The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes, Part 5, Chapter 13: "All shall be well."

Chapter 13
"All Shall Be Well."

We all have our favorite Calvin and Hobbes moments and strips.

Being a Winter Christian I think this strip might be my all-time favorite:

But from a theological vantage, my favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips come from a storyline that Watterson gives us in September of 1995. Calvin and Hobbes ends in December in '95 and in the waning months of the strip we get a two week storyline, ten daily strips in all, devoted to the relationship between Calvin and his evil babysitter Rosalyn.

We've already noted how Rosalyn functions as a kind of satan-figure in Calvin and Hobbes. Rosalyn embodies all the forces arrayed against Calvin. Rosalyn is an impersonal enforcer of rules. She represents the non-relational, non-empathic application of power. Thus, the Calvin/Rosalyn relationship is inherently antagonistic. And the final Rosalyn story in ‘95 begins on just that note:

But the story begins to take a different turn as Rosalyn becomes open to a "deal," a kind of quid pro quo in the relationship:

The game Calvin selects is, you guessed it, Calvinball:

Obviously, Rosalyn is a bit skeptical about this game:

But Rosalyn dons the mask and starts to play:

And soon the dynamic of Calvinball begins to affect her:

And by the end of the night the world is entirely different:

And with that, we say goodbye to Rosalyn. These strips were her swansong. Calvin and Hobbes would end forever three months later.

Theologically, what are we to make of the final Rosalyn strips?

As we noted in the previous chapter, Calvinball represents a trusting, non-competitive, relational space. Calvinball is not governed by rules. Thus, only friends can successfully play Calvinball together.

So here in the final Rosalyn strips, Watterson shows us Rosalyn, the personification of rules, entering into the ruleless world of Calvinball. And by entering the relational world of Calvinball Rosalyn, and her relationship with Calvin, is transformed. This satan-figure becomes a friend.

There are a variety of theological angles we might adopt to approach the final Rosalyn strips. One angle is to highlight the rules versus relationality dynamic, where relationality trumps rules in the end. For example,

Romans 13.9-10
The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet,"and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5.14
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
The point being that true community, with both God and Man, is not mediated by rules and rule keeping. The heart of true religion is loving communion. It is true, as it is in Calvinball, that such a notion is prone to abuse. As the Apostle Paul repeatedly warns, the freedom of love can be abused. Rule-following is a safer kind of religion. But as we see with the pre-Calvinball Rosalyn, a rule-based world is also cold and impersonal. Worse, rules are a form of power. Consequently, a rule-based religion is a fear-based religion. But perfect love is to cast out fear. The God-relationship is to be filled with love, not commandment keeping.

But beyond these themes of love and law, I wonder if there is not an even deeper message in the final Rosalyn strips. Specifically, I wonder if this conversion of the satan-figure here at the end of Calvin and Hobbes might be sounding a universalist note. Beyond Mo (the bully), Rosalyn is the worst person in Calvin's world, the embodiment of evil for Calvin. And yet Watterson takes the time (ten strips in all) and loving care to redeem Rosalyn at the end. There are many visions of Christian salvation, but it will be universalists, who hold to a notion of universal reconciliation, who will resonate most strongly with the final Rosalyn strips. They will see in this redemption of the satan-figure the depiction of love winning out in the end. Of love having the final say. Of a vision of salvation best articulated by Julian of Norwich:

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

11 thoughts on “The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes, Part 5, Chapter 13: "All shall be well."

  1. Richard -

    I've enjoyed this series and appreciate the thought and reflection you've put into it. This most recent post, however, has really hit it out of the park for me, personnally.

    I'm teaching a series of on The Shack and am just getting into th e them of the novel dealing with relationship over religion. I'm going to use your application of Calvin and Hobbes!

    And including my favorite quote in this post was just lagniappe!

  2. Richard,

    Norwich's lines are echoed and amplified by T. S. Elliot's "The Four Quartets." This section from
    Quartet IV, part 3, "Little Gidding":

    There are three conditions which often look alike
    Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
    Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
    From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
    Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
    Being between two lives—unflowering, between
    The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
    For liberation—not less of love but expanding
    Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
    From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
    Begins as attachment to our own field of action
    And comes to find that action of little importance
    Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
    History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
    The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
    To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

    Sin is Behovely, but
    All shall be well, and
    All manner of thing shall be well.
    If I think, again, of this place,
    And of people, not wholly commendable,
    Of no immediate kin or kindness,
    But of some peculiar genius,
    All touched by a common genius,
    United in the strife which divided them;
    If I think of a king at nightfall,
    Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
    And a few who died forgotten
    In other places, here and abroad,
    And of one who died blind and quiet
    Why should we celebrate
    These dead men more than the dying?
    It is not to ring the bell backward
    Nor is it an incantation
    To summon the spectre of a Rose.
    We cannot revive old factions
    We cannot restore old policies
    Or follow an antique drum.
    These men, and those who opposed them
    And those whom they opposed
    Accept the constitution of silence
    And are folded in a single party.
    Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
    We have taken from the defeated
    What they had to leave us—a symbol:
    A symbol perfected in death.
    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    By the purification of the motive
    In the ground of our beseeching.


  3. A wonderful series of posts, and a conclusion full of hope. Thank you Richard!

  4. I wonder if the redeeming value of Calvinball is in the rediscovery of "play" as opposed to the adult tendency to take things all to seriously.

    Jesus, after all, was condemned for being too cheerful.

  5. Hello Everyone,
    Thanks so much for the positive feedback. However, you've jumped the gun! I have two more posts to do:

    Chapter 14 is on the ontological status of Hobbes and an Epilogue talks about the very last strip.

  6. There are a few things that I thought when I started reading the CalvinBall theology. My first thought is about the song/dance and the mask. Which can be found in the Rosalyn strip.

    This may be a stretch but just think about it. 2 Samuel 6: 16. Talking about David "leaping and dancing." Dance showing his free spirit and joy. Calvin shows his joy and is dancing. Also, King David also strips down and is free to be himself and show his joy. Though in CalvinBall you don a mask, it makes Calvin feel free (same effect).

    This is just something I noticed. Feel free tell me what you are thinging

  7. I've joined my first fantasy football league. I've named my team the Calvinball Canons. For the slogan I went hunting for the strips and found this series, which I've now partially read and will finish tonight. Love it. And by the way, my slogan is "No one is allowed to question the masks."

Leave a Reply