November CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2: The Skin Map, by Stephen R. Lawhead

Day 2, and our topic plucked from the pages of Stephen R. Lawhead’s The Skin Map is…


Formerly the province of aborigines and sailor-men, tattoos have been embraced by the last couple of generations of western society and are now almost mainstream. The shock factor has worn off enough that I predict the next expression of teenage angst and rebellion will be to shun tattooing altogether.

I won’t go into detail on the process, which is probably familiar to most readers, at least in theory. The skin is punctured with needles, and colored dye is rubbed into the punctured skin, creating a design. If the tattooist is skilled enough, the result may be attractive and artistic. Choose your needle-wielder unwisely, and you’re stuck for life with a dermal cartoon that looks like it was drawn by a third-grader in blue ball-point ink.

Tattoos have an important ritual function in certain cultures. The Maori of New Zealand are known for their elaborate full-body tattoos, which are impressive both in their detail and in the fortitude of the individuals who have endured the necessary pain. The old-school process didn’t use surgical-quality needles, by the way. For more information, check out this interesting summary from New Zealand in History.

You'll need a partner to get the most out of this map.

In The Skin Map, the titular atlas is inscribed not upon a dessicated scrap of deerhide, but upon someone’s body, an idea that has popped up from time-to-time in the fictional world. I’m drawing a blank right now on a good literary example, but it features prominently in several movies, usually with a piratey flavor, including Waterworld, Cutthroat Island, and Yellowbeard. Hollywood idol Brad Pitt has a map of the New Orleans levee system tattooed on his back, which may have been inspired by his work with the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.

Historically, tattoos have been frowned upon in the Christian community, mostly because of the admonition against the practice in Leviticus 19:28, but tattoo apologists argue that this prohibition deals strictly with tattoos related to the practice of idolatry, and is part of the Old Covenant with the nation of Israel and not binding on Christians. There are other, more poetic references that speak of inscribing the Word of God on one’s heart or individuals having God’s name written on them. Bottom line, modern Christian youth culture tends to follow and adapt wider cultural trends without getting too theologically engaged with the details, so you’ll see a lot of tattoos among the kids in your local youth group, perhaps more crosses and other Christian iconography than daggers, skulls, and dragons.

For analysis of this month’s feature that is more than, ahem, skin deep, please visit the other sites on the CSFF Blog Tour:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Stephen R. Lawhead’s website:

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