A Writer’s Epitaph: The other ghost story

A person’s epitaph is a big deal, especially for a writer. It’s their last chance to say something meaningful, and for those who don’t get published posthumously, it’s the capstone (literally) of their writing career. For some, it makes sense to pull a quote from something they’ve written for their gravestone; for others, it’s more meaningful to write something original that reflects their personality. So be it beautiful, witty, understated, or self-promoting, here’s what some writers are saying from beyond the grave.

* I would have expected Vonnegut to be one to pull a quote from one of his novels, because he is famous for so many great epitaph-like lines (ex: “So it goes,” or “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”). While his gravesite is apparently a mystery, he mentioned in several interviews in the time leading up to his death that this was his desired epitaph.


* Tolkien’s epitaph comes from The Tale of Beren and Lúthien, and is also one of the most romantic epitaphs a person could write. Long story short: Beren is mortal, and Lúthien is an elf. To marry Lúthien, Beren goes on a quest to retrieve a fancy stone at the demand of her father. Beren dies in the process, and Lúthien later dies out of grief. The Middle-earth equivalent of Haedes, Mandos, takes pity on the couple, and brings them back to life with the added benefit of immortality. Are you crying yet?

* Until recent years, it was a trend among Wilde fans to plant huge lipstick kisses on his tombstone. The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris put a glass wall around the tomb in 2011 to stop the kisses from eroding the stone, but now the glass is the part of Wilde’s grave that is covered in lipstick. While Wilde would have loved to see his tomb covered in smooches, he would no doubt be less pleased to know that vandals have since relieved the male angel carved into the top portion of it of his genitalia. (Wiki pic.)


* These four words easily sum up the traditional English lifestyle Doyle adhered to. He played pretentious English sports like cricket and golf, freed innocent men from jail with his investigative skills, and wrote pamphlets in support of the government (which led to his being knighted in 1902). If that’s not enough to convince you that he was a stereotypical English gentleman, his middle name is Ignatius—I mean, how much more English can you get?

* London’s epitaph is taken from Psalm 118:22, and the full line reads, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” While the stone in question is actually a metaphor for Jesus, the out-of-context phrase becomes a clever jab at his own death (lol kidney stones).

* Shelley’s epitaph includes a few lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The mention of “sea-change” in this particular line is a bit of a pun, considering that Shelley’s life ended when he died in a storm at sea at the age of 29. His wife, Mary Shelley, died nearly 30 years later, and was buried with her parents instead of with him.

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