Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tattoo Tales

To paraphrase, tattoos have “come out of the sleeve”.

It used to be that tattoos were only seen in private, generally on men who were in the forces, in prisons, blue collar workers, or freaks in the circus. It was only the lower classes of human who would “defile” their body. Now everyone from your grandmother, priest, lawyer or favorite librarian might have one (or more). Tattoos have also made advances in literature. The first character I remember encountering in a novel was Quequag in Moby Dick. With all the talk about the novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it made me think of other tattooed characters.

In this first part of a trilogy, anti-social computer hack and tattooed lady Lisbeth joins forces with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomquish to solve an old mystery. Harriet Vanger disappeared from her wealthy and powerful family 40 years ago. Part of the mystery is no one saw her leave her family’s isolated island. It is not known if she is alive or dead. The Vanger family members each appear to have secrets; some of which are very nasty. One of these secrets gets Lisbeth to add a tattoo to her body. It will be very interesting to find out what Lisbeth and Mikhael will be up to in books 2 and 3. What tattoo will Lisbeth place on her body and why?

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

This novel was also one of my first introductions to tattoos. This short story collection is loosely linked by a vagrant with tattoos. He states that the tattoos were given to him by a fortune teller and they each tell the future. With each tale Bradbury explores the dark nature of humans.

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.

The personal struggle of Detective William Graham is featured in this scary and riveting novel. Graham is very good at his job with the FBI. He can imagine himself as the criminal/murder hunting their prey. The main villain, Francis Dolorhyde, has tattooed on his back a large replica of a William Blake’s painting. It is “The great red dragon and the woman clothed in the sun”, thus the title of the book. At one pivotal point, Dollarhyde travels to a museum and eats the painting. One interesting note this is the first novel to introduce the now famous character, Hannibal Lecter. Lecter assists Graham with tracking down Dollarhyde - but at what cost.

Until I Find You, by John Irving

This novel which has a Halifax twist. The former owner of the Book Room, Charles Burchill, helped John Irving research this book. It is the story of Jack Burns, actor. His father, William is a church organist who is addicted to getting tattoos. Jack’s mother is a tattoo artist. William deserts his family causing Jack (age 4) and his mother, Alice, to search for him along the eastern coast of Canada and New England. One person Alice works for is a famous tattoo artist in Halifax, Sailor Jerry. This sad yet comical work is richly descriptive. Jack’s story is influenced by both his parents and the older women he has affairs with. These experiences are tattooed on his soul if not his body.

This post has been written by our newest staff blogger, Rosemary


  1. "The Electric Michelangelo" by Sarah Hall stars tattoo artist Cyril Park, who escapes his sad life in England and sets up shop in New York's Coney Island. It was a 2004 Booker Prize finalist and a great read!

  2. "Roxy" is a hot-off-the-presses young adult novel in which the 17 year old protagonist wears a tattoo over her heart. It reads Shangri-La, and serves as the story's central image. I think that tattoos perform well as symbols that guide the reader to a greater understanding of the story's theme. Confession: I'm Roxy's author, and if anyone wants to think more about tattoo as central image, I've written a short essay about it on my website, www.pjreece.ca