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The Hobbes Debate: Is “Calvin and Hobbes” ‘ Stuffed Protagonist Real?

Who else here loves Calvin and Hobbes?

I do. I began the series in fourth grade. One of my earliest memories, though not the first, is reading a collection during fourth grade silent reading time. I was trying my very hardest not to burst out laughing when Calvin flooded the bathroom and had to go find buckets, attracting the attention of his parents.

Watterson had said that Calvin sees what it real to him and that everyone else saw what was real to them. So wouldn’t that mean that Hobbes is fake? After all, something can’t be real to just one person, right?

Yet, most of the strip revolves around Hobbes being a talking, thinking character. What’s really real here?

Evidence for Being Real

*There is a moment in the very beginning of the strip where Calvin goes to check his tiger trap, which he sets with a tuna fish sandwich. Hobbes then gets trapped, and that’s presumably how they meet.

*There are many instances that can’t happen without Hobbes being real.

-Calvin gets pummeled when he walks in the front door constantly. His mom acknowledges how dirty he gets, but it would be difficult to do so on his own.

-Likewise, Hobbes always hits Calvin with snowballs and we, and other characters, often see that he was hit.

-Hobbes eats a sandwich at the bus stop, and when Calvin gets on the bus, he realizes how light his lunchbox is. Could Calvin have gotten hungry and just used his imagination to show that he regretted eating lunch way too early? Perhaps, but that seems like a lot of work.

-At Susie Derkins’ birthday party, Calvin isn’t aware that someone cut Susie’s cake too early. It’s then that Hobbes informs him that the cake is chocolate.

-One of the most famous instances that vouches for Hobbes’ existence is a scene where Calvin gets tied to a chair and can’t get out. He would never have been able to tie himself up like that. It’s also highly unlikely that Calvin has a friend who conveniently disappears and likely jumps out the window whenever Calvin’s parents come to investigate what their son is up to.

-Calvin has Hobbes take a photo of him while sneezing. Judging by Calvin’s position and the fact that both his hands are in the image, he wouldn’t have been able to do it himself.

-In G.R.O.S.S. club meetings that require a password, Hobbes throws down a rope ladder for Calvin to climb. Calvin wouldn’t be able to climb up himself without the ladder being tossed down to him.

-While playing hide and seek at one point, Calvin sits and waits for a long time for Hobbes to find him. Turns out that Hobbes found an opportunity to go read Calvin’s comic books. He is in Calvin’s room when Calvin goes to find him from outside. So how did he get there? (ARGUMENT: Calvin’s mom could have taken him in, but then again, why would she have done so before Calvin was done outside?)

-Calvin puts Crisco in his hair for school picture day to give it a “fancy” style, but Mom makes him comb it out. At the bus stop, Hobbes styles it to make Calvin look like “Astro Boy.” People notice Calvin’s wacky new hairdo, especially Susie.

*Hobbes tends to be a bit more logical than Calvin. So would Calvin actually be able to think from Hobbes’ perspective sometimes? It might be difficult.

*Scenes from Calvin’s imagination would be hard to pull off. When he builds his duplicator and uses it to produce a “good” version of himself, we can see him hiding in his room and being thrilled about not going to school after the duplicate leaves the house. It’s very plausible his cardboard box technology was real, because it would be unlikely that Calvin could change his hairstyle that quickly in between scenes (the “good Calvin” had it combed. Calvin meets Susie very soon after the duplicate gave her a Valentine and he then has spiky hair.) If he can duplicate himself, why can’t he have a talking tiger buddy?

*To add to the above, we can see that Hobbes has unique thoughts even when Calvin isn’t in the picture. When Calvin goes to recite a poem about Hobbes, he then leaves the room. We can see Hobbes thinking (with Calvin gone): “This is why I try to sleep through most of the afternoon.”

*If Calvin didn’t want mustaches drawn on the superheroes in his comics, why are they there?

Evidence for Not Being Real

*The most important one is that Hobbes is stuffed whenever someone else…a parent, Susie, etc. is around. Nobody has ever seen Hobbes move or have been confused when they hear someone else in their house speak. Even in photos, Calvin’s parents see him as stuffed. Calvin knows that Hobbes is about to pounce on him walking through the front door in one strip, so Calvin whips out his camera and snaps a photo. To his dad, and the reader, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger that has been tossed in the air. But as anyone who follows a religion will tell you…just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real.

*Would Hobbes, who often appears stuffed, really be wandering around in suburban woods when Calvin built his tiger trap?

*Although Hobbes is more logical and mature than Calvin, it’s possible that he could just be Calvin’s conscience. We know that Calvin has a good side once in a while and thinks deeply about issues, too. They share the same opinions on many big issues…except maybe what qualifies as being on Santa’s good list.

*Susie clearly isn’t aware that Hobbes is a live, talking being when she runs into them during an argument. When the two were up in the tree house having an argument, Susie asks Calvin, “Who are you talking to up there?” implying that nobody else is speaking.

*Hobbes doesn’t seem able to move around himself. When Calvin tries to run to the Yukon, he runs back home leaving Hobbes in the woods. Hobbes tells Calvin he walked back himself, but it is revealed to the reader that Dad went out and got him.

*It’s easy to believe in most cases that Hobbes is imaginary, like all our former stuffed pals. They play Monopoly and read comics together, things that a kid could easily do “with” a stuffed animal or imaginary friend.

*A final theory is that Calvin could be suffering from multiple personality disorder with Hobbes as another manifestation of himself.

Here’s my theory: Hobbes is, in fact, a real tiger. He simply reverts back to his stuffed self whenever anyone else is nearby or within earshot. Simply arguing that “most of the events are in Calvin’s imagination” makes the strip redundant, since it is, after all, a comic strip. Considering the talking cats, dogs, and inanimate objects we’ve seen in comics, it’s not hard to believe that Hobbes is real too. I personally feel that this view makes the strip so much more interesting!

In making my list, I also noticed something interesting: most of the “evidence” against Hobbes is theory-based or based on what is easiest to believe, rather than stemming from actual happenings in the strip. There is a lack of concrete evidence. Hmm…A lot of evidence also suggests that Hobbes isn’t real to anyone else, making my theory work.

Sometimes, imagination is important. And this time, I choose to believe that something implausible is real. That’s part of the magic of reading.