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The Power Of Ink

Tattoos have historically been associated with strength, aggression, power, status, rebellion, and tribal identity.
| May 18, 2016 | 14 comments |

One look at my thumbnail picture and it’s pretty obvious that I am a big fan of tattoos. I have almost one hundred hours and a couple thousand dollars under my skin. The majority of my work was done while I was living in China, where it is much less expensive than in the USA (and this way, I know my Chinese language tattoos are correct) though I had sWhat-to-know-before-getting-a-tattooeveral done stateside as well. Despite my copious amount of ink, I have never had any trouble finding a white-collar job, and in fact, I have never once had anyone say anything negative about my tattoos to me directly.

Tattoos are a touchy subject for many people and cultures and this is why I try to be sensitive to those around me. Some people with lots of ink adopt an aggressive, standoff-ish attitude, flaunting their tattoos and enjoying the discomfort they cause. This can cause problems in Christian circles. Leviticus 19:28 tells the Hebrews to not cut their bodies for the dead or to receive tattoos, since this was a common practice among pagan cultures. One oft-quoted anti-tattoo verse is 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” The way I see it, the responses to these verses are quite simple: the passage in Leviticus was directed at the Hebrews and does not apply to Gentiles or those under the New Covenant. The verse before says, “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or trim the edges of your beard.” Can’t say I know any Christians upholding that precept of the Law. As far as our bodies being “temples,” I do not feel that getting tattoos desecrates or defaces the gift that God has given me. I do not have horrific imagery or profanity permanently marked under my skin; I have Bible verses and Bible-inspired symbols, the names of my wife and kids, personal mantras, and benign geometric designs. If anything, I see them as adornments to the temple. In the end, it’s a matter of preference and of conscience.

So let’s get to the reason why I brought up the subject of tattoos: ink in entertainment. I cannot immediately recall Christian stories where tattoos were a significant element, and this is perhaps due to the church’s cautious attitude about tattoos. I cannot say for sure, but I believe that I am one of the most, if not the most, tattooed Christian author writing today. I could be wrong, and since

Image copyright Lionsgate Films

Image copyright Lionsgate Films

I have not read every Christian book on the shelves, I am sure to be missing some examples. Where I do see tattoos make frequent appearances are in fantasy, sci-fi, YA, and *shudder* erotica.

The tattooed bad boy has long been an item of female fascination, and women in general are more interested in adornments and decoration, so naturally they often appear in YA and erotica, since women are the primary market for these genres. Go to Goodreads and search for “tattoos” in their book lists and you’ll see what I mean. I never read the books but the movie adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones featured numerous (and poorly-drawn) tattoos. Jacob in the Twilight series showed his wild side when he got a tattoo. The Divergent books and movies have tattooed characters. The list goes on.

Tattoos appear with less frequency in fantasy and science fiction but you can find them if you look. Most military sci-fi books or movies (or any military books or movies for that matter) will have tattoos. The shaved-headed she-warrior Dania in Robert Mullin’s Bid the Gods Arise is heavily inked. Harry Potter himself has a forehead tattoo though it wasn’t done on purpose. More often than not, it’s the bad guys that have tattoos (along with goatees *sigh*) but as society increasingly accepts tattoos, they move more into the realm of truth and justice.

So why this fascination with tattoos? From my personal experience, I can testify that tattoos are awesome. They hurt like the dickens but they are totally worth it, as long as you are prepared for the lifelong commitment. Tattoos have historically been associated with strength, aggression, power, status, rebellion, and tribal identity. They have traditionally been a male-dominated pursuit but women have been getting in on the action more and more, and in books as well, especially if the writer wants their character to appear tough or edgy. Beautiful, feminine tattoos are also becoming the norm.

Image copyright Davis Films

Image copyright Davis Films

As our society’s interest in tattoos becomes more widespread and mainstream (they’re not just for sailors, convicts, or gangbangers anymore), we can expect that they will pop up with greater regularity in our entertainment. I am glad that being tattooed doesn’t carry the stigma that it used to, but I am also aware of the seriousness of the decision to get inked and the statements they can make to the world. I recently re-watched one of my favorite Gothic action fantasy movies, Solomon Kane. He is a tortured man running from the devil and his wicked past, and he covers himself in sacred tattoos to ward off evil. Unlike thoughts or feelings, tattoos cannot change or be concealed if the skin is exposed.

I explored the consequences of tattoos in a book called Indelible. The story centers around a modern-day fantasy weapons designer who wants to attract more attention to himself and his work, so he gets a facial tattoo. It changes his life for better and for worse, and the truth is that tattoos can be a very serious matter. If you are a writer and you are wanting to give your character tattoos, make it as unique and personal as you can, since that is how tattooing is usually approached in real life. And if you are a reader, consider how much attention the author paid to their characters’ tattoos. Did they throw them in there just to make their character cool? Are they generic symbols that have some sort of purpose but again are really just added for the cool factor? Or are they as unique as the character themselves with meaning or stories behind them? The age-old advice holds true in the real world and in fictional ones: Think before you ink.

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Parker J. Cole
Member

The only reason why I would never get a tattoo is because I don’t like pain.

I would also say, that because more and more people are getting tattoos, not being inked will be the oddity. And perhaps, the fact that a person is NOT inked, will eventually be the sign of rebellion, aggressive, and status. Say, the Marked and the UnMarked. (pun intended)

Great post!

Revynn
Guest
Revynn

I actually have an idea for a story sitting in my cloud storage that involves a tattoo based magic system.

I have several tattoos myself. My only advice to anyone considering getting one: Be heavily involved in the design process. It’s permanent so if you don’t absolutely love it, don’t do it. The only tattoo I have that I regret (and it’s my largest), i made the mistake of having it drawn by someone unfamiliar with the art style I wanted and, being me, I was too timid to say what I didn’t like about it.

Lauren B
Guest
Lauren B

Christian fantasy books with tattoos — the Storm Siren series by Mary Weber, although those are symbols of slavery, and the Skin Map series by Stephen Lawhead, yep the map is literally tattooed on the guy’s back!

I’ve toyed with idea of getting a tattoo, and I know what quote I’d want “we are made of dust and starlight”, but the cost and the reaction of family hold me back.

Autumn Grayson
Guest
Autumn Grayson

Good article.  I think people overlook tattoos a lot like people will overlook other things, like glasses.  A lot of times when either of these things are included it is a very deliberate thing the author does in order to give characters a certain persona.  A lot of times characters are not given glasses unless the author wants them to look awkward, smart, etc.  I’ve worn glasses most of my life, and I’ve even noticed I have very few characters with glasses, though that is partially due tithe time period, world, etc. my characters are in.

Personally I think in real life it’s better that people don’t have tattoos, but at the same time I don’t like how people get unnecessarily freaky about them.  It’s not exactly great for authors to be unwilling to give even their villains(or only their villains) tattoos.  I will have a few characters with tattoos when I see that it fits their story, personality, etc.  Even if I wouldn’t want to get a tattoo myself, it can make a character look kinda cool, and it would be yet another way to add diversity to my stories, because I don’t want all my characters to think and feel exactly as I do.  And of course, each tattooed character will have their own reason for having one.

Thus far tattoos haven’t fit for a lot of my characters due to their culture and many other factors.  My assassin characters, for instance, tend to avoid doing things that make them more noticeable or easily identifiable.  

Interestingly enough, scars sometimes take the place of tattoos in my stories.  With the level of danger and fighting and amount of animal characters in my stories, scars are much more common.  I plan on some characters even giving themselves patterned scars on purpose, sort of like an inkless tattoo.  Earrings also have found their way into my character’s stories now and then.

One interesting thing about tattoos are that they can be a way to mark or identify, a way to signify that a creature is owned by someone else.  If I recall correctly, racehorses have identifying tattoos on the inside of their mouths.  This means that sometimes when a character has a tattoo, it could have similar connotations as when someone wears a dog collar style choker necklace.  Someone choosing to wear signs of bondage in order to look cool.

An interesting example of tattoos I’ve seen is in Naruto.  The ANBU have small tattoos on their arms to identify them as part of that group, though the story doesn’t emphasize it much.  

Jessi L. Roberts
Guest

I’ve got a story where the only tattoos are slave tattoos. They’re given to criminals and they have a number to identify the slave/criminal, and a symbol to identify what the crime was. In this part of the galaxy, willingly getting a tattoo would be seen as insane since tattoos are associated with slavery and crime.
I normally give my characters scars. It’s only realistic considering they’re in a war zone and such.

Kessie Carroll
Member

Like they say in that Rhett and Link song, “I think tattoos are cool … on other people!”
In the Black Magic Outlaw series, the hero has magic tattoos that block unfriendly magic. Kind of like having a Captain America shield permanently attached to your forearm. It’s really cool and fun.

Judy Taylor
Guest

Mark, I had a tattoo board on my pinterest account but received too many pin that were sexual. My intent was to focus on the fact that my name is tattooed on the palms of Jesus’s hand…the nail scars. As a Christian speaker to women, my point is that tattoos are permanent and a scar remains if any effort is made to remove them as you mention. Interesting article. Not a topic often mentioned in Christian circles.

Robert Mullin
Member

Thanks for the nod to Dania. 🙂 I explore Dania’s tattoos a bit more in the prequel novella, Blood Song.

I’m with Parker…. I don’t like pain. I’m also afraid I couldn’t commit to something without feeling that I might want to change it later. The infernal editor in me fears permanence of that sort. But I’m glad to explore the concepts in fiction. 🙂

Lisa
Guest

Great article! I know I would never get a tattoo (ok, never say never, but I really can’t imagine it) but I am from that era that saw them in a negative light (sigh. Why does time pass so quickly??) So I have to work at breaking that stereotype in my own mind. I don’t particularly have any “religious” opposition to it, but the cultural one is what is hard for me. Same goes with lip, face, or other body piercing. But you have reminded me that I can’t forget that my characters might NOT be like myself in every way, and it’s a good reminder!