way is that they refuse to accept the charity of God. The charity of God which says that that God loves all men regardless of who they are. This is really an offense to these people that God could love everybody regardless of who they are, regardless of what they've done. This really is there's nothing more offensive to this kind of mentality, that that to say to him that God loves everybody. Finally.

Studs Terkel But also joy. Joy itself becomes offensive. The joy-.

Robert L. Short That's right. That's right.

Studs Terkel Make joyful noise unto the Lord [unintelligible] .

Robert L. Short They would much rather be joyful in the attitude or in the thought that God's going to send about half the world to hell in a hand basket. This-.

Studs Terkel So, we come to this again. This is Joyce's memory in the "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man"[sic] as he was terrified-.

Robert L. Short Yes, of that sermon-.

Studs Terkel By the priest he spoke of-.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel Fire. But also there's someone I know. Peggy Terry, a remarkable woman App- from Appalachia lives in Chicago. Remembered she and her mother were having a slight disagreement involving a memory. And her mother was that was very devout. Peggy said she lost all belief because of the nature of this Baptist congregation where there was no joy. And wha- a young girl who was a marvelous singer there at the time, no instrument, could sing beautifully some of the hymns, was barred. No one talked to her because she became a dancer later on.

Robert L. Short Oh.

Studs Terkel And Peggy says as a little girl how beautiful she was when she sat there and she was ignored by the others. And so these these were vulture evangelists in spirit.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel We come to that again.

Robert L. Short Yeah. Karl Barth made an interesting comment about this kind of person. He says, "Peculiar Christendom whose most pressing problem seems to consist in this: that God's grace in this direction should be to free. That hell instead of being amply populated, might one day perhaps be found to be empty." And this is the kind of thing that these people are offended by.

Studs Terkel Well, this is what's offended -- of course, Mark Twain in his great crack he made very much-.

Robert L. Short Yeah, there are so many people that are thrown off by this kind of attitude.

Studs Terkel About heaven and hell. Remember he says all the people whom he finds boring and dull and hypocritical, are the ones who pretend to go to heaven.

Robert L. Short Heaven for climate, hell for company.

Studs Terkel Hell for society.

Robert L. Short [laughter] Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yeah, because all the one he likes are going to hell. [laughter] So, yes, he figured that one out. But dancing! And so we come -- you speak of certain music. Now, Sidney Carter, the English composer, wrote a song called "Lord of the Dance", but I think "The Crucifixion" of Phil Ochs might be good here because, the aspect of a joyful Jesus is involved here too, is it not?

Robert L. Short Mmmhmmm. Yeah, of course. As a matter of fact he could say, "Dance. How blessed are you when men hate you and outlaw you on that day. Be glad and dance for joy, for assuredly you have a rich reward in heaven." So dancing was a metaphor that he used for the joy that he came to bring.

Studs Terkel In 179, perhaps, before we hear this song that you might find appropriate, Bob. This this is one strip involving Snoopy dancing and Linus. Both--.

Robert L. Short With a Linus. They are both the dancing up and-.

Studs Terkel And they are both hopping and dancing up and down. And Lucy-.

Robert L. Short Lucy's over there and she says "Dance, dance, dance. That's all you guys ever think of. If you keep hanging around with that stupid dog, Linus, you'll end up just as worthless as he is. You'll be a nothing. Do you hear me Linus? You'll be a nothing!"

Studs Terkel And Linus is dancing, "Five hundred years from now, who will know the difference?" And they dance away, and then Snoopy dances past her, laughing almost kissing her nose.

Robert L. Short [Laughter] And she walks off saying, "Youth never listens."

Studs Terkel Yeah, and it's Lucy herself by the way, in one other spot there, resents someone who is enjoying themselves. She resents it very much.

Robert L. Short Yeah, she enjoys being a bearer of bad news, she says.

Studs Terkel But don't you find this too? And I think this is a lead to the -- Jean and Jim [sic] singing Phil Och's "Crucifixion" for Bob Short, the audience and myself to hear. But often you find this, again using Peanuts as the as the evoker of these thoughts.

Robert L. Short The catalyst, yeah.

Studs Terkel At a restaurant, anywhere in a public place, you find some people, often young, are laughing and enjoying themselves. And you find other tables glaring at them, glaring at them because they are enjoying themselves-.

Robert L. Short Yeah, and they aren't-.

Studs Terkel They've done nothing to the other. But just the fury that these people can be enjoy- exp- experiencing joy.

Robert L. Short That's right. It's really a kind of jealousy or envy, I suppose.

Studs Terkel Also a commentary on the way we live today, too.

Robert L. Short [laughter] True.

Studs Terkel And perhaps this is, too. [Plays song, "Crucifixion"] And thus we have a singing parable of the "Crucifixion" here again-.

Robert L. Short Yeah, it was beautiful.

Studs Terkel Parable through song.

Studs Terkel Robert Short our guest, and his book is "The Parables of Peanuts." The art parable, in this instance. This is the graphic art parable, the comic strip. Now about this theme of of everything happening. Here's the crucifixion, seen in twentieth century terms by two young singers and a young songwriter. At the same time the idea of a dancing, a dancing, Christianity.

Robert L. Short Mmmhmm.

Studs Terkel And I was thinking Snoopy -- which leads of course to various interpretations of Snoopy, who's abused, who's the dog, who's treated like a dog.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel And dog is D-O-G as against G-O-D. And so we come to that, don't we?

Robert L. Short Yeah. A lot of people have asked me why I use or why talk about Snoopy in terms of Christ's symbol and I think that to the best way of explaining this is to use an analogy Kierkegaard once used when he said that, suppose a king had fallen in love with a very humble maiden. He was so powerful he could give orders to have this maiden brought to his palace at once. But he didn't do this because he wanted her to reciprocate this love. He wanted her to love him just for who he was and not for the fact that he was the great and powerful king and all of this kind of thing. So, rather than attempting or rather than having her brought to his palace, he goes to her. And he goes to her not as the great and powerful king, but he goes to her as the humblest of men, as humble as she is herself in order to meet her on her same level, as low as she is in order that she may then really fall in love with him for who he is, rather than what he owns. This kind of thing. And this is in a sense is what Christianity is saying about Christ, in that he showed up not as the great and powerful king, but he showed up as this, as Isaiah could say of him, the suffering servant who showed up with a form that was so marred that he did not even look like a man. This kind of thing.

Studs Terkel This wasn't this kind of like cliche of the sweet-looking, lily-white in robe Christ. This is-.

Robert L. Short No, there was nothing about the man that should give us any indication of who he was. And in this way, then we were forced to make a decision about him rather than having some kind of indication about whether some-.

Studs Terkel And, of course, he was treated like a dog.

Robert L. Short Yeah, he was treated like a dog, he was rejected by people-.

Robert L. Short Treated like a dog.

Robert L. Short He was born in the stable, and he was killed outside of the gates of-,

Studs Terkel At the same time he was a scrapper.

Robert L. Short Oh yeah. Yeah. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Because you have here in this -- on page 216, "You shall GOD Your Neighbor as Yourself." This may be an early strip. Is this an early strip of Schulz's?

Robert L. Short No, I think it occurred within the last couple of years as a matter of fact.

Studs Terkel Oh. Well, here here's -- this is good. It's it's Li- -- who's that? That's that's Lin -- No, that's Charlie Brown-.

Robert L. Short That's Charlie Brown. He's washing his hands.

Studs Terkel And his little sister.

Robert L. Short Yeah, Sally.

Studs Terkel And Charlie washing his hands and then he goes and he puts his hands on Snoopy. And I'll be Charlie Brown, you be Snoopy. And you be Snoopy and Sally.

Robert L. Short Alright.

Studs Terkel I'll be Charlie Brown. Charlie says, "Excuse me, Snoopy. I have to go eat dinner."

Robert L. Short And Sally says, "And you have to wash your hands again because you touched the dog."

Studs Terkel "Oh good grief".

Robert L. Short And Snoopy says, "Touched the dog? Touched the dog?" And he goes over to Sally who says, "Stay away from me. My hands are clean!" And Snoopy's chasing her with his hands outstretched. And he says, "Look out, I'm covered with disease! I'm filthy dirty!" She says, "Stay away, I said." And he says, "Here comes the Bubonic Plague. Pat my head and get a handful of germs. Here comes the walking disease carrier! Beware, beware! Look out for me! I'm diseased, I'm contaminated I'm." And she's up on top of a chair and she's screaming, "Help!" And Snoopy finally walks off and he says, "Touch the dog. Good grief."

Studs Terkel Well, there you got it. That's enough, he's had enough of that. And that's the point, isn't it?

Robert L. Short Well, I couple that with an excerpt from the Gospels in St. Mark where it talks about the people who are low and humble who weren't afraid to touch Jesus. As a matter of fact they begged to touch him so that he might heal them. But the Pharisees on the other hand who said that we eat with washed hands. We -- our hands are clean, just as Sally said -- they didn't want to touch him, and as a matter of fact they abraded his disciples because they refused to eat with washed hands. This kind of thing.

Studs Terkel Yeah, but there are some who say too, "Listen, we're not going to be treated like a dog anymore." You know the matter, oh -- you know, talking about certain people say, "Oh, you aren't with them. You're not with them, are you?"

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel "Oh no! You mean you live with them? You mean you eat with them?" And suddenly them are finally saying, "Now wait a minute. Okay, we're not Snoopy now."

Robert L. Short Yeah. Well, people have asked me also, Studs, about the symbol of the dog. For instance in most of the Old Testament as well as in a lot of the New Testament, the dog is a symbol for the most, the worst and the lowest of the low, the greatest outcast. And one theologian wrote to me and he says, don't you realize that the dog is often used in the Bible as just the lowest of the low, as a figure for nothing but to be reviled? This kind of thing. But it seems to me this is why it becomes such a powerful symbol in the New Testament when this woman who confronted Jesus, she was crying after him, the Gospels tell us, and the disciples were trying to get rid of her. And finally she comes and she crawls to him. She gets down on her hands and knees, and she says -- he says to her, he says, "Do you not know that I I have come to serve the lost sheep of the House of Israel?" And she says, "But yes, master, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from under the master's table." And at this point he says, "Woman great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire." The idea being, that if a person is willing to humiliate themselves to this lowliness, as low as he was himself, the crucified savior, then he sees that she is with him in her lowliness. If she is willing to stoop to this figure of debasement and revilement, as the dog was for most of the Bible, then he's willing to bring her with him.

Studs Terkel So there's the dog, yeah.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel You know again if I could be literal for a moment even a literal memory, this is not a parable, but this is literal transference of the dog. In Montgomery, during the Selma/Montgomery march it was raining that morning as the old, old people sat on the steps of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, near Wallace's mansion. That's where the march would end. And they sat there. A little dog that belonged to one old lady who's running around. And she said, "Brownie, Brownie!" And then she said, "Even Brownie, he wants freedom too" [laughter]. You know, look at him, look at him, even he wants freedom too. And so here again, the dog-.

Robert L. Short Yeah. Yeah.

Studs Terkel So this is a literal interpretation. But I've also said -- you have it here, on 196 made me think of it. A little black woman liked what Charlie Schulz said [to you?] about the identification.

Studs Terkel Yeah, I ended this chapter on the dog-God by saying over the past few years -- and this really happened to me, Studs -- I've spoken to many people about Jesus the dog-God. But I shall never forget the person who seemed to be most delighted with this concept, the little black woman from a small struggling church on Chicago's West Side. She said to me, "I thank my God that my savior was a dog like me. He was nothing and I'm nothing. And that's how we got together."

Studs Terkel And now the dog's biting. So the dog being kicked so long, must bite back.

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel Which is also Christian doctrine.

Robert L. Short That's right. This is, of course, Christ that was capable of doing this thing he was incapable of afflicting some wounds as well as passing them out.

Studs Terkel So here we have theology, twentieth century, as seen both by Charlie Schulz and by, in this instance, his interpreter. Interpreting uniquely for himself and yet for many others it would seem, seeing a great deal that Schulz himself may have had in his unconscious. But that Robert Short, who is a theologian, who interprets "The Parables of Peanuts", Harper and Row published. This is the sequel to "The Gospel According to Peanuts" that Robert Short did. You yourself, we perhaps have neglected to mention the fact that you yourself at the Divinity School, north of Chicago, working on your Doctors.

Robert L. Short Right. And haven't done a day's work on my doctorate since these books started coming out four years ago.

Studs Terkel Well, in a way this is about as closely related to it as anything could possibly be, isn't it?

Robert L. Short Yeah. Because I was working in the field of theology and literature and a lot of people I don't think would consider Peanuts literature. But it is art, nevertheless.

Studs Terkel You know, we haven't talked, about as time runs out, perhaps a few more strips or two, yo- you and I should read. The last part of, where the sequence "Who's in Charge Here?", "Blessed Are The Poor in Spirit," "Jesus -- the Dog God," "Last Slip-ups," "Dog Houses," and "Free Psychiatric Help," Very often Lucy acts as the psychiatrist, does she not?

Robert L. Short That's right.

Studs Terkel lucy. For money.

Robert L. Short Five cents.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert L. Short Psychiatric help.

Robert L. Short And she's there.

Robert L. Short But Snoopy's gotten the best of her. He charges only a penny. And he says, "Hug a warm puppy, one cent. The puppy is in."

Studs Terkel Where is some -- perhaps we should have a psychiatric spot. Here's Charlie Brown on page 312. On in page 312 she also has new methods. She's electrifying her psychiatric booth, modern methods. But on the bottom there.

Robert L. Short Charlie Brown is at Lucy's psychiatric booth and he says -- You be Charlie Brown, Studs.

Studs Terkel And Lucy's behind, it says doctor is in and says psychiatric help 5 cents. And Charlie sitting on a stool says, "I've come to you because lately I've," She says, "Wait a minute." You know on page 313. You be Lucy. "And I come to you-."

Robert L. Short "Wait a minute. Before I begin I must ask you to pay in advance. Five cents please." And he takes a nickel out of his pocket, puts it in the little can she has there on the psychiatric booth. Plink. "Boy what a sound," she says. "How I love to hear that old money plink. The beautiful sound of cold hard cash, that beautiful beautiful sound. Plink, plink, plink! What a beautiful sound! Plink plink, plink! Nickels, nickels, nickels! That beautiful sound of beautiful plinking nickels! All right Charlie Brown now what seems to be your trouble?"

Studs Terkel [dramatic sigh]

Robert L. Short And that's the way it ends, with this long sigh.

Studs Terkel And so there we have the man, in this case Lucy will help but-- it's a very familiar theme is it not, when it comes to MDs?

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel And you -- Some of our best friends are MDs. Nonetheless, that's a very interesting point, is it not? The professional and commerce, and there we have -- So, no bases already untouched, are they?

Robert L. Short Yeah. My point in using that cartoon, of course, was that oftentimes a psychiatrist can be little more to us than a friend, a professional friend, who will listen to our problems with concern and perhaps a bit of understanding, but all for a fee. And of course, this is one of the things that prayer is designed to do. That is to say, when we pray we feel that we're talking to someone who also has our best interests at heart and also has some, some guidance perhaps for us.

Studs Terkel You know, Robert Short our guest, as we say goodbye, there's one other aspect we haven't touched on even as we're talking now. Talk itself, the abstract. How in a lot of the baseball games. He wants a pitch, you know?

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel The discussion, should he throw a beanball or not? And they speak of the morality, immorality of it, [laughter] as the night as the night comes upon them.

Robert L. Short And his final comment is "How can I win any ball games and solve moral problems at the same time?"

Studs Terkel That's an interesting the question: how can I win and be moral at the same time, too?

Robert L. Short Yeah.

Studs Terkel So, it's a discussion of man and society. And the book is "The Parable of Peanuts" by Robert L. Short. It's Harper and Row, are the publishers. It's paperback as well as hardback. And thank you very much indeed, Bob, once more.

Studs Terkel Thank you, Studs, I've enjoyed it.