Existentialism and Where’s Wally?

My two boys have recently become obsessed with a box set of Where’s Wally? (or Where’s Waldo? for our North American friends).  There are seven books in the set; as you progress from book to book the scenes become more complicated and it gets increasingly trickier to find the characters.  For the uninitiated, it’s not just Wally, by the way, there’s Odlaw, Gwenda, Woof and Wizard Whitebeard.

I’ve always found Where’s Wally? a bit intense.  I realised this week why – it’s just one big allegory for life.


When I stand back and look at a Wally page (particularly, say, in Book Six) it’s a mass of movement and squiggles; it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. My nose crinkles up and I’m thinking, what is going on here? It all seems absurd.

But, when I focus in on a small part of a Where’s Wally scene, details start to emerge. There is definition and meaning to every aspect of the landscape, every character has its role in the larger picture.


For me, that’s kind of what life can be like.  When I try and scope the whole picture of humanity – religion, our place in the solar system, climate change, black holes, world poverty – none of it makes any sense (particularly the bit about black holes). It can be overwhelming and, let’s face it, just bloody depressing. But when I zero in on slivers and fractions of my own day, things are clearer.  I understand why I’m buying the Big Issue, even though it won’t make a dint into housing the homeless.  I get why I need to vote, even though in the scheme of things it doesn’t make any real difference. Breaking things down to the small stuff that I can control gives a much greater sense of well-being and even moments of happiness. Happiness can be found in a log fire, or a really great tasting cake or catching some late afternoon sun.

Given that Masters Four and Six are so happy to spend hours finding the same characters over and over again, I asked them about Where’s Wally?  They were delighted to tell me.

Why do you like Where’s Wally so much?

Master Four:  Because it’s funny stuff and I found Woof in Book Seven.  I found Wally in all of the pages [a hotly disputed fact].

Who do you like best?

Master Six: Woof.  It’s really hard to find him as you can only see his tail.

How does it make you feel when you find Woof?

Master Four:  Happy and kind of silly.

Master Six: Happy, and sad cos it means that my brother didn’t find him.

small woof.png
Woof’s tail

Happiness (and sadness) can be found in locating woof’s tail.  You just need to focus on the small stuff.




This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it's hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.


  1. Susan Armstrong

    Love it. Alastair would say the same as Charlie. Rose the same as Joe. I would say the same as you.

  2. This is wonderfully put. I think this is a great example of the quote “Little things in life truly makes us happy”. Definitely sharing this. 🙂

  3. That’s an interesting way to think about Wally/Waldo. I guess we are all just small parts of a bigger whole. Incidentally, I’m impressed by the saintly nature of your children. “And sad cos it means that my brother didn’t find him,” is not a very like response from either of my children.

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