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. (The official Shaun Tan website says it's a mix between a potbelly oven and a certain kind of crab.)
This story contains examples of the following:
- Artistic License – Physics: Played with in literally the margins around the images. The Lost Thing illustrations are almost entirely surrounded by dry drab thermodynamics educational resource recyclings that look like newspaper articles all the time. The book tells a few jokes with this technique, such as "Know Your Diodes". It is not obvious how accurate the science in the illustrations or text is to any casual reader who did not study thermodynamics or certain other boffin subjects.
- 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.
- 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.