Summary: 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.
The Lost Thing received an Honourable Mention at the Bologna International Book Fair, Italy, was named an Honour Book at the CBCA Awards, won an Aurealis Award and a Spectrum Award for illustration in the United States. Original illustrations from the book were exhibited at the Itabashi Art Museum in Tokyo.
The Lost Thing, by Shaun Tan 8.0
I think I first heard of ‘The Lost Thing’ when Shaun Tan’s acclaimed book was adapted into an animated short film . I had never heard of it before, but it had suddenly won the Academy Award for best short film. My curiosity piqued by the headline and the accompanying image, I decided to check my local library for a copy.
Needless to say, it wasn’t available on home video: it still isn’t to this day (although it can be downloaded). But I discovered that it was based on a book, and that the library had this book. It also had a number of Shaun Tan’s other efforts and, as I tend to do, I proceeded to request as many of them as I could.
When ‘The Lost Thing’ landed in my hands, I gobbled it up right quick. In truth, it’s an effortless read: at 32 pages in length, and most of which are art, one can easily get through it in one sitting without reaching for the toilet paper. It is also the perfect length for a bedtime story, and its subject matter is equally appropriate.
‘The Lost Thing’ is told from the perspective of a young man who wanders about a dystopian landscape picking up bottle caps for his extensive collection. As he approaches a beach, he finds a strange creature sitting about, unnoticed by the rest of the people there. It is the titular “Lost Thing” that our narrator will befriend.
This “Lost Thing” looks like a massive red kettle with a spiked top. Out of various holes in this metallic shell protrude six tentacles-like legs, a couple of elephantesque trunks and two large praying mantis-like arms with bells attached to them. To say that it’s an unusual creature is a gross understatement.
To think that no one pays any attention to it.
The young man soon realizes that this thing seems out of place, and with no one to speak for it, he decides to take it home with him. The sight of them wandering about the city together is quite amusing. The rest of the book will consist of the young man trying to find a place, a home of sorts, for this “Lost Thing”.
The book is absolutely lovely to look at: beyond the story’s delightful quirks lies a feast of oil paintings, technical drawings, blueprints, and various definitions. There’s so much to look at that it’s nearly-overwhelming; one spends much more time perusing the page for hidden eye candy than actually reading.
Despite being set in a world of nightmarish bureaucracy and homogenization, Tan manages to make the world look unusual, intriguing, more than bleak. It’s as though he took a turn-of-the-(20th)-century setting and made it slightly futuristic, alien. I would go so far as to call the overall style “steamgeek”, if that doesn’t already exist.
Shaun Tan’s ‘The Lost Thing’ is really a truly lovely book. It’ll amuse the kids, young and old, and immerse them in a world that’s both familiar and offbeat. Granted, it’s a bit thin on plot, with more time having been spent on the layout than anything else, but it’s the perfect read for younger children and visual art lovers.
Do yourself a favour: find a copy of ‘The Lost Thing’ and savour every aspect of this detail-rich oeuvre.