The Hobbeses

Years ago when I was much younger and finally had access to the internet I googled “Calvin and Hobbes.” This was a desperate measure then, as I’d not acquired the habit of googling all my life’s problems and looking for the answers/seeking solace in anonymous strangers; and this desperation was due to a drought in the addition of new Calvin and Hobbes strips. Imagine the surprise when I learned that the strip had ended the year I was born! The search, however, was not fruitless. I learned that the name of Hobbes, the pseudo-imaginary tiger in the strip, (and one I’d thought strange) had been based on a 16th century English philosopher. This brief reading of Leviathan (or at least the first dozen or so chapters) has been my only acquaintance with the philosopher since then, and I cannot read the text without wondering why Bill Watterson, the strip’s author and artist as well as notorious recluse, chose to name a six-year old’s best friend after so momentous a figure. (The boy Calvin is named after the theologian John Calvin, whom I know even less about.) In the strip, Hobbes is the more rational counterpart to Calvin’s impulsive and wild nature. As a tiger, he is pessimistic in regards to humans and their nature; he is especially pessimistic when it comes to their capacity for cruelty and insanity.  As far as I know, the similarities end there, as Hobbes is often co-orchestrator with Calvin in his schemes against his parents, school, babysitter and classmates, all or one of which I presume would represent the authoritarian state that ought not be revolted against under any circumstances, no matter how terrible. I suppose it would be cliche to interpret the tiger, then, as Watterson’s personal remake of the philosopher’s ideas as he sees them–keeping the pessimism (which, really, is ultimately optimism-one does not complain unless one cares) while removing the more draconian elements of Hobbes’s state which were most likely a result of the historical context Hobbes was born and bred in. Nonetheless, I will be rereading my collection of the strips with an eye out for the similarities between the two. The tiger has always been my favourite character, and perhaps he will be able to sustain me through the murky, dense language of Thomas Hobbes!

1 thought on “The Hobbeses

  1. Iva Jankovic

    Hey Tung,

    This was a really fun blog post – which really helps when dealing with serious literature such as Leviathan 🙂 I’ve also known that there was some connection between Calvin’s imaginary tiger-friend and Thomas Hobbes, but until reading your post, I’ve never really looked into it much.

    So, first of all: thank you for doing the research for me XD

    Second of all: I had no idea Calvin and Hobbes was so deep!!! But now that you pointed it out, I can totally see the connection between both Hobbes’s pessimistic view of human nature and both of their roles/ideas of authority. I don’t think it’s cliche at all to see the tiger as a “better version” of the 16th century philosopher’s ideas – or perhaps a more modern one.



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