Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

Tattooed Characters Past & Present

September 29th, 2009 by

It seems to me that tattoos and literature have always gone hand in hand.  Sure, we’ve had posts on here about literary tattoos before, nothing new there.  There’s no shortage of people out there who have quotes or characters from famous (and not so famous novels) tattooed on to their bodies.

But what’s interesting is the appearance of tattoos in literature itself – that is, authors who have included characters who are themselves tattooed.  This is by no means restricted to contemporary novels, either.  Classic works like Moby Dick, Treasure Island and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League, all contain tattooed characters.  In fact, if you happen to be the sort of person who actively searches out novels in which the protagonist or perhaps some of the characters are tattooed, this list is a good place to start.

Also not included on that list are Stieg Larsson’s books: The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Together, they are part of a trilogy of books (the third is coming this October to the UK and May 2010 in the USA) called The Millennium Trilogy, all of which feature a tattooed protagonist named Lisbeth Salander.  Let’s also not forget two excellent Irvine Welsh novels: Trainspotting and its sequel Porno, in which the oddly lovable psychopath Begbie is also tattooed.  One could even go as far as to say that Harry Potter is tattooed, although that’s really more along the lines of branding, but…

In the past tattoos were used on characters whose lives were spent at sea or to illustrate the tough nature of some characters.  That is something that will continue to change as time goes on and tattooing opens up more and more to the mainstream.  It’s easy to chart the change in attitudes toward tattooing in popular culture via magazine ads, television programs, fashion, etc…but literature is a whole other ballgame, a way in which the societal views at the time the novel was written are illustrated within the pages of the work. Fashions come and go, magazines are recycled, but novels…novels remain as perfectly preserved windows into the past for centuries to come.

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