It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Everybody loves Peanuts, right?  And I don’t think you can love Peanuts without loving Snoopy.  Snoopy has long been one of my favorite comic strip characters, mostly because of his wonderful flights of imagination.  Enjoying writing as I do, you’d think I’d jump at Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz.  So there’s a bit of mea culpa here when I admit that this was a Dusty Bookshelf Challenge book.

How long has it been on my shelf? I honestly don’t know.  It’s been sitting on a rarely-visited bookshelf for what feels like always and must have been at least a few years.

I almost never buy unread books, so how did I get it? I don’t know…somehow I got it, and I don’t remember how, so I hope it wasn’t a gift from someone who reads my blog!

Now that I’ve read it, am I keeping it? Yes, mostly because the comic strips are so fun.  More on that in a moment.

I’m counting this one for my Nonfiction Challenge too, because it’s certainly not a novel, and there’s enough text that I don’t think it has to be considered a comic strip collection either.

As Snoopy fans know, the famous beagle aspires to be a famous author.  Thus the iconic image of Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse, typing “It was a dark and stormy night” on his typewriter.  This book brings together numerous writing-related Peanuts strips, with brief writing advice from 32 authors.

The book starts a bit slow, or maybe just takes too long to get going.  There’s a foreword from Monty Schultz (Charles Schulz’s son) and an introduction from Barnaby Conrad, both about Charles Schulz and writing.  The topic is interesting, but I think they would have done better to have one of them write, or to maybe move one essay to the end.  It’s too much on one subject, while we’re waiting to get to the main event.

But once we do get to the main event, the Peanuts strips and the writing advice, it’s a lot of fun.  I don’t think any of the writers put something down here that was life-changing for me, but they have good advice about writing and publishing, or sharing their writing adventures or the adventures of other writers they’ve known or admired.  I’m always interested in other writers’ processes and experiences.  Some of the advice ties directly into a particular Peanuts script, which is especially engaging.

The best part of the book, though, was the Peanuts comic strips.  It’s all about a beagle tapping away at a typewriter, and yet Schulz managed to get at essential truths of the writing life, and be very funny besides.  It may be an odd thing to say about an aspiring writer beagle, but Snoopy’s experiences are universal.  The struggle to begin, the difficulty of finding the right word, the well-meaning but ill-placed advice from others, the love of your own words even when you know (or suspect) they’re not very good.  Who hasn’t written something awful that nevertheless made them laugh, making it very hard to let go of?  Snoopy does a whole series of really horrid puns at one point: Edith had refused to marry him because he was too fat.  “Why don’t you go on a diet?’ a friend suggested.  ‘You can’t have your cake and Edith too.”

Some of my favorite strips are when Snoopy tries to sell his stories, and keeps getting vast numbers of dreadful rejection slips.

Dear Contributor, we have received your latest manuscript.  Why did you send it to us?  What have we ever done to hurt you?

Dear Contributor, we are returning your worthless story.

Dear Contributor, we’ve seen better writing on license plates.

In my experience, agents and editors are actually extraordinarily polite in their (form) rejections, but Schulz has still captured what it feels like!  And Snoopy’s responses are spot-on too.

Dear Editor, why do you keep sending my stories back?  You’re supposed to print them and make me rich and famous.  What is it with you?

I’m also a bit amazed by the level of the literary references in some of these strips.  Snoopy frequently aspires to be Leo Tolstoy, and there are references to Thomas Hardy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Little Women, Moby Dick, Ben Hur…  Peanuts is wonderful proof that comic strips can be intelligent and insightful–and funny, of course!

In some ways, this book really is more of a guide to the writing life than to writing.  I don’t know that I learned much about writing, but it was good to see that even Snoopy experiences the same ups and downs of the writing life!

Peanuts website:

Other reviews:
1st Writes
Perpetual Folly
The Trendsetter
Anyone else?

4 thoughts on “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

  1. I ADORE Peanuts. It is one of the earliest things I remember having read to me and some of my earliest reading memories. Even now I am slowly collecting the nice Fantagraphics books that collect all of Schulz’ work year by year. There is something so timeless about these characters. A sometimes raw, melancholy sense of humor mixed with some darkness and a lot of light. Such good stuff.

    1. You described Peanuts so well I don’t know what to add–except that you’re SO right about the melancholy humor of many of the strips! Charlie Brown never kicks the football and Snoopy never sells his stories, but somehow Schulz put it together in a way that’s more comforting than depressing.

  2. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that many of the funniest things you’ll ever see are more true to life and have a bigger impact than dramatic scenes that are actually intended to have an impact on the reader. There are stand up comedians who have routines that are enormously funny, but then when you stop and think about it you realize that the only thing they did to make it funny was to talk about something most people don’t. George Carlin was one of the best ever at this, and it’s a very large part of why his routines still stand up to this day even if you’ve seen them 100 times before.

  3. dianem57

    Charles Schulz had a great talent for distilling universal truths about life into those “little” comic strips. That includes universal truths about the writing life. What is really amazing is that he made them funny, too. Sounds like a fun little book to read.

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