Gardner Variety: Calvin and Hobbes
I can only think of a handful of things I’ve liked since childhood. I mean, really liked. And that makes sense. People change. They grow up. It’s natural for some interests to be left in the dust.
Calvin and Hobbes was always different, though.
I can still remember my 7-year-old self sifting through the novels at an elementary book fair when I first found it.
There was a picture of a little boy staring wildly off the page, pulling up on his nostril with one finger in a wry display of childhood angst.
And next to him sat a tiger, also doing his best to ruin what could otherwise have been a very lovely portrait.
It’s safe to say “Calvin and Hobbes” had me hooked from the start.
At its simplest level, the strip is about the friendship between a bright 6-year-old misfit, Calvin, and his pet tiger, Hobbes.
Only, Hobbes isn’t real — at least to everyone aside from Calvin. The fearsome tiger is a stuffed animal when others are present, and a lively, witty companion when they are not.
The strip immediately begs us to question what’s truly real and what isn’t. Does Calvin really see his stuffed tiger as a living, wisecracking sentient being, or is he simply imagining everything? And if he is, does that make it any less real?
The story can be understood on many levels, and that’s what has allowed it to cross so many generations.
There’s much to be said about Calvin’s (mostly) sophisticated view on the world, especially considering he’s six. On the possibility of alien life, Calvin once quipped “sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”
His intelligence clearly extends beyond that of a six-year-old, and his flippant remarks are often laced with profound meaning, if one looks closely.
Hobbes adds his own dry sense of humor to the mix, often pondering on the strange habits of humans. On the idea of vanity, Hobbes once asked, “so the secret to good self-esteem is to lower your expectations to the point where they’re already met?”
Huh. Maybe he’s on to something.
When I was a kid, I appreciated the richness of Calvin’s imagination, whether he was saving the city as Spaceman Spiff or poised precariously over a percolating pit of putrid pasta.
As an adult (ish), I find Calvin’s parents’ diminishing ability to use their own imaginations more reflective of myself.
Where Calvin sees a leaf-monster trying to swallow him, Calvin’s father sees a troublemaker scattering the leaf-piles he has spent all afternoon raking.
Calvin, having clearly made the best use of the fallen petals, simply can’t comprehend how his father could be so angry over such a lively game.
And maybe that’s something we all need to reflect on — an important reminder that all too often we take life too seriously.
Maybe we could use a little more imagination, too.
Wesley Gardner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org