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Literature / The Lost Thing

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Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing follows an unnamed narrator as he tells the reader, in flashback, about that time he found a lost thing—the lost thing being some bizarre, giant octopus/crab mix that's wearing a red metallic shell—and tried to find it a home.

It was adapted into a 15-minute animated short film in 2010, directed by Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, narrated by Tim Minchin. It won the Academy Award and the Hugo for Best Animated Short.


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This story contains examples of the following:

  • Bigger on the Inside: The narrator's shed looks tiny, but somehow he was able to fit the thing in it, and through the normally-sized doorway, no less.
  • Cut-and-Paste Suburb: More Pete's suburb than the narrator's - he has a backyard, at least.
  • Parental Obliviousness: The narrator had to point out that there's a hulking red thing in his parents' living room; in the illustration it's right behind their chairs.
  • Shout-Out: Not so much the text, but the pictures reference several paintings, such as Collins Street, 5pm, by John Brack.
  • Steampunk: The lost thing, and the other odd creatures, but also the town itself, whilst still managing somehow to be incredibly drab.
  • Weirdness Censor: Could be why his parents don't notice the lost thing at first, and theorised as a possible reason why the narrator doesn't see many lost things anymore.
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  • Whole Episode Flashback: The story is in past tense first person, and the narrator actually states that he's recounting a past event at the beginning of the story.

Tropes found in the 2010 film:

  • Split Screen: One scene has the screen split up into three separate squares as the boy is walking around town trying to find the lost thing.
  • The Stinger: After the credits roll, there's a shot of the lost thing janitor, sweeping up papers in the darkened government office.
  • The Voiceless: None of the lost things seem to talk. The one lost thing that tells the boy about the home for lost things doesn't even have a head; he delivers his message via a tape player that is attached to his back.
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