Perhaps the best works created for children are the ones rife with layers discoverable later in life. That quality encourages intergenerational sharing. It makes the works enduring. Maybe, like me, you’ve read hundreds (or thousands!) of books and generally soaked up a lot of culture in the time since you last visited our spiky-haired boy and his tiger friend. If so, here are some literary references you can pick up on a Calvin and Hobbes reread.
What do all these references add up to? They underscore the adventurous nature of Calvin. He goes where lots of other heroic characters have gone before, but always with a humorous and imaginative twist. Likewise, the contemplative moments highlight the richness of a life steeped in literature, philosophy, and art. These references add wisdom and heft to Calvin’s childlike wonder.
While some beacons of childhood nostalgia are better left as memories, I suspected Calvin & Hobbes might warrant a revisit. Indeed, what I loved about the comic as a kid — both the gruesome snowmen and the pure love of a stuffed animal — has remained delightful. But my eyes, now bespectacled and beginning to crease with wrinkles, can detect more than they could back when they were in mint condition. Namely, the comic’s depth of references — artistic, political, philosophical, and, yes, literary.
Isabelle Popp, reading Calvin and Hobbes through adult eyes and knowledge,
sees influences on Bill Watterson she hadn’t realized when younger (from Book Riot).
She includes a disclaimer:
I called this essay “Essential, Authoritative and Indispensable” for the same reason Bill Watterson used those adjectives to describe his Calvin and Hobbes collections. This article is anything but essential, authoritative or indispensable!