The Marginalian
The Marginalian

There Was a Shadow: A Lyrical Illustrated Celebration of the Changing Light, in the World and in the Inner World

There Was a Shadow: A Lyrical Illustrated Celebration of the Changing Light, in the World and in the Inner World

“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty,” Junichiro Tanizaki wrote in the 1933 Japanese classic In Praise of Shadows. As a physical phenomenon, shadows are one of the most beguiling phenomena of nature, emissaries of the entwined history of light and consciousness; as a metaphor, they are one of the most illuminating perspectives on human nature. The lower our level of conscious awareness, the longer the shadow our past casts on the present. But even under the noonday sun of our highest consciousness, we are still rooted in our shadows and must befriend them in order to fully inhabit our lives. “Learn to look when the sun of destiny plays with your shadows,” Hermann Hesse wrote in his passionate field guide to being yourself.

The world of shadows, physical and psychic, comes alive with uncommon tenderness in There Was a Shadow (public library) by writer Bruce Handy and artist Lisk Feng — the story, unfolding with a lovely rhythm partway between lullaby and villanelle, of a girl who ventures outside to discover that everything casts a shadow.

She encounters the “tall, wide shadow” of a hill and the “tiny, look-closely shadow” of a beetle, the shadows of her friends and the shadows of the birds, the soft blue shadow of moonlight and the warm yellow shadow of the kitchen lamp, the shadow of a feeling and the shadow of a dream.

Along the way, as the day’s shadows grow longer and melt into dusk to become the “delicate shadows, hard-to-see shadows” of the night, she also discovers that no shadow is fixed, that the loveliness of life is largely a matter of attending to the ever-changing light — the play of light on the water, the play of light on a face, the play of light in the mind.

There was a shadow.
It was a thinking shadow,
a shadow you could feel but not see,

It was a worry.

But like a bird’s shadow,
the worry shadow darted,
flickered, and was gone.

Couple There Was a Shadow with The Shadow Elephant — a tender illustrated fable about what it takes to unblue our sorrows and lighten the load of our heaviest emotions — then revisit this lyrical illustrated invitation to find the light in the dark.

Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; photographs by Maria Popova

Published June 27, 2024




Filed Under

View Full Site

The Marginalian participates in the and affiliate programs, designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to books. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book from a link here, I receive a small percentage of its price, which goes straight back into my own colossal biblioexpenses. Privacy policy. (TLDR: You're safe — there are no nefarious "third parties" lurking on my watch or shedding crumbs of the "cookies" the rest of the internet uses.)