Many of us grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes every day in the newspaper - or reading one of the many print editions of the strip. But behind the sunny story of a six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger lurked some deep philosophical questions. Just like the hidden political symbols in The Wizard of Oz and the adult jokes in Pixar movies, there is a dark philosophy in Calvin and Hobbes.
Bill Watterson wrote and illustrated Calvin and Hobbes from 1985 to 1995, and in the decades since the strip has become even more beloved. But most of us missed a lot of Calvin and Hobbes philosophy quotes - even down to the names of the characters, which are based on surprising inspirations. In the world of Calvin and Hobbes, morality is all about living in the moment. At least until Hobbes steps in to pop Calvin's bubble.
You'll be shocked at all the dark and depressing things you missed in Calvin and Hobbes. And if you need to get your Calvin and Hobbes fix, you can purchase strips on Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes website or GoComics.
What do comic strips have in common with religious reformers? Not much, except that Calvin's name is inspired by 16th century Protestant reformer John Calvin. Bill Watterson, who was a poli-sci major at Kenyon College, has explained, "It's an inside joke for poli-sci majors."
But the joke goes deeper than a shared name. John Calvin was a strong proponent of predestination, the idea that God had already judged each individual as saved or damned before their birth. While the concept sparked religious wars in the 16th century, the six-year-old main character of Calvin and Hobbes sees predestination as a "get out of jail free" card.
Just like Protestant reformer John Calvin, six-year-old Calvin is curious about the concept of predestination. Are people's fates already decided long before they are born, as many religious figures have argued? Or can people change their fate? Calvin asks Hobbes about fate and predestination in one of the earliest strips from November 30, 1985. For Calvin, the idea that his actions are inevitable would ease his conscience, especially around Christmas time. But Hobbes declares predestination a "scary thought," since it would eliminate any notion of responsibility.
Similarly, in a strip from 1991, Calvin asks Hobbes, "Do you believe our destinies are controlled by the stars?" Hobbes, ever practical, answers, "No, I think we can do whatever we want with our lives." Then, Watterson reminds us that we're reading an imaginary conversation between a six-year-old and his stuffed tiger when Calvin says, "Not to hear Mom and Dad tell it."
What kid likes homework? Calvin is definitely no exception, even going so far as to invent curious space aliens to get out of completing his leaf collection project and fantasizing about taking out his school with a fighter jet.
In one memorable strip from June 1, 1993, Calvin tries to end a math lesson with a philosophical question. "Given that, soon or later, we're all just going to die, what's the point of learning about integers?" An exhausted Miss Wormwood simply ignores the question, causing Calvin to complain, "Nobody likes us 'big picture' people."
Typically, children's comics stay away from heavy subjects like the inevitability of death, but somehow Calvin and Hobbes manages to make it funny.
As Bill Watterson explained in the The Calvin And Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, Hobbes is named after a 17th century philosopher with a "dim view of human nature." Thomas Hobbes wrote an absolutist political treatise, The Leviathan, where he argued that in a state of nature, human lives were “nasty, brutish and short."
Like his namesake, Hobbes isn't impressed with Calvin's philosophical dilemmas. But he's also a much more energetic and friendly fellow than the historical Hobbes - which might be because the character is also inspired by Bill Watterson's cat, Sprite.