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The Antipodean Point of View,
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Paperback)Amongst the many reviews written on behalf of David Michaelis' "Schultz and Peanuts", some have been exclamatory while others have been critical of the author's approach to his subject. Apparently members of Charles Schulz' immediate family have also expressed bitter disappointment that the man they loved was not portrayed as they actually knew him. They believe the author has been arbitrary and has randomly used information from, and observations made during many interviews with the Schulz family and associates in order to fashion a story to fit his own theories. Indeed a lot of the criticism on all sides has been levelled at Michaelis' supposed psychological theorising as the life and behaviour of Schulz is followed from boyhood to old age. I note also that most, if not all the reviews on amazon USA have been written by American readers and fans of Schulz' cartoon 'Peanuts', and who may feel they have some ownership of both the artist and his many characters - enough in fact so as to expect a biographer to present work along the lines of their own understanding, and in a way that they themselves would like it to be.
As a New Zealander (that beautiful little country south-east of Australia) I feel I have a unique antipodean position from which to review Michaelis' biography with some objectivity, and - dare I say it - with even more admiration. 'Peanuts' appeared regularly in New Zealand newspapers from the mid 1960s and gathered a following, but not quite the devotion expressed by American readers, the reason being perhaps that in those days we in this country were not exposed so much to US customs and views of the world, and therefore to me the characters appeared to be quirky, and the story lines somewhat difficult to follow. When I discovered relatively recently that a biography had been written about the man whose name was familiar to me only as the artist of these strange, spare little cartoons, I was at once interested and also wary, knowing that the cost of importing this book might result in a huge literary disappointment to me as well as hard earned money being wasted.
I can only say that my money was not wasted, and I so enjoyed Michaelis' writing that I shall be looking for others of his books!
I think that when judging this book you have to examine what you expect from a biography. If it is the 'once-over-lightly Readers' Digest approach, "Schulz and Peanuts" is not for you. If indeed you want to know all the intimate but ordinary details of Charles Schulz' life (ie what hockey team did he follow?) then I think you are going to be disappointed
You have only to look at the first sentence in the preface to see where Michaelis is headed with the results of his research viz:"When Charles Schulz died, he left behind fifty years of clues about his life embedded in his cartoons" (p.ixP. And again in answer to an inquiry as to "...whether someone who had followed the strip from the outset'...could actually write a biographical portrait...?' Schulz answered ...'I think so...'"(p.xi). These are the observations that form the premise of Michaelis' work and they are those he perseveres with from beginning to end, using many of Schulz' cartoons to speak of their author and artist as well as the written word itself. Charles Schulz is brought to life as a warm and human personality, an observer, a very deep thinker and a man of vision and ambition who used what he did best as a means of not only interacting with his world, but also to make sense of it for himself and for others. That so many American citizens could also identify with his observations, shows that he was at once everyman in being able to touch on the aspects of American life that his followers recognised, as well as being unique in his expression of it.
For me, on this side of the globe, Michaelis has clarified much of the esotric nature of Schulz' cartoonery, and in doing so has helped me to understand the genius behind it. Certainly the approach to try to discover the real Charles Schulz IS behavioural and for some I guess is a little too theorietical and/or analytical. But when the subject himself preferred if he could to melt into the background and give very little of himself away at times, what else is a biographer to do but to look at the behaviour exhibited not only by Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty and others, but also that of the artist himself and begin to ask 'Why?'
Contrary to the end papers of the book, I do not think David Michaelis has written the 'definitive' biography per se. I am sure there are other aspects of Charles Schulz that could be explored - perhaps Monte Schulz might be the one to write a more personal memoir of his father in the way Chris Lemmon has done for his father Jack. But for this reader, Michaelis' book has been a revelation. Don't be put off from buying because of negative criticism from many quarters. If you enjoy good writing, good scholarship, an excellent read and an admirable attempt to relate creator and subjects, then spend your money without equivocation. Come to this book with an open mind and you will not be disappointed.