A second look at author dedications

Jules Verne book cover

Book cover image courtesy of rama, Wikimedia Commons

When you read a book, do you ever look at the dedication page? Most of us, I’m guessing, take a quick glance at the dedication, think “Oh, that’s nice!” and progress to the first chapter, abandoning the dedication to its own devices. Other readers ignore everything and go straight to the first chapter because they’re anxious to plow through the book.

I like to look at an author’s dedication and spend a few moments solving the mystery of why the writer chose to dedicate the book to that particular person or persons. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out — the dedication is for family members, friends, coworkers, fellow authors or the author’s fans. In other situations, the dedication is mysteriously vague and it’s fun to imagine what inspired the writer to create it.

According to Wikipedia, the practice of dedicating books goes back quite a long time. In former eras, authors were often sponsored by patrons such as bishops. Using a dedication was a way of thanking the patron and could even trigger a financial reward from the patron.

I’ve also noticed that dedications have various moods. Depending upon the writer, they are solemn, touching, thoughtful, loving, appreciative, witty or intriguing.

By far, the best dedication that I’ve seen appears in the 2006 German movie “The Lives of Others” where it’s used to send a coded message of thanks. In this movie, a Stasi (East German secret police) officer, Gerd Wiesler, receives the assignment to spy on a German couple, playwright Georg Dreyman and actress Christa-Maria Sieland. The only reason that this couple is under secret surveillance by the Stasi is because a local government official wants to get rid of Dreyman so that he can have the beautiful Sieland for himself.

Over time, Wiesler begins to care what happens to the couple and is Dreyman’s unexpected saviour. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wiesler becomes a mailman and Dreyman happens to find out that he and Sieland were under surveillance. He is curious about Wiesler’s identity and goes to the Stasi archives to read the surveillance reports. Dreyman sees a card with Wiesler’s ID (HGW XX/7), learns his name and realizes the enormous favor that Wiesler did for him. Later, Wiesler passes a bookstore, sees a window display with Dreyman’s new book and goes in. Wiesler opens the book, sees the dedication “Dedicated to HGW XX/7, with gratitude” and realizes that Dreyman knows what he did and is thanking him by dedicating the book to him. It makes for a touching end to this movie. Here’s the video so you can see for yourself. Enjoy!




Filed under Writing

4 responses to “A second look at author dedications

  1. And then there’s the annoying dedication you see sometimes at the end of a tv show or movie – e.g. in memory of xxxxx xxxxxx but they never tell who that person was and they are seldom mentioned in the end titles. Maybe it’s just me, but if they’re worth dedicating the show or movie to, I’d like to know why.

  2. I will never quickly cruise past an author dedication again. Will look deeper to solve the mystery…


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