In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, Calvin is a boy. He has a tiger friend, who's... a little ambiguous. Is he a doll or a real tiger or a figment of his imagination? To Calvin he appears real, and to everybody else he looks like a stuffed toy.

Is Hobbes real or not?

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    If you want a "real-world" explanation as to why Hobbes can do seemingly impossible things (like tying up Calvin in Valorum's answer, below) it is probably because the strip is largely from Calvin's point of view, and if we assume that Calvin performs Hobbes' actions on Hobbes' behalf, he will them attribute these actions to Hobbes in his own mind. Thus, from Calvin's point of view, it is Hobbes who has executed the action, even if in "reality", it might have been Calvin himself performing it. Of course, psychoanalysing it like this takes away all the magic and enjoyment, so let's not. – flith Apr 4 '17 at 13:09
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    Averroes to the rescue:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_truth. – Martín-Blas Pérez Pinilla Apr 5 '17 at 8:33
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    To use an in-universe explanation: I don't know. Isn't Calvin and Hobbes fiction? – Teacher KSHuang Apr 5 '17 at 10:23
  • Also, this is probably a question better suited for the Philosophy Stack Exchange :D. All kidding aside, I think you've answered your own question: By the very fact that you're questioning his reality, you bring him into existence. – Teacher KSHuang Apr 5 '17 at 10:30
  • See also scifi.stackexchange.com/q/156481/41144 – Shokhet Apr 5 '17 at 20:41

Bill Watterson has spoken about this on a number of occasions. The very short answer is that his strips obey the rule of funny, that Hobbes is a toy when it suits the story for him to be a toy and real when it suits the story that he's real (for example in the strip below where Hobbes ties Calvin up in a way that he couldn't have accomplished on his own).

Comic with Calvin tied to a chair by Hobbes

WEST: Well, in a way that says more about Calvin than Hobbes because Hobbes is implicitly, explicitly just a product of his imagination.

WATTERSON: But the strip doesn’t assert that. That’s the assumption that adults make because nobody else sees him, sees Hobbes, in the way that Calvin does. Some reporter was writing a story on imaginary friends and they asked me for a comment, and I didn’t do it because I really have absolutely no knowledge about imaginary friends. It would seem to me, though, that when you make up a friend for yourself, you would have somebody to agree with you, not to argue with you. So Hobbes is more real than I suspect any kid would dream up.

WEST: Well, at the risk of getting into psychobabble, a lot of psychologists would say that children create imaginary friends to play out family dramas. So an argument can be just as much a part of an imaginary world as, you know, a sort of sentimental, gooey friendship can be.

WATTERSON: Yeah, well, I would hope that the friendship between Calvin and Hobbes is so complex that it would transcend a normal fantasy. The resolution of the question of whether Hobbes is real or not doesn’t concern me or interest me, but, hopefully, there’s some element of complexity there that will make the relationship interesting on a couple of levels.

The Bill Watterson Interview


It's intentionally ambiguous; we don't know.

In his book Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary, he says:

The so-called 'gimmick' of my strip - the two versions of Hobbes - is sometimes misunderstood. I don't think of Hobbes as a doll that miraculously comes to life when Calvin's around. Neither do I think of Hobbes as the product of Calvin's imagination. The nature of Hobbes's reality doesn't interest me, and each story goes out of its way to avoid resolving the issue. Calvin sees Hobbes one way; and everyone else sees Hobbes a different way. I show two versions of reality, and each makes complete sense to the participant who sees it.


Related question on Sci Fi SE: Did Calvin ever realise that Hobbes was not real?

I do realize that this is a somewhat old question, but I'm first going to challenge the premise of the question a little bit: what do you mean by "real"? Real in what sense?

If by "real" you mean "what would a video camera show?", that's ambiguous by design (as some of the other answers have pointed out). Watterson deliberately didn't resolve that in the strip; he consciously tried to make it not be provable either way from the strip. In fact, even in a strip where Calvin takes photographs of Hobbes, Calvin and his dad just see different things, so it doesn't really resolve which view was "true."

I think that the important thing is the characters' point of view, not who's "correct." In fact, I'm not even convinced that the question is even meaningful in terms of the strip. From the perspective of Calvin's parents, Hobbes is a toy; from Calvin's point of view, he's real. You could argue that there's a real sense in which the different points of view are equally "correct" in terms of the universe of the comic strip. Either way, it's not important, "provable," or even necessarily meaningful to ask about which is correct.


Although I can't cite a source for this, I always saw Hobbes as a manifestation of Calvins persona. In a way, much like the 'Daemons' in Philip Pullmans 'His dark materials'.

The name, again in my opinion refers to the old English description of the devil, 'Old Hob'

Old Hob is from the Catholic belief system, and is considered a nickname of the Devil which refers to “ones character”.


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