Toboggan

A reader writes:

I feel compelled to respond to your reader's critique of the Calvin & Hobbes/Fight Club connection, in which the reader claimed a) that Hobbes was essentially independent from Calvin, whereas Tyler is totally dependent on Jack, and b) that Hobbes was the voice of reason, whereas Tyler is not.

To answer the first, is Hobbes truly independent of Calvin? Superficially, he is obviously not: he is part of Calvin's imagination. Watterson treated Hobbes as a totally separate and unique character from Calvin, but he did so because he wanted to present the world the way Calvin sees it. To Calvin, Hobbes is a totally separate entity, so that's how the audience sees Hobbes. But in reality (within the strip, that is), Hobbes is "just" a stuffed tiger. The parallels to Jack and Tyler are therefore obvious. For the first 3/4s of the movie, Tyler is presented to the audience as a totally separate entity from Jack, because that is how Jack sees him. Tyler never actually exists, but the audience believes he does because Tyler believes it. Hobbes and Tyler are both presented to the audience as separate characters, when in fact they are simply part of Calvin and Jack.

The only significant difference is that after the reveal in Fight Club, the movie accepts the "reality" that Tyler is part of Jack. But in Calvin & Hobbes, the strip never accepts the "reality" that Hobbes is part of Calvin. Even when other characters are shown to believe that Hobbes is just a stuffed tiger, Hobbes stays real and separate for Calvin and the audience. The presentation of Hobbes/Tyler varies, but their true nature stays the same.

As for the second point: it's worth noting that the premise here is that Calvin buried Hobbes deep in his psyche when he reached adolescence. So Tyler is Hobbes after he's stewed in Calvin's subconscious for a decade. It's safe to assume that this process will twist and distort Hobbes; he'll still be the voice of reason, but it'll be a twisted form of reason. And in Fight Club, Tyler is still entirely rational; he doesn't change Jack by threatening him or scaring him; he changes Jack by appealing to his mind and presenting evidence that makes Jack think about the world in a different way. We may recognize that Tyler's brand of logic is twisted and nihilistic, but he's still presenting it to Jack as rational and true; he's appealing to Jack's mind. Take Hobbes, bury him in the dark for 10 years with the snippets of Nietzsche that Calvin/Jack read in college, and voila! Tyler Durden.

One last possibility: what if Calvin is the personality that had to be buried, and that eventually bubbled up as Tyler? What if, when forced (probably by his father, it should be noted) to discard the Hobbes illusion, the Hobbes personality stayed on the surface and grew up into Jack, while Calvin was buried and stewed until it became Tyler?

Another writes:

The difference from the Fight Club setup is that Tyler represents some sort of id (want) to the other Jack's ego (can) and superego (should), while the "real" character in the comic strip, because he is a small energetic child, is the id to Hobbes' ego and superego. It's Hobbes who usually understands the real-world danger of rocketing down a hill on a sled at uncontrolled speed. And it's Hobbes who understands the broader social repercussions of Calvin's schemes. In some ways, I think Hobbes foreshadows the older adolescent/adult that Calvin will become. Hobbes often seems smitten with Susie Derkins, who Calvin hates so much he must kind of like her. Hobbes reassures us that Calvin won't turn into a juvenile delinquent - he'll turn into Hobbes.

Since my kids discovered our old Calvin & Hobbes collections, the strip has been on my mind more than it had been for years.

A final reader's thoughts:

I think your reader is mistaken to say that Hobbes isn't controlled or limited by Calvin's imagination.  I think to really understand the identity of Hobbes, you need to place him in the proper context of an intelligent, immature and precocious six year old.  If Tyler Durden is a projection of all the qualities that Jack wants to be, Hobbes is a projection of the qualities of emerging maturity that Calvin resists and therefore projects on to an imagined other. 

Where Calvin is impulsive and unconstrained, Hobbes is temperate and wise.  Where Calvin is ego-centric, imagining himself as a character of unparalleled importance in the world, Hobbes shows acceptance and contentment with normal life.  Where Calvin hates girls and forms a club to publicly express his hatred of girls as loudly as he can, Hobbes is openly sexual - meaning that Hobbes can act on the quasi-romantic feelings that Calvin has for Susie that Calvin can only express through teasing and harassment.

Therefore I don't think it's true that Hobbes is "smarter" than Calvin; I would say that Hobbes represents Calvin's emerging wisdom that Calvin understands, but is not yet willing to incorporate into his own persona.  That is, I think the best way to understand the conversations between Calvin and Hobbes about God, gender, morality, and so on is as a visual way of presenting the interior conversations of a single individual.  Watterson himself clearly values solitude, nature, and personal meditations on profound subjects; I suspect that the personas of Calvin and Hobbes ultimately grow out of two different kind of voices that he has in his head when he goes walking through the woods, or tobogganing through the snow.

For other superfans of the series, don't miss the Calvin and Hobbes search engine, created by Michael "Bing" Yingling. (If you have trouble reading the above comic, go here.)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.