Tales from the Inner City
Imagine seeing horses running wild across a city landscape - along the freeways, across the rooftops, through the alleys and over the inner city parks. Imagine that these are the horses of all the time of the city: horses that pulled carts, horses who plodded in the same circle driving the millstone, horses that worked to build a city, that carried people, were connected to carts and when they were old were still mechanisms for making money - were sold for their meat, their bones - were glue. Imagine that you are two years old in the back seat of a car travelling along the highway at night, the horses running beside, free and wild, until they come to the edge of the city landscape where they stop, unsure of this foreign place of which they know nothing. This is just one of the stories in Shaun Tan’s mesmerising collection Tales from the Inner City. Looking at the relationship between animals and humans across the ever-changing urban landscape, Tan brings us a mysterious yet familiar world, a lament as well a beautiful observation. The tales, 25 in total, take us to the brink of our humanity in their strangeness, yet also have echoes of our ability to care, to relate to the beasts in our lives that we yearn for, fear, conquer and embrace. He describes the changing relationship between human and dog - one of the earliest domesticated animals - in verse and breathtaking illustrations that explore the chasm between the two, the worlds that each inhabits and the desire to close this gap. There is a charming story about the death of a cat - a cat that a young girl and her mother discover belongs to all, not just them - that has numerous names and humans that miss it just as much - it is the cat of all cats - nicknamed by the child ‘The greatest cat in the world’, which brings a whole neighbourhood together, freeing them from their isolation and sadness. The sea and rivers no longer exist in any form for fish to live in. People fish from the rooftops of buildings, their lines stretching into the sky, the fish mostly beyond reach aside from a few tiddlers - but oh, to catch a Moonfish, the rarest delicacy! When Pim, the brother who never jerks the line, whose bait is eaten and never catches anything, does, the family are overwhelmed by excitement and surprise. Yet their pleasure doesn’t come from the expected quarters (selling the fish to the wily Mr Hiro for his famous restaurant in the subterranean city), but from something much simpler and more beautiful. Each of these stories asks us to confront our behaviour towards our mammal cousins and our fellow creatures, to imagine the world from an animal's perspective, to take responsibility for the harm we do and, conversely, for the friendship we offer, to take pleasure in reaching our own beast within, and the care with which we should protect the environs that sustain the animals we have an unfathomable yearning for. The inner city belonged to them first, and we are yet another element in the mix, entwined by history, politics and emotion. Shaun Tan’s books are exquisite, and this is no exception. Metaphysical and philosophical, the text and illustrations are stunning. Endlessly thoughtful and thought-provoking for children and adults alike.
A stunning companion to Tales from Outer Suburbia, this collection of illustrated short stories is sure to delight Shaun Tan fans of all ages.
Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Western Australia and currently works as an artist, writer and film-maker in Melbourne. He began creating images for science fiction stories in small-press magazines as a teenager, and has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through dream-like imagery. The Rabbits, The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, Tales from Outer Suburbia, The Arrival, Rules of Summer and The Singing Bones, have been enjoyed by readers of all ages, locally and internationally.
Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, a concept artist for Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, and won an Academy Award for the short film adaptation of The Lost Thing. In 2011 he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in Sweden, in recognition of his services to literature for young people.