What’s just as interesting as a tattoo is the story behind the tattoo, and that’s certainly true for the subcategory of tattoos that are inspired by famous literary works. We spent an untold number of hours combing the Internet’s two most extensive literary tattoo sites: Contrariwise: Literary Tattoos and The Word Made Flesh, then cross-checking the most frequently occurring tattoos with Google searches and Google image searches, all to get to the bottom of what books inspire the most tattoos and why. And though this isn’t a scientific ranking, it’s the closest anyone’s come to tabulating which books inspire the most tattoos, given the Internet’s evidence. What you’ll find below shows a fascinating effect: as you look past the superficial design, you’ll find a wholly specific reason, wholly specific to the individual. It’s why one person can have an “I am nobody” tattoo from Sylvia Plath and someone else can have an “I am I am I am” tattoo from Sylvia Plath–it shows how we all treat stories and writing differently.
5. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
King of the long mantra quote, with “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything,” cropping up the most. Fight Club also inspires a healthy mix of text tattoos and image tattoos, more so than any other book on this list. Certainly the film has helped its popularity as an ink subject (a lot of Brad Pitted flesh came up), but what seems to most elevate Fight Club as a tattoo choice is the story’s counterculture message and its promotion of the individual, two considerations always at the forefront of the tattoo-minded’s mind. Morgan, who has an “It’s only after…” tattoo, stated on Contrariwise: “This tattoo represents having strength and independence and losing all fear no matter what situations we are dealt in life.”
4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The book’s most famous line, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye,” is well represented in ink, as is the elephant swallowed by the boa. But most of the Prince tattoos you’ll find are of the Prince himself, with variations of this design inked onto the back or flank being the most popular. Certainly Saint-Exupéry’s watercolor illustrations in the book naturally lend themselves to tattoos, but it’s the book’s themes of loneliness, being true to yourself, and the appreciation of the world’s wonder and beauty that make it so popular. Like a number of the books on this list, The Little Prince is a children’s book with an enduring message. Check out the book’s official website here to here the stories behind the tattoos, including Ange, who has the book’s famous rose “to remind me that we should learn to know people as they truly are, and not trust simply to appearances.”
3. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Probably more than any other book on the list, Where the Wild Things Are captures the kid in those who have its characters tattooed on their bodies. A search of the archives turns up an equal number of Wild Things tattoos and Max tattoos, almost every one citing how they loved the book as a child. Along with The Little Prince, Wild Things seems to be the book of choice for those looking to capture the wonder of childhood storytelling. But some have more specific reasons: Deana got this tattoo of Max in commemoration of her son’s (also named Max) surviving a metabolic disease which caused him a severe form of epilepsy. “I could have never imagined how he would turn out to be such a fighter. Or all the Wild Things he would have to face in his short life. That’s how I see my Max. As the most wild thing of all. The one who told all the other wild things to BE STILL! And the rest of his life has been, and forever will be the wild rumpus.”
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Evidence: hip “Who in the world am I”, twinkle twinkle feet, shoulder caterpillar, hip “take care”, ankle cheshire, back nonsense, leg dodo, forearm “we’re all mad here”, shoulder cheshire, feet rabbit and hatter.
Alice has inspired the most varied collection of tattoos of any book. Its wide cast of characters, quotes and images are all represented: the Cheshire Cat, the Dodo, the White Rabbit, and the Caterpillar all have fans out there. Out of the quotes, “We’re all mad here” was the most commonly occurring. Credit Alice‘s popularity among the tattooed to the fully-realized world Carroll created, and for tone specific to its story. More than any other book on this list, you’d be likely to get an Alice tattoo because it simply looks great and is hyper-intricate. Tim, who has an image of the Cheshire Cat on his shoulder blade, said on Contrariwise: “The Cheshire Cat is the only creature in Wonderland who uses logic. Though his words often seem mocking and bizarre, his process is always logical. To me the Cheshire Cat symbolizes the fragility of the border between genius and insanity.”
1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Alice may have a higher volume of tattoos, but the single most popular book-inspired tattoo is, by far, “So it goes,” the mantra from Vonnegut’s most famous book. You’ll find the phrase on wrists (the most common location), forearms, upper backs, lower backs, shins, and feet. And that’s not all: the book’s other legendary phrase, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt,” cropped up almost as much as “So it goes,” giving Slaughterhouse-Five two of the most-tattooed book phrases, along with “To die would be an awfully big adventure” and “i carry your heart.” In the stories that owners of the “So it goes” tattoos have posted, the saying often represents the owner’s coping with worry or loss, including Aaron, who, in remembrance of her cat Jello Biafra, had some of its ashes mixed into the “So it goes” tattoo next to an image of a cat. Some have had the tattoo done after breakups, and others have gotten the tattoo to remind them of life’s cycles. But for whatever the reason, the phrase’s broad appeal makes it king of the literary tattoos.