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The Surprisingly Dark Political Philosophy of Calvin And Hobbes That You Definitely Missed As A Kid

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.

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  • Calvin Is Named After A Major Figure Of The Reformation

    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.

  • Fate, Destiny, And Predestination Are Major Themes

    Fate, Destiny, And Predestination Are Major Themes
    Photo: Bill Watterson / GoComics

    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."

  • Calvin Uses Philosophy To Get Out Of Work

    Calvin Uses Philosophy To Get Out Of Work
    Photo: Bill Watterson / GoComics

    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.

  • Hobbes Is Named For An English Social Philosopher

    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.

  • The Best Strips Work On Multiple Levels

    The Best Strips Work On Multiple Levels
    Photo: Bill Watterson / GoComics

    Like Thomas Hobbes, Hobbes the tiger doesn't think much of humans or their priorities. And he isn't shy about letting Calvin know when he's being intolerable. In one strip, a proud Calvin, standing in his tighty-whities, tells Hobbes that he's made in God's image. The tiger's nonplussed response is, "God must have a goofy sense of humor."

    In another strip, Calvin wakes up Hobbes in the middle of the night with philosophical questions. "I wonder why man was put on earth," Calvin wonders, "What's our purpose? Why are we here?" Hobbes responds, "Tiger food," and goes back to sleep, leaving Calvin to lie awake looking over his shoulder. While to a child, the strip is simply funny, adults might pick up on the philosophy of Hobbes's namesake, Thomas Hobbes, that human life is "nasty, brutish, and short."

  • Calvin And Hobbes Discuss The Very Meaning Of Life

    Calvin And Hobbes Discuss The Very Meaning Of Life
    Photo: Bill Watterson / GoComics

    Calvin and Hobbes spend a lot of time riding in their red wagon through the woods, or sledding in the winter time. The wagon rides give the pair a chance to discuss philosophical topics in a less than scholarly setting. And the strips often have a much deeper meaning than children would recognize. In one strip, Calvin asks what if there is no meaning in life. "Suppose there's no reason, or truth, or rightness in anything?" he wonders as they barrel down a steep hill, Hobbes clutching on to the wagon. 

    As they fly off a cliff, Calvin ponders, "What if nothing means anything? What if nothing really matters?" And just before they hit the ground, Calvin makes a philosophical 180. "Or suppose everything matters. Which would be worse?"

    Without the friendly colors and the cheerful boxes that remind you this is a comic strip, Calvin's monologue would not be out of place in a psychologist's office, showing the dark undercurrents in the strip.