Thursday, September 5, 2013

Literary Tattoos

You may have guessed that a tattoo comes into play in this week's review book, based on the title The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. So I'm going to talk about other literary characters with tattoos!

I'm starting with comic book characters, because it's more obvious when they have tattoos because you can see them. In Darth Maul's case, you see them every time you look at him, because they're pretty much everywhere. Some sources call his tattoos the markings of a warrior, and some call them the mark of a Sith lord (which makes less sense, because how many other Sith lords do you see with these? Exactly).

There are actually three versions of The Tattooed Man in Green Lantern. The first (above) appeared in 1963, a sailor-turned-burglar, who conjured real things from his tattoos (as seen above). The second was a cellmate of the first, and his tattoos had arcane powers that could trap people inside. The third's tattoos were the sins of men he had killed; he was murdering people to "sin-graft" their sins onto himself, thereby - in his mind - absolving them.

In case you didn't know, Magneto from X-Men grew up in the Auschwitz concentration camp, so he has a prisoner number tattoo. Definitely a different take on tattoos on characters, and a very powerful one.

Tattoos actually show up in Pretties first, as one of many types of vanity "surge" (surgery) available to Pretties. Shay gets jeweled timepieces installed in her eyes which run backwards, because otherwise what's the point? In Specials, Shay and Tally become Specials (spoilers?) and get harsh, intense tattoos like the one pictured above to set them apart from regular Pretties, who would never be allowed to have something so not-happy-making.

I, for one, would really like to see the next edition of the Divergent series books with images of tattoos of the factions, like what the Dauntless initiates get.

Remember when we reviewed Sideways Stories from Wayside School and I talked about my favorite children's books? I briefly mentioned a potato tattoo in my summary. That's because Calvin, one of the kids in Mrs. Jewels' class, is told he can get a tattoo for his birthday. (Ignore the fact that they're in elementary school; much weirder things happen in this series.) Everyone suggests things like a snake fighting an eagle, or a tiger, or a sword... he comes back the next day and proudly shows off his tattoo: a potato. Everyone thinks it's stupid, but his explanation is "I like potatoes." It's a nice, non-didactic lesson in being yourself despite what other people think.

The villain of Red Dragon (who is - shockingly! - referred to as Red Dragon, or Francis Dolarhyde) has the tattoo shown on the cover. You may remember it from the movie.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is a collection of unrelated short stories tied together by the framing device of the Illustrated Man, a stranger met by our unnamed narrator. His tattoos are animated and tell the various stories in the book. Bradbury used the Illustrated Man again in Something Wicked This Way Comes as an antagonist, where his tattoos are the souls of victims from a carnival. If you've never read "Kaleidoscope" you should (if you're amenable to sad-ish endings). And if you like "Doctor Who," you'll probably like "The Long Rain," set on Venus and ending on lots of madness. I'm also quite fond of "The Fire Balloons," and "The Visitor" and "The City" are a lot like two of the short stories from The Martian Chronicles.

What other tattooed book characters do you know of?


  1. Apparently Mazer Rackham has some serious Maori artwork going on. Do you remember if they ever mentioned that in Ender's Game? I never got to go back and check before I loaned the book out.
    I know quite a few characters with artwork but I was always interested in the authors who made a specific point of avoiding it - not just not having them but justifying it strongly.

    1. In researching this post, I found a lot of discussion online about the tattoos in the Ender's Game movie. Having never read the books, I can't attest to it firsthand, but most of the responses I found stated that he has no tattoos in the books, and it's a purely aesthetic choice by the creators of the film.

      I never thought about characters ACTIVELY not having tattoos... that's a very interesting thought. The default for everyone is not having tattoos, of course, and I read so much YA fiction, it's natural for characters to not have them because they're usually too young to get them legally (if it's set in our world).