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'CALVIN AND HOBBES' AND THE MORAL SENSE

11:00 PM, Dec 17, 1995 • By JAMES Q. WILSON
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There is one part of his life that is beyond mere self-interest or quick calculation: Hobbes. Though the tiger greets Calvin with ferocious leaps that nearly bury the boy in the lawn, though Calvin and Hobbes fight over the silliest disagreements, Hobbes has a nature that compels Calvin's affection. The presocial Calvin learns something from the nonhuman Hobbes because Hobbes is warm, furry, loyal, understanding. The tiger is everything six-year-olds are not. Calvin's essential humanity is aroused by being with his tiger.

The saddest episodes in the short life of the comic strip were when the house was burgled and for a few desperate hours Calvin thought Hobbes had been stolen. Their reunion was genuinely touching, as were the many times when they played Calvin Ball or lay in front of a warm fire nestled against each other.

Why have so many people found Calvin to be so amusing and absorbing? Because, I suspect, there is a part of our minds -- a part Adam Smith called the Impartial Spectator -- that examines our lives. Its inspection reveals in each of us a six-year-old struggling to assert itself. It wins the struggle when we give way to excessive greed, intemperate rage, or preening self-adulation. And with our immense capacities for rationalization, we can justify this with the same excuses Calvin uses -- "everybody does it" or "I am entitled to it." Only in our calmer, more reflective moments do we listen to the inner voice of reproach. For many of us, there is no calmer moment than that afforded by a quiet breakfast and no better perspective than that supplied by the antics of a little boy and his tiger.

Thank you, Calvin; thank you, Hobbes; thank you, Bill Watterson.