133

In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, was there any moment where Calvin realised that Hobbes wasn't real?

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  • 145
    But is he real...
    – Mithical
    Apr 4, 2017 at 9:20
  • 36
    @Mithrandir - Oh, the feels.. The feeeeeels.
    – Valorum
    Apr 4, 2017 at 9:42
  • 79
    On what basis do you presume that Hobbes isn't real? The comic strip was always deliberately ambiguous on that point, and Watterson maintained the ambiguity when asked about it.
    – user14111
    Apr 4, 2017 at 10:07
  • 23
    I don't think this use of the word "real" is the best fit. Are you claiming there is no stuffed animal? Of course, all parties agree that Hobbes is real. The question is, what is his nature.
    – user151841
    Apr 4, 2017 at 16:50
  • 13
    @user151841 For now, we should probably restrict ourselves to the question of whether Hobbes is alive. The question of what constitutes his essential nature is probably a bit too in-depth to resolve while not riding a toboggan.
    – Ray
    Apr 5, 2017 at 0:35

7 Answers 7

229

The assumption in the question is mistaken.

As @Mithical already linked above, it's a common assumption of adult readers that Hobbes couldn't possibly be real but that's just not how the actual comic works. Watterson intentionally left the entire issue unresolvable, with strips like this

Comic with Calvin tied to a chair by Hobbes. Calvin's father finds Calvin tied up and has to untie him.

where Hobbes should need to be real for Calvin to be in the situation he's in. The shift between how Calvin and his parents see the world is very real and part of what the comic explores, but Watterson didn't feel the parents were right and Calvin was wrong.

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    Was going to say that I have not arrived at that realization yet. Apr 4, 2017 at 15:33
  • 56
    @user21820 - That is in no way different than Calvin seeing Hobbes as a real tiger and everyone else seeing him as a toy. Calvin has his reality in the comic, and everyone else has a different reality. You are demanding that the adult reality is the "true" one. But in the zeitgeist of the comic, this isn't the case. They simply coexist side-by-side. You are free to adopt one as your own, but that is you putting in an interpretation that Watterson clearly says he didn't intend. Apr 4, 2017 at 16:57
  • 8
    His parents think he's just imagining things. Apr 4, 2017 at 17:18
  • 6
    I don't know if I would go as far as to say it was impossible for Calvin to get himself in that situation. I see that as a playful reminder of how some kids can get themselves into crazy, seemingly incomprehensible situations. Apr 4, 2017 at 17:28
  • 28
    I think the storyline where Calvin duplicates himself (and the duplicate makes several more copies) is an even better example of the two realities than Hobbes tying up Calvin. Think about where the worms came from in the adult reality. Then think about Calvin's reality. Here, the disconnect is much stronger, but it's also subtle because the adults never investigate where Calvin got the worms.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 5, 2017 at 2:04
88

No.

Calvin's parents mostly play along with his belief Hobbes is real. But when Susie directly points out that Hobbes is a stuffed toy, Calvin simply ignores her:

Calvin and Hobbes-in-doll-form are fighting in the grass. Susie walks by, saying "I don't know what's weirder - that you're fighting
a stuffed animal, or that you seem to be losing." Calvin responds "I'M NOT LOSING! HOBBES CHEATS! Quit it, you! Ow! Stop it!"

In the very last panel of the comic, we see Calvin as convinced as ever that Hobbes is a real tiger:

Calvin and Hobbes are out with the tobbogan in freshly-fallen snow. They discuss the fresh start and possibilities of the new year and a new day. Calvin says "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy... let's go exploring!", and Calvin and Hobbes ride off into the distance.

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  • 1
    Surely I'm not the only one that expected Calvin to start "writing" in the snow at the end...
    – NotMe
    Apr 5, 2017 at 14:09
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    Somewhere, in one of my boxes of old work stuff, I have a framed copy of that last panel. I should dig it out and hang it up here at home.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 6, 2017 at 20:55
  • I think this is more conclusive proof that Hobbes is not real: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/ba/88/34/…
    – Navin
    Apr 8, 2017 at 22:49
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    Conversely, here is more proof that he IS real. Calvin often imagines things, often lives in his own fantasy world. And the strip's format is so that the whole comic is set in this fantasy world of his, except for the last panel, which is set in the real world. And sure enough, Hobbes is real in the last panel more often than not. Example. So Hobbes is not part of Calvin's imaginary world.
    – Mr Lister
    Apr 10, 2017 at 10:11
30

What makes you think that he's not real?

First, consider what you mean by "real." If you mean "could you put a video camera there and record Hobbes doing the things that the comic strip has him doing with Calvin?", that's deliberately left ambiguous in the comic strips. In fact, even in a strip where Calvin takes photographs of Hobbes, Calvin and his dad just see the pictures differently, so it resolves nothing - it's not clear what the pictures "really" look like.

I'm not convinced that the "video-camera approach" is the best way to view this, though. Try to view it through the characters' POV. From Calvin's POV, yeah, he's real. From the other characters' POV, he's a stuffed tiger. I don't think that it's really important (or provable from the comic strip) which one is "correct" in the video camera sense.

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    I hope you recall the strip where Calvin takes pictures of Hobbes making goofy faces? Video cameras prove absolutely nothing, either.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 5, 2017 at 1:59
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    (Since when did cameras become arbiters of reality, anyway?)
    – Wildcard
    Apr 5, 2017 at 1:59
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    Calvin and his dad both look, with different results. See for yourself.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 5, 2017 at 3:24
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    What is "film"? (Just kidding) Apr 6, 2017 at 0:45
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    There is one strip where Calvin takes a photo of Hobbes pouncing as the front door is opened. His dad accuses him of throwing Hobbes up in the air and taking a picture of it.
    – Perkins
    Apr 6, 2017 at 18:07
8

As far as I understood when I read Calvin and Hobbes, the situations Calvin finds himself are always ambiguous. One could choose to believe that Calvin just has a high imagination in his role play with his stuffed toy or one could believe that Hobbes is some kind of magical toy that comes to life only for Calvin and is a stuffed toy to the rest of them. something like Perry in "Phineas and Ferb" (just the concept not the stuffed part).

And I always read these comics from the second point of view because it makes it that much more fun. Especially since we never hear dialogues from Hobbes when there are other people around. All his interactions are mostly done when they are alone.

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  • I seem to remember Calvin arguing with Hobbes in front of Suzie Derkins. Calvin obviously hears Hobbes' comments, but Suzie doesn't, and they don't appear in the comic panel.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 5, 2017 at 23:56
  • could you give me a link to that particular strip?
    – Dev
    Apr 6, 2017 at 6:30
  • 1
    In all the ones i remember, calvin is generally caught reacting by others to something hobbes has already done when others were not observing. So it appeared as though calvin was talking to his toy.
    – Dev
    Apr 6, 2017 at 6:37
  • Sorry, I don't really know of an easy way to find the strip online. I'm about to reread the books, though, so I'll say what book and page if I find it.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 6, 2017 at 6:47
  • @Wildcard calvinandhobbes-daily.tumblr.com
    – Mr Lister
    Apr 7, 2017 at 21:09
-1

I'd argue yes, in this strip (May 20, 1986):

Calvin and Hobbes are taking a hike and talking about how seeing wildlife. Calvin suddenly says "Look! A tiger!" Hobbes freaks out, jumping in the air and tail puffing up. They stand in silence for a panel before Hobbes (the tiger) scolds, "Don't DO that!"

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    Hey, welcome to the site! Could you add any explanation as to why you'd argue yes on the basis of this strip :S Really looks like he's playing a trick on the tiger he thinks is there by pretending he can see another one which he knows isn't there
    – Au101
    Apr 7, 2017 at 19:31
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    @Au101 I think this is meant to imply that Hobbes is not a real tiger, because there's almost no reason a real tiger would be so startled when he is notified of another tiger. Apr 7, 2017 at 20:22
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    @Gallifreyan It could also be because hobbes is a tame tiger who lives with calvin and is afraid of a more carnivorous tiger especially living in wild. So this is NOT a proof that Calvin realized Hobbes was not a real tiger.
    – Dev
    Apr 8, 2017 at 10:38
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    Sure, the obvious implication here is just that Hobbes is a "housecat" so he jumps at wild tigers.
    – Fattie
    Apr 9, 2017 at 14:24
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    I find it really interesting that everyone else reads this differently - I've always interpreted that strip as him pointing at Hobbes, because he knows Hobbes will instinctively assume he means another, wild tiger.
    – tardigrade
    Apr 10, 2017 at 6:24
-5

The simple answer is: No, he hasn't.

All the answers stating the ambiguity of Watterson's writing are over-thinking the concept of Hobbes, which is that he is real in the eyes of Calvin and Calvin alone.

I would like to point out this strip:

Hobbes: "So you're a tiger now?" Calvin, inside the transmogrifier box: "Yep. Let me out." Hobbes lifts the box, and a Calvin-sized tiger stands there looking up at Hobbes. They look at each other for a panel, and then Hobbes says "Words fail me." Calvin, looking down at himself, responds "I'm disappointed too, but keep in mind transmogrification is a new technology."

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    Can you offer any evidence that this is the case? As written it seems like your personal opinion
    – Valorum
    Apr 5, 2017 at 11:31
  • As is evident by Panels such as @Royal Canadian Bandit's example. It is not an opinion, it is clearly shown that it is how Calvin sees Hobbes, same with Spaceman Spiff
    – Nonagon
    Apr 5, 2017 at 11:35
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    As has been pointed out (by me, in the cross-site duplicate) there are also instances where Hobbes appears to have undertaken actions that Calvin couldn't have managed on his own. Reaching high objects, for example, or tying up Calvin with ropes.
    – Valorum
    Apr 5, 2017 at 11:40
  • But you do not see Hobbes performing these acts, right?
    – Nonagon
    Apr 5, 2017 at 11:52
  • 1
-7

Some answers are stating what the comic's author intended which is the characters never actually state this. Some may claim Susie does, but the conversation is between Calvin and her so from the reader's perspective it's a he said/ she said scenario and can't reliably answer the realness of Hobbes. Also, what an author's intent for their work doesn't matter. If what they write leads most readers to interpret the words differently, then they are horrible writers and couldn't convey the meaning they intended. What we can say to answer this question, at no time is it illustrated in the comics that Calvin views Hobbes as anything other than a "real" tiger. Anything else outside those panels is pure speculation including the author's intent.

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    Take a look at our tour, you will find we prefer answers supported by facts rather than opinion based "rants". Feel free to edit your answer to make it more factual.
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 5, 2017 at 6:41
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    An author's intent most certainly does matter. This idea that a work of art, once free into the world, is a wholly separate entity from the creator is revisionist bunk, designed to allow poseurs to contradict the obvious
    – Valorum
    Apr 5, 2017 at 7:12
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    Intent doesn't matter. What does matter is what the reader understands when he reads the words you choose to put down. Suppose I wrote you a note that says "I will meet you on Thursday". I give the note to you on Monday. On Wednesday, I see you and ask "Where were you yesterday?" You wouldn't have any idea what I was talking about. If you point that out to me and I respond with "I intended to say 'Tuesday'". It won't change what you actually wrote and what you understood when you read it.
    – user99448
    Apr 6, 2017 at 12:45
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    @user99448 Intent does matter. Your Tuesday/Thursday analogy is a result of incorrectness, not ambiguity. Watterson went out of his way to leave this ambiguous, that does not make him "a horrible writer." Ambiguity and leaving room for interpretation is horrible in a reference manual, but can be a powerful tool in fiction.
    – Will
    Apr 7, 2017 at 15:10
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    Y'all, the discussion over whether the author's intent matters or doesn't stems back as far as The Death of the Author if not further (and it almost certainly does extend back further). There isn't an objectively correct answer, so this "yes it does" / "no it doesn't" argument as if there's a factually correct stance is a waste of all of your time. Whether the intent matters or not are two different analytical lenses which can both be valid when applied well. Apr 8, 2017 at 11:06

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