The Lost Thing: Shaun Tan Essay

Submitted By Ajar74
Words: 784
Pages: 4

The Lost Thing
The Lost Thing is a humorous story about a boy who discovers a bizarre-looking creature while out collecting bottle-tops at a beach. Having guessed that it is lost, he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs, but the problem is met with indifference by everyone else, who barely notice it’s presence. Each is unhelpful in their own way; strangers, friends, parents are all unwilling to entertain this uninvited interruption to day-to-day life. In spite of his better judgement, the boy feels sorry for this hapless creature, and attempts to find out where it belongs.

Comments on The Lost Thing
What started out as an amusing nonsensical story soon developed into a fable about all sorts of social concerns, with a rather ambiguous ending. I became quite interested in the idea of a creature or person who really did not come from anywhere, or have an existing relationship to anything, and was ‘just plain lost’. I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a character that would represent how I might personally respond to this, so the unnamed narrator is essentially me (although I used to collect sea shells at the beach, rather than bottle-tops).
The text is written as told by the boy and addressed to the reader, presented as a kind of “what I did over summer” story. Significantly, the creature in question is never physically described, and there is very little said about the environment in which the story unfolds; this is where the illustrations take over. Read by itself the text would sound as though it is about a lost dog in a quite familiar suburb or city, but the pictures reveal a freakish tentacled animal in a treeless world of green skies, excessive plumbing, concrete and machinery.
The relationship between words and pictures is one of understatement; much of the humour in the story develops from this as the images defy expectation, and all weird absurdities are greeted with a kind of casual disinterest from the narrator. Such a tone is consistent with the themes of the book, which deals with questions of apathy, particularly the suppression of imagination and playful distraction by pragmatism and bureaucracy, conditions that affect both a society and its individuals.
Visually, the book is quite dense, which reflects the environment it depicts, having a sense of congestion and compression. There are no empty spaces on the pages, with all images framed by a collage of text and diagrams cut from old physics and maths textbooks. These were used by my Dad when he was an engineering student, and largely inspired much of the book’s aesthetic; they add some sense of the dry and industrial world presented in the paintings, a sort of meaningless functionality - pointless and amusing also. There is an accidental ‘poetry’ that often occurs using collage, where a chapter heading in an engineering manual might pass as an unintentional comment on life. The bottle-top collection, made from…