Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)
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Calvin is a fictional character, and is the title character of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Calvin demonstrates a level of wisdom, vocabulary and humor unusual for a six year-old boy. However, in many ways he is typical for his age: he absolutely hates baths, and fears and hates his babysitter, refuses to go to school, frequently disobeys his parents, and is lazy and selfish. Calvin frequently loses himself in various fantastical worlds of his own imagining. On the rare occasions on which he applies himself, Calvin's projects in school are very well received, to his confusion or indifference. He shows relatively minor interest or success in interacting with any "real" characters, choosing instead to spend the majority of his time with Hobbes, with whom he frequently embarks on imaginary adventures, debates philosophical issues, plots various pranks against girls, and fights.
Named after 16th century theologian John Calvin, the character of Calvin is presented as being intelligent and verbose, with an imagination that usually manifests itself in the comic strip as an apparent physical existence. He despises school as an institution, directly criticizing teaching methods and enforced conformity. He often delivers sarcastic responses to dull fact-oriented questions on tests. Calvin consistently receives bad grades, simply because the subjects do not interest him enough for him to work at them. Occasionally, Calvin will receive excellent grades for a project he truly was interested in, such as dinosaurs. Calvin has a wide vocabulary and an advanced sense of irony. His grapples with philosophical quandaries are explored most elaborately during hazardous sled and wagon rides, often visual metaphors for the point of discourse which are usually cut short by a crash, banal distraction, mischievous urge, or sarcastic retort from one of his parents.
Calvin's precocious vocabulary, imagination and curiosity frequently clash with his refusal to learn things he does not want to, from teachers, parents or the lessons that emerge from his follies. He does, however, enjoy learning by choice and has a wide knowledge of dinosaurs. When his father asks why his enjoyment of learning is not reflected in his school performance, Calvin replies, "We don't read about dinosaurs." He frequently daydreams in class, imagining it variously as a prison, an alien planet, or the setting of a space battle, with the characters of Miss Wormwood or other students appearing as antagonistic aliens.
Rather than seek real help, Calvin usually defers to Hobbes, who despite his regal and wise demeanor, shares Calvin's penchant for creative stupidity. They are frequently depicted as partners in mischief and rarely take away the correct lesson when their schemes backfire. As Hobbes puts it, "Live and don't learn, that's us!" Despite their frequent fights, some less playful than others, Calvin considers Hobbes the most intelligent creature in his life and rarely perceives his "help" as misguided or deceitful.
Calvin sometimes displays minor antisocial tendencies, once wishing he were dead (only to add he really wished that everyone else were dead), and showing reluctance to participate in group activities or join organizations, frequently disrupting them when forced to participate anyway (although on the rare occasions he does attempt to follow the rules, he usually breaks them by accident). His fantasies also revolve around this, and they may frequently consist of people he knows or masses of people getting killed, such as a pack of Deinonychus attacking a school (by eating Susie Derkins first) or Calvin flying an F-15 fighter jet and launching missiles into his school, destroying it and leaving a smoking crater (only to show great disappointment when he knows it's just fantasy). Although early in the strip's run Calvin was depicted as a Cub Scout, this did not recur. He says to Susie that he did not sign up for recess baseball because he absolutely hates organized sports, and later creates Calvinball as its antithesis, the only permanent rule being that it can never be played the same way twice.
Although frequently depicted as selfish, Calvin does exhibit a deeply caring side, with several strips dedicated to his attempts at caring for an injured baby raccoon, and his despair following its death. His dad couldn't find any single way to cheer him up, even when his mom tries to help, and influences Calvin's subsequent curiosity over life and death. He similarly mourns a bird which dies after flying into a window. After catching a butterfly he lets it go when Hobbes remarks, "If people could put rainbows in zoos, they would." Conversely, he decries birds' inability to write memoirs and often tries to belittle Hobbes for being a tiger, yet just as often remarks on the pettiness of humans and envies the quiet dignity of animal life.
Calvin often expresses the imagination and naivete of a child, though these are often contrasted with his intelligence. He believes anything his dad tells him, which his dad often takes advantage of as a joke. He seems not to understand why his dad is his dad, eventually assuming it to be an elected position, and subsequently presenting polls and studies of his performance as "Dad." He believes in Santa Claus, but often grapples with the morality of acting good, and questions Santa's existence on more than one occasion. When Hobbes says "Isn't this a Religious holiday?" Calvin replies, "Yeah, but actually, I've got the same questions about God."
In a reference to John Calvin's philosophies on predestination, many strips depict Calvin causing trouble or being disobedient as a result of imaginary events that are forcing him to act a certain way. Calvin frequently claims his disruptive behaviors are out of his control, remarking to Hobbes that "Life is a lot more fun when you're not responsible for your actions."
Calvin frequently imagines himself as other human characters with super powers, usually to avoid difficult situations (like school tests). His alter egos are: Stupendous Man, Tracer Bullet, and Spaceman Spiff. Stupendous Man is when Calvin puts on a mask and cape and pretends to have super powers, often picturing his mom, babysitter, or teacher as villains. Tracer Bullet is when Calvin is a private eye and takes "cases," usually from his mom or teacher. As Spaceman Spiff, Calvin frequently crashes his spacecraft and is left on alien planets. Later Watterson said he regretted creating the Spaceman Spiff character due to lack of flexibility and humor.
On several occasions, Calvin has appeared as either a larger or a smaller version of himself, wreaking havoc as a T-Rex, or crawling across a book page as "Calvin, the human insect." More frequently, he imagines himself as a different creature altogether, in a scenario that parallels his present situation: one strip depicts him imagining himself as Godzilla battling another monster (his mother) while taking a bath.
During his imaginative flights of fancy Calvin occasionally creates machines from a cardboard box to facilitate his plans, the use of which almost always backfires. Their reality is similar to that of Hobbes, which is to say that it is never fully confirmed if they somehow actually work or if it's simply Calvin's imagination. These are:
- Transmogrifier: An upturned cardboard box with a dial on one side, which morphs the occupant into whatever the dial is set to, usually some sort of animal. On one occasion, Calvin morphs into an elephant in order to memorize his homework.
- Transmogrifier Gun: a toy gun that transforms the target into whatever the shooter is thinking of, usually an animal of some sort, although the effects are only temporary. Calvin once zapped himself and Hobbes with this invention multiple times, causing them to transform into many different things. This resulted in Calvin turning into an owl, and he couldn't turn back because after that the transmogrifier gun ran out of ammo. It wore off the next day, much to his disappointment, because he then had to go to school. It also saved him from an early death by falling from the clouds (due to clinging to a helium balloon). Calvin transformed himself into a light particle, "zipped back home instantaneously" for dinner, then remarked "If I knew we were having this, I wouldn't have hurried."
- Duplicator: A cardboard box, laid sideways, which clones the occupant. The sole use of this machine resulted in multiple clones of Calvin, all of whom caused additional trouble and left him to take the blame. Calvin turned them into worms using his cardboard box in the transmogrifier configuration (upturned) and buried them..
- Ethicator: This is the original duplicator, but with an "ethicator" added (an arrow that points to either "Good" or "Evil") that creates a "good" or "evil" duplicate of the occupant. On the only occasion it was used, Calvin's "good" duplicate initially proved to be a success, willingly doing work the real Calvin hates doing, but when he begins to fight the real Calvin over Susie's distrust of Calvin, he vanishes as the ethicator had a "Moral Compromise Spectral Release Phantasmatron" which did not allow the "good" or "bad" duplicate to exhibit tendencies contrary to its purpose.
- Time Machine: An open-topped cardboard box, which Calvin uses to travel forwards or backwards in time. Calvin's first attempt to travel to the future is foiled when he points the box the wrong way, resulting in a journey into the past. He has also used the time-machine to travel back to the past to take photos of dinosaurs and to retrieve his homework from the future.
- Cerebral Enhance-o-Tron: A colander, worn on one's head, attached by three strings (input, output, and ground) to a cardboard box. It makes the wearer temporarily super-intelligent, but also makes his head larger.
The Noodle Incident is a running gag about an event at school in which Calvin was involved in the past. Whenever a character mentions it to Calvin, he immediately gets very defensive about it. The June 10, 1989 strip hinted that worms were involved. The incident itself is never shown or explained, although various allusions appear throughout the strip.
Calvin always experiences internal struggles during the Christmas season, trying to decide whether he should try to be well-behaved to get more "loot," whether his bad behavior during the year will negate any efforts he makes, or whether the presents are even worth being good. He remarks in one strip that "throwing these snowballs would give me immediate and certain pleasure. Refraining from throwing these snowballs in the hope of being rewarded at Christmas is delayed and uncertain pleasure." On Christmas morning, he usually wakes his parents up extremely early (5:00 for example) so that he can open his gifts, much to his father's disgust.
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Calvin is named after 16th Century theologian and philosopher John Calvin. The namesake is known for his belief in predestination, which the character alludes to and even tends to believe in himself. This is opposed to the stuffed tiger's governing philosophy of materialism and poor outlook on life and human nature. Thus, in other words, young Calvin is an elementary Calvinist, and the tiger an elementary Hobbesist.
The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva (under Calvinist rule) and wrote The Social Contract (inspired by Thomas Hobbes). His book Émile is about the upbringing of a young boy and the role of freedom and imagination in his development.