The Viewer by Shaun Tan
Reading Response #1
Through the eyes of Tristan and his new found ‘Viewer’ authors Shaun Tan and Gary Crew
have taken us into a curious and mysterious world. We learn early that the main
character Tristan has a “constant need to search out” even as a tiny baby. We know
he is remarkably curious and a collector of all things unusual. Tristan visits the dump,
collects discarded and seemingly useless objects and restores them, but above all he
appreciates an “inner world that most cannot see”. I think maybe ‘The Viewer’ has
found him because he is one of the few in our culture who take the time to really look at
things closely and this ‘Viewer’ takes him on an adventure into the history of all mankind!
We first view the creation film which shows the early development of mankind through the
eyes of a prehistoric man. With the Egyptian man we move on to share in the amazing
accomplishments of our earliest civilizations. We see Stonehenge, Easter Island and the
great Greecian temples, to name a few. The author includes a feeling of disaster in most
of the images. Storms, volcanoes and earthquake destruction has affected them all.
The author might want us to understand that objects, structures and things never last
forever. With time all is forgotten or lost. Maybe we are to think about the things that
will really last? Shaun Tan then offers us the point of view from a nun. I must assume he
is asking us as “the viewers” to reflect on what religion has brought. We see images of
the crusades and the famous Salem Witch Hunts. The journey continues to get
darker and darker as we view examples of man’s lust for power with images of slaves
and most importantly war with the black and white images. The final page of the
viewer challenges us with the horror of nuclear bombs, drought, poverty and pollution.
I wonder if each viewer like Tristan found the same object and became the “recorder” or
guide for their time? They are telling the story for their time (generation). This book has
an ending with no answers. Tristan just disappears. I think Tristan will become ‘The
Viewer’s’ storyteller for our generation and he is challenging us to think about what story
our generation wants to tell. Will it be as “dark” as the others? Will we be able to learn
from our mistakes?
The central theme running through this book is that mankind’s story is one or greed, lust
for power and destruction. I think Shaun Tan wants us to know that we don’t take the
time to view things as they really are and we should. Our lives get busy and we only think
about ourselves we don’t think about the lessons of the past or the consequences our
actions today might have on the future. I know I rush around and don’t often think
critically about how my choices are impacting our culture and all humankind in the future.
With an election today it makes me realize that I need to find a voice. To speak out for
what I believe will make a better planet. We can respect all people on the planet and our
environment by taking the time to show compassion. Do I ignore the cries of the homeless
or hungry? Am I wasteful and selfish… bottom line is YES! If I continue to live this way
do I want to see the next film in ‘The Viewer’? The bottom line is NO! We need to change
the path or history and stand up and make a difference. It might be driving less and
reducing our Carbon footprint. It might be raising funds for starving children. It might
be inspiring others to build communities where children are safe and families come
together to Hope for a better planet!