Lisbeth Salander’s Appeal

Salon investigates the enduring appeal of Steig Larsson’s heroine Lisbeth Salander, the socially awkward/genius hacker from his Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked Hornet’s Nests).

A folklorist once told me that revenge is the root of all narrative; few stories have more immediate practical utility to the teller than the brutal causality of “That man wronged me, and this is how I punished him for it.” You might expect a Nordic writer, someone emerging from a culture whose earliest literature is all about seeking retribution, to be acutely aware of this. For some reason, though, Larsson’s examples of fighting females are all taken from the classical world and the American Civil War, instead of the shieldmaidens of Scandinavian lore, who (besides Pippi Longstocking) would seem to be Salander’s logical precedent.

This is primitive stuff, and by the time you get to the beginning of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” with Salander surviving both a bullet wound in the head and being buried alive in a shallow grave, there’s a dangerous drift toward Tarantino country. What keeps Salander from turning into a cartoon like the Bride from “Kill Bill” is the unedited-documentary-footage texture of the novel’s narration. It’s this integration of the mundane and the mythic that enables the trilogy to hold its readers in thrall.

I’m still plodding my way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though I’ve put it aside in favor of Neil Gaimon’s American Gods), but I lost an entire weekend to the epic noir trilogy of films based on the books.  All three are available through torrents and Dragon Tattoo is in select theaters.

The movies are gritty, suspenseful, amazing, and well-paced.  And, it doesn’t go without saying, but Hornet’s Nest is now available in the states.  Expect articles everywhere about it.

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