Sunday, March 18, 2012
4477. Woodstock the King of Love
Woodstock is a fictional character in Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts. He is Snoopy's closest friend and, after Snoopy, the most recognized non-human in the strip.
Snoopy began befriending birds in the early 1960s, when they started using his doghouse for various purposes: a rest stop during migrations, a nesting site, or a place to play cards. None of these birds were ever given names, or even used speech balloons; they simply looked at Snoopy and he understood them. What set Woodstock apart from all these earlier birds was the fact that he attached himself to Snoopy and assumed the role of Snoopy's sidekick and assistant. There had been no recurring relationships between Snoopy and the earlier birds who visited the yard of the Brown family, and Snoopy was as often as not more hostile than friendly toward those birds. But, in the April 4, 1967, Peanuts daily comic strip, a single bird flew in after a long flight while Snoopy was lying on top of his dog house. He chose Snoopy's nose as a good place to rest, and Snoopy uncharacteristically accepted this intrusion. Over the next two days, Charles Schulz began to establish character traits for Snoopy's new friend by revealing that he could talk (more accurately that he could complain, in the form of repetitive sounds in word form—"gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe", "complain, complain, ..."), that, unlike normal birds, he didn't like to fly south every winter, and that his flying skills were not quite up to snuff. By the end of this four-strip sequence, Snoopy, in character as the World War I Flying Ace, learns that the bird is his new mechanic — Woodstock's first supporting role. After this introduction, the unnamed Woodstock is seen with Snoopy on occasion, and other birds continue to appear as they had for years. But Woodstock is singled out as the bird who befriended Snoopy, in part by continuing references to him as the Flying Ace's mechanic (July 12, 1967; June 12–14, 1968). Finally, on June 14, 1968, fourteen months after his first landing on Snoopy and after a second appearance as a supporting character for Snoopy (his wrist wrestling partner on April 25, 1968), the most important aspect of Woodstock's relationship with Snoopy is made clear—Snoopy first refers to this bird as his buddy. That identification was more than enough for readers to know, if they hadn't already figured it out, that this little bird, name or no name, had assumed the role of a regular character in the Peanuts cast.
Schulz did not give him a name until June 22, 1970. Schulz acknowledged in several print and TV interviews in the mid-1970s that he took Woodstock’s name from the rock festival. (The festival’s logo showed a bird perched on a guitar.)
Schulz originally considered the bird to be a female—but after the naming on June 22, 1970, it incidentally changed to be a male. As he explained in an interview in 1987:
"I had been reading the Life magazine article about the Woodstock Festival and I had the little bird in the strip. It was a she and she was Snoopy's secretary and I was doing secretary jokes quite often so then I thought Woodstock would be a good name for this bird and also, it will get the attention of these people that liked that kind of thing. Suddenly she was not a secretary; she became Woodstock, the boy. It just happened. But that's what's good about a comic strip—you can just do it."
(In the Norwegian translation of Peanuts, the bird is named “Fredrikke”—a female name—and it is always referred to as a female.)
Snoopy has often wondered what type of bird Woodstock is. At one point Snoopy attempts to identify him with the aid of a field guide, asking Woodstock to attempt to imitate various birds: Crow, American Bittern, Carolina Wren, Rufous-sided Towhee, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Canada Goose, Warbler and Mourning Warbler. Snoopy finally gives up trying to figure it out, and hurts Woodstock's feelings by saying, "For all I know, you're a duck". Snoopy takes it back with a quick hug, at which point it becomes clear that it does not matter what type of bird Woodstock is; the only important fact is that he is Snoopy's best friend.
Schulz never definitively answered the question of what type of bird Woodstock was supposed to be.