On December 31, 1995 Calvin and Hobbes came to an end. It had been a remarkable run for the strip. But being just ten years old many felt that the strip ended too soon. Many wanted more.
But for those who were following Watterson's career the ending came as no surprise. In the later years of the strip Watterson began taking extended sabbaticals and newspapers were forced during those times to recycle older strips. Watterson seemed burned out.
Some of this burnout was likely due to Watterson's epic battles with his syndicate, Universal Press, over the merchandising rights of the strip. As a new cartooner Watterson had signed a contract giving merchandising rights to Universal Press. So when the strip got hot it was natural for Universal Press to want to cash in: Calvin and Hobbes movies, action figures, coloring books, kids clothing lines, posters, a stuffed Hobbes. This was a normal and natural thing to do. Peanuts and Charles Schulz, that icon and influence upon Watterson, had set the tone. The Peanuts gang, particularly Snoopy, had been plastered on every conceivable product. Heck, Snoopy even sells insurance.
But Watterson balked. He wanted no part of merchandising. His reason was artistic independence and integrity. Watterson felt that the world and characters of Calvin and Hobbes had an integrity, a truth, that would be lost if his creation got slapped onto Frisbees or coffee mugs. So Watterson refused. Legally he was in a difficult spot. He had already signed over those rights to Universal Press. But his leverage was that could quit, walk away from providing them with one of the most popular strips ever written. The battles were long and difficult and appear to have taken a toll on Watterson. At the very least he came away disillusioned. But to Universal Press I'm sure Watterson was perceived to be insane. What is the harm in allowing for a few tasteful and hand selected items to be created? We are talking millions and millions of dollars. Most of it going into Watterson's pocket.
But Watterson said no. He turned down millions to protect the integrity of the strip. Today, there are no Calvin and Hobbes products on the market. Any you see are rip-offs and copyright violations (most notoriously the car decal sicker with a naughty Calvin peeing).
So Watterson won. And in 1995 he finally walked away from it all.
As noted in the very first essay of this series, the main theological focus of Calvin and Hobbes is its Augustinian view of human nature. This is clearly signaled by the names of the two lead characters, each named after two thinkers with notoriously dim views of human nature. And, as we have observed, Watterson's characters stay true, for the most part, to that commentary. We are a self-absorbed and selfish lot.
In Chapter 4 we added to this commentary on human nature by examining the wagon and sled ride motifs in the strip. We noted how the wagon and sled ride hinted at a kind of fatalism or determinism. This theme is also consistent with the notions of predestination espoused by John Calvin. In short, not only are our wills depraved there seems little we can do to change the situation. Again, all this fits neatly into an Augustinian formulation.
Or does it?
In the final strip on December 31, 1995 we are given one last sled ride:
And in this final sled ride none of the prior motifs of fatalism, determinism, or predestination are found. Further, the existential angst and ruminations often associated with the wagon/sled strips has also vanished. Rather, what we find is a sled ride that seems open-ended and hopeful. The feeling is one of adventure. Not inevitable doom.
It's a magical world. Let's go exploring. And the best friends start off.
John Hick in his important book, Evil and the God of Love, compares and contrasts two great traditions in Christian thought when thinking about the brokenness of the world. The first stream is the one we are familiar with, the Augustinian tradition. The Augustinian tradition explains the evil of the world (and the depravity of humanity) by positing a Fall from Grace. In the beginning there was Paradise. But Paradise was lost when humankind freely chose to rebel against God. Due to the Fall, all creation, human nature included, has been contaminated.
The Augustinian worldview has been the dominant strain in Christian thought, the "majority report" as it were. But Hick notes that there is an impulse in Christian thought that preceded the Augustinian system. The church father Irenaeus was a major thinker in this tradition and, thus, Hick names this "minority report" in Christian thought the Irenaean theodicy. In contrast to the Augustinian formulation, the Irenaean position places Paradise at the end of human history rather than, as Augustinians see it, at the beginning of human history. Rather than falling from Perfection Irenaean's see us as moving toward perfection. Simplifying greatly:
Augustinian System: Paradise to FallTo quote from Hick (p. 214):
Irenaean System: Fall to Paradise
There is thus to be found in Irenaeus the outline of an approach to the problem of evil which stands in important respects in contrast to the Augustinian type of theodicy. Instead of the doctrine that man was created finitely perfect and then incomprehensibly destroyed his own perfection and plunged into sin and misery, Irenaeus suggests that man was created as an imperfect, immature creature who was to undergo moral development and growth and finally be brought to the perfection intended for him my his Maker. Instead of the fall of Adam being presented, as in the Augustinian tradition, as an utterly malignant and catastrophic event, completely disrupting God's plan, Irenaeus pictures it as something that occurred in the childhood of the race, an understandable lapse due to weakness and immaturity rather than an adult crime full of malice and pregnant with perpetual guilt. And instead of the Augustinian view of life's trials a a divine punishment for Adam's sin, Irenaeus sees our world of mingled good and evil as a divinely appointed environment for man's development towards the perfection that represents the fulfillment of God's good purpose.This Irenaean view has a different temporal focus than the Augustinian view. As Hick notes (p. 237) "The Augustinian type of theodicy looks to the past...for the explanation of the existence of evil in God's universe. In contrast, the Irenaean type of theodicy is eschatological." It looks toward the future.
So here at the end of this journey, contemplating the final sled ride of Calvin and Hobbes, I cannot help but wonder if we've got it all wrong. The world of Calvin and Hobbes isn't Augustinian at all. It's Irenaean. Specifically, as Hick notes, what we see in Calvin and Hobbes isn't the malice of a depraved adulthood but the stumbling about of childhood immaturity. The view of human nature is dim in Calvin and Hobbes, but dim in a way that suggests movement into God's Future. In short, the final open-ended sled ride of Calvin and Hobbes completely recasts all we've witnessed in the strip. It was a mistake to find Augustinian gloom in Calvin and Hobbes. And we always knew that. There is just too much joy and hope to be found in Calvin and Hobbes. And so here, at the end, we find the key:
The answers await us. God is in our future. Not our past. So don't look back.
Friends, it's a magical world.
Let's go exploring.