“There is No Sun Without The Shadow and it is Essential to Know The Night”: Albert Camus’ Philosophy of The Absurd and Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree

Jessica Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Shaun Tan’s 2001 picture book The Red Tree features a nameless, redheaded protagonist wandering through a series of surreal, strange and overwhelmingly dark landscapes. Tan himself, together with his commentators, has characterised The Red Tree’s contents as “absurd,” yet this term has not been defined, nor have any connections been traced between the themes of the text and one of the most important thinkers of the absurd: the twentieth-century French philosopher Albert Camus, whose notion of the absurd is explicated in The Myth of Sisyphus. This article argues not only that Camus’ notion of the absurd provides insights into Tan’s The Red Tree, but also that Tan’s work can help readers develop an understanding of Camus’ philosophy. It focuses on three significant aspects of Camus’ work that serve to unite these two writers, namely the journey of self-explication one undergoes after sensing the absurd, strangeness, and hope.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-20
Number of pages16
JournalChildren's Literature in Education
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Absurd
  • Albert Camus
  • Existentialism
  • Shaun Tan
  • The Myth of Sisyphus
  • The Red Tree

Cite this