Do you believe tattoos are a recent trend? Think again. Evidence suggests that tattooing cultures have existed for over twelve thousand years, though the first known tattoo markings were found on "Otzi the Ice Man," whose body was carbon-dated at fifty-two hundred years old. For those in the past -- and the present -- tattoos have held significant cultural and individual meanings. It's no surprise, then, that I would turn to them as a device for demon hunter Maxine Kiss, of my Hunter Kiss series.
While her tattoos are magical - protecting her by day, peeling off her skin at night to become her own demonic army -- there is still a deeply personal element to those markings on her body: they reflect who she is as a person. Who would Maxine be if she didn't have her ink? In Labyrinth of Stars, Maxine's latest adventure, her demonic tattoos come to mean more to her than ever before -- protecting not only her life, but the child she carries.
While people in the real world might not have tattoos with supernatural properties (well, we assume not), literature is a fantastic way to explore how skin art embodies individuals and reveals otherwise hidden aspects of a character's personality. Here are some of my fictional favorites.
1) Queequeg: One of Melville's greatest inventions, the Pequod's unerring harpooner and Ishamael's boon companion (Moby Dick, 1851) was a Polynesian prince with a full body of tattoos. The thoughtful, heroic Queequeg allowed a wise man to tattoo him with his theories of astrology -- though the man died before giving him the key to decipher their meaning. While Queequeg will never know exactly what his tattoos mean, he doesn't let it discourage him. In fact, he's often seen studying his body, trying to understand the message hidden in his skin.
2) Mr. Dark: Carnivals usually have all sorts of bizarre people -- but none have been more bizarre or evil than Ray Bradbury's Mr. Dark (Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1962). Mr. Dark has tattoos all over his body that can mesmerize an audience, but those markings also have a sinister secret. Each image is the face of a person who has fallen under Mr. Dark's charms and is now forced to fulfill his dark wishes and commands. Mr. Dark's supernatural tattoos reflect just how manipulative he can be and showcase his sadistic love of other's pain.
3) Lisbeth Salander: In Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (2005), we're given a heroine of extraordinary complexity and resolve. Lisbeth is no ordinary hacker, and the large dragon tattoo on her back acts as a symbol of her fierce strength and resilience. She has a few other tattoos as well, including a wasp -- which, though its meaning is never explained, is often interpreted as representing Lisbeth's internationally famous hacker name.
4) Gully Foyle: In the classic science fiction novel, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (1956), we find a man adrift in space, consumed by revenge against those who refused to rescue him. Foyle is finally found by a cult, which tattoos a mask of a tiger on his face -- a tattoo that he later attempts to remove, unsuccessfully. Anger and other strong emotions bring the image back, and it becomes a symbol of who he is, and who he becomes: a man who must learn to control his vindictiveness, to embrace his humanity rather than the animal side of his nature. For those who have not read Alfred Bester, this is the perfect place to begin.
5) Four: We find another tattooed hero in Veronica Roth's Divergent series (2011). Four is a member of the Dauntless faction and like most of his brethren he has a tattoo. Unlike his fellow warriors, however, his tattoos stretch across his back and bear the seals of all five factions -- representing his desire to be a fully integrated individual, defined for more than just one characteristic. Four strives to be selfless, intelligent, peaceful, honest, and brave -- and his tattoos illustrate his hopes for a future in which all factions come together.
6) Travis Maddox: Covered in tattoos and devoted to his Harley motorcycle, it's right to assume that the hero of Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (2011) likes to give the impression that he's a tough guy. Travis's tattoos help him embody the persona of a fighter in the ring, but though he's quick to violence, he's also the ultimate charmer with the ladies. Boxing at night in an underground fight club, The Circle, his eye is caught by a young woman, Abby Abernathy. Unfortunately for him, it seems that Abby is immune to his charms. Travis has to lose his cocky attitude and show a different side of himself if he's going to win her heart.
7) Henri Charriere: In his memoir, Papillon (1969), Henri Charrière describes his imprisonment and escape from a penal colony in French Guiana. Charriere was incarcerated for the murder of a pimp in 1931, which he vehemently swore he was innocent of throughout the course of his life. Charriere had a butterfly tattooed on his chest, a symbol and reflection of freedom -- fitting, given his determination to escape the penal colony and brave the jungles of French Guiana. It was also the inspiration for the memoir's title.
8) The Illustrated Man: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (1951) is both the title and name of our hero: a vagrant covered in animated tattoos allegedly created by a time-traveling woman. While we never learn the true name of our tattooed man, the images etched into his skin each hold a story about the future, and give insights into humanity.
9) Maxine Kiss: Maxine Kiss is covered in living tattoos that make her invulnerable by day, and that peel off her body at night to form her own demonic army. For ten thousand years these demons have been passed down from mother to daughter, but it's a legacy that requires terrible sacrifices. When Maxine decides to stray from the path expected of her, the consequences of those choices awaken powers that threaten not only her life, but the entire world.