Thursday, July 5, 2012

Calvin and Hobbes, My Introduction to Philosophy

My paternal grandfather died when I was young, but there are two strong memories I have of him.  The first was how he would help pull my loose teeth so I could get my tooth fairy money a little faster.  This started as a joke. When I first mentioned a loose tooth to him he said, "Want me to pull it out for ya?"  I'm sure he expected me to say no, but instead I said, "Sure!"  So he got a cold washcloth, numbed my mouth with ice and then gently pulled the tooth out.  As silly as this may sound to an outsider, it's one of the strongest memories I have of my Papa Phil.

My second strongest memory was the way he would pull out the funny pages of his Sunday newspaper so I could read them and share them with my little sister, grandmother and anyone else who would let me.  My favorite comic then, now and forever was Calvin and Hobbes.  Today marks the 54th birthday of their creator, Bill Watterson.  While he's become somewhat of a recluse since he stopped making Calvin and Hobbes, he holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons.

Watterson understood what so many of the best creators do, that just because you're writing about or for children doesn't mean you must be childish to appeal to them.  He celebrated the imagination and daydreams that often get kids into trouble.  He understood that while kids love snowball fights and pulling pranks, they also struggle with complicated concepts like religion, death, politics and the media.

While Calvin and Hobbes is hailed by many as an atheist comic strip, I believe it's more complex than that.  Calvin isn't really and atheist or a theist.  To me, he's just a curious, questioning kid, much like Bill Watterson himself.  To me it matters more that Calvin keeps asking and wondering about the world, not that he comes to a particular answer.  Calvin and Hobbes so wonderfully captures the wonder experienced as a child, and to give an answer would ruin that.

Make no mistake about it, I will certainly pass down all my Calvin and Hobbes book to my future children and I hope they will enjoy them as much as I did.  But I also hope they enjoy them for their own reasons.  While I enjoyed them for the beginnings of philosophy (and great snowmen pranks) maybe my kids will love Spaceman Biff, or the beautiful watercolor artwork that Watterson used so often.  Who knows?  I just hope it fills them with the final sentiment Watterson left in the strip: "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy.  Let's go exploring!"