Grandfather’s Journey vs. The Lost Thing
Within both stories there are two key underlining themes. First being lost and finding your place in society and secondly having something in common with someone which helps you understand them better. These stories not only take children on remarkable journeys but they also address many social issues such as immigration, class and war. These issues are difficult for adults to discuss with children as a result they are more acceptable through the portrayal of books.
Starting with Grandfather’s Journey by Allan Say, the narrator comes to realise how similar he and his grandfather are. They both travelled as young men, they both love California, they both had daughters and they both experience a longing to visit their childhood homes. These similarities helps the narrator understand his grandfather better. In the final statement on page 31, the narrator voices his grandfather’s dilemma, “But I also miss the mountains and rivers of my childhood … The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.” The internal struggle of his grandfather continues with the next generation. The story is a fascinating biological and historical journey spanning over three generations which starts from the Meiji Restoration Period (1868) in Japan to the early 1950s after the devastation of the Hiroshima bomb.
The beautiful water coloured pictures resemble a treasured family album with only one picture per page which indicates the location and time with the accompanying text. The illustrations evolved from formal photographic poses to more candid snapshots as the grandfather becomes older. The images provide the reader with a range of emotions the grandfather felt over the years. The picture of a middle aged grandfather surrounded by the cages of the songbirds illustrate the sadness and longing the grandfather felt for his hometown in Japan. The text is almost secondary and used only to confirm what the reader sees in the grandfather’s expression. Not all the illustrations depict sadness, the grandfather experienced excitement and happiness through his travels as a young man and later when he is with his grandson. The grandfather began his travels during the industrial revolution and the illustrations range from dark and gloomy for developing cities to vibrant blues and greens for his hometown in Japan. The layout of the pictures in the Grandfather’s Journey is placed in the centre of the page separating the framed illustrations from the text. There is a high degree of salience throughout the book with the image of the grandfather as the main focus. The narrative is shaped by the personal relationship and opinions of the speaker and author, Allan Say. The text like the illustrations are simplistic with only one or two sentences per picture.
The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan was written in 2004 and is about a dystopian society surviving in a dull and suffocating world which no one seems to care about. The narrator tells the story that unfolded during a summer when he was a young boy finding a lost object on the beach. The text never physically describes the lost creature this is left for the illustrations. If the text was read without the illustrations the reader would most likely assume that the lost thing to be a playful puppy. The image of the lost thing is red and huge with no anthropomorphic features. The society created within this book tries to find a place for everything and individuals that do not conform and belong within this society are often ignored. Social interactions are an essential part of all relationships, they are the determining factor of one’s perceptions of the world around us as well how we see our own identity. In The Lost Thing anything that does not fit is left out, “objects with no names”.
Humour can be found within the images of the main characters this contrast the dark and depressing background images. The city in these illustrations appear as a treeless, concrete world full of plumbing and machinery which adds a sense of congestion and compression. The images on most of the pages are dense and reflects the lack of open spaces within the society. The scrapbook format of these illustrations capture the nostalgia of time gone by. Occasionally within these technical recycled manuals and signs on the tram, the reader can find life advice in the headings for example “The road ahead is paved in gold” or “Keep waiting”. The narrator used scrap paper to pen his story indicating that plain white paper is not very common. This industrial world lacks individuality which can also be seen in the robotic shape of the humans and the cookie cutter shape homes.
Shaun Tan’s unique used of intertextuality that is the interrelation between texts, allow the reader to see the various ways in which the truth is shaped and presented. Stamps, signs and arrows act as guiding vectors to both the narrator and the reader. These signs along with the headings on the trams can be confusing for both the reader and the narrator. The society the book is set in appears to follow the rules however the signs suggest that there might be more than one road to follow. The layout of The Lost Thing is landscape style with pictures extending beyond the page. Font variations are actively incorporated in the pictures. The tone of the story is deadpan and anecdotal. This tone is consistent throughout the book suppressing imagination and humour in this retro, industrialised environment.
Both stories use the same hooking technique to entice the reader with very descriptive images and settings however they are used in completely different ways. The Grandfather’s Journey has a realistic photographic feel to the images whereas the images in The Lost Thing are more cartoon like in a surreal style. In the Grandfather’s Journey the narrator makes an emotional statement which bonds them as one whereas The Lost Thing the ending of the story is ambiguous and the reader is left wondering.
Within both stories the characters respect and accept others differences and believes. At the end of both stories the narrators, now adults, reminisce and reflect on past events. These books provide the reader with an opportunity to understand social structures within society better. As well as how to maintain your own identity with a society culturally different to their own.