Book dedications are a magical thing: such huge stories in so few words. So to whom, then?
It’s a tradition that dates back centuries: for many authors, dedications were used as an opportunity to thank a patron, or to court one in an effort to secure a donation for publishing costs.
These days, the staccato inscriptions that grace the first few pages of a book often acknowledge partners, lovers, muses and friends – and many authors insist they are more difficult to write than the book itself.
A book dedication is, by a simple definition, a personal note from the author to someone of importance. It is unique, however, in the fact that this otherwise private note appears published in every copy of the book, available for public digestion. Perhaps this is why so many dedications are written in code, their true meaning apparent only to the dedicatee. We’re all familiar with books that are mysteriously dedicated to a single initial – ‘For K, and you know exactly why’ – or begin with a sentence that appears as a riddle to the uninitiated – ‘For James, who gave me a mango and threw me in the water’ (from Coldwater by Mardi McConnochie).
From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; one of the most famous, melodic dedications in history, to his wife, Zelda.
Meanwhile, some dedications are decidedly less romantic: ‘This is not for you’ explains Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, whilst Michael Moorcock dedicates The Steel Tsar ‘To my creditors, who remain a permanent source of inspiration’.
Even the simplist of dedications – ‘For mum’ or ‘To Sophia’ – are endlessly meaningful when read by those in the know. Others are the exact opposite, dedicated to noone in particular: Charles Bukowski‘s Pulp is ‘Dedicated to bad writing’, whilst the opening pages of Post Office read ‘This is presented as a work of fiction and is dedicated to nobody”
For some authors, a less specific dedication is an opportunity to speak to and inspire friends, loved ones and perfect strangers alike. The dedication in Lynette Noni’s debut novel, Akarnae, reads ‘For anyone brave enough to believe in the impossible. Embrace the wonder.’
From Akarnae by Lynette Noni
‘To Daisy, who kicked out the walls of my heart’
‘This book is gratefully dedicated to my children.
My mother and my wife taught me how to be a man.
My children taught me to be free.
NAOMI RACHEL KING, at fourteen;
JOSEPH HILLSTROM KING, at twelve;
OWEN PHILIP KING, at seven.
Kids, fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of
this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.’
‘To all those who lead monotonous lives, in the
hope that they may experience at second hand
the delights and dangers of adventure.’
‘This book is dedicated to my childhood glasses.
You made me who I am today.’
Everything is Perfect When You’re a Lair by Kelly Oxford
‘To my mother, who liked the bit about the horse.”
“This book is dedicated to my bank balance.”
Silly Verse For Kids by Spike Milligan
‘To the love of my life, my soul mate, andthe greatest person in the world: Me.”
The Alphabet of Manliness by Maddox
‘This may be the first time in the history of books,but here goes:
Dedicated to my in-laws’
‘For Phyllis, who made me put the dragons in.’
A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin