Sunday, April 13, 2008

A (Not So) Complete History of Literary Tattoos

Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press in Germany in 1439. Samuel O’Reilly invented the modern tattoo machine in 1891. And sometime around the turn of the century the first literary tattoo was born. Whether nostalgic for the characters from a favorite children’s book or as a tribute to a favorite writer’s words, the book tattoo is a classy way to go. The lowbrow nature of the tattoo juxtaposes nicely against the highbrow art of the book. Here now, a look at some of its many forms.

And if you dig this post, make sure to take a look at our other pop culture tattoo histories: Bands | Movies | Television | Corporate Logos

The aforementioned Guttenberg’s most famous work was the Guttenberg Bible. It was so major it signaled the beginning of its own age — the Age of the Printed Book. It makes sense then that folks would be inclined to tattoo their bodies with their favorite passages.

Scripture as fuck art. Nice.

Whether a line from “Hamlet,” his 18th sonnet, or Megan Fox’s favorite passage from “King Lear,” you can’t go wrong with something from Sir Billy Shakespeare.

Plath, Dickens, Frost, Kerouac — all icons of modern literature, and all great-looking tattoos.

Nostalgia for youth is a strong emotion, thus the proliferation of tattoos of characters from classic kid’s books. Here are a couple of Curious George.

Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” is timeless, which is good, since these suckers don’t wash off.

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice and Wonderland” and Margery Williams’ “Velveteen Rabbit” have been enjoyed by children for decades. And the bodies of adults for almost as long.

“The Little Prince” by Frenchman Antoine de Saint Exupéry isn’t just profound, it’s one of the 50 best-selling books of all-time.

When Max is punished for making mischief and sent to his room without dinner, he puts on a wolf costume and goes to “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Is that a Lorax on your bicep or are you just happy to see me?

Tattoo Pooh.

Tigger too.

What would Harry Potter tattoo?


Elvish writing from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is a popular literary tattoo. The middle one translates to: “Never been laid.”

These guys are the lords of the Rings tattoos.

These pay tribute to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five.” The phrase “So it goes” is repeated throughout the book whenever death is mentioned, while the other phrase appears on a tombstone.

Here we see a collection of tattoos that pay tribute to sci-fi’s finest — Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury and George Orwell.

These two are members of the cult that is “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”

Most writers, even the most successful, can live an anonymous life. Any idea who these two are? That’s Henry David Thoreau on the left, William Faulkner on the right.

When in doubt, tattoo the cover of your favorite book. The outside two are from Chuck Palahniuk books, while the center image is a classic cover of “Catcher in the Rye.”

Hats off to our readers for submitting a few of their own. The top tat is from Jessica, whose butt recently acquired an “Alice in Wonderland” tattoo. And the bottom pair came from Dominic, both inspired by Edgar Allen Poe. The top one reads “Nevermore,” an ode to Poe’s most famous poem. “And the unfinished Raven wings to go with it,” he wrote. Keep ‘em coming please!

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