Friday, January 16, 2009


Update: This blog is now dormant but you can read all the old posts and lots of new material at Crime Scraps Review. Please join me there.

How will we view the character of Lisbeth Salander when the present hysteria, and I use the word carefully, has died down?

hysteria: exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement

Some time ago I posted that I thought a writer to be considered one of the fifty greatest crime writers should fulfil a number of criteria. The writer should have either:
1) a large body of impressive work
2) or written one stupendous book, such as Harper Lee.
3) or created a uniquely memorable character

The interest in Lisbeth Salander which has pushed The Girl Who Played With Fire to the top of the hardback best seller lists certainly brings Stieg Larsson into consideration as a great crime writer. But we should not lose our 'critical perspicacity' as some reviewers have done with flowing phrases like this:

Johansson and Svensson are found murdered and the description of the fleeing assailant matches Lisbeth Salander to a T.

The problem is that there was no description of a fleeing assailant in the book and it was the forensic evidence that linked Lisbeth to those murders.

Other reviewers have compared Salander to The Count of Monte Cristo, a character in Star Wars, and an adult Lara Croft. The books have been labelled a modern fairy tale with allusions to James Bond, and Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking as well as her boy detective 'Kalle' Blomqvist.
We have been told that Stieg Larsson because of these references did not mean us to take Lisbeth Salander seriously.

Surely the subject matter of the books and the Swedish title of the first book, Man Som Hatar Kvinor [Men Who Hate Women] means Larsson took Salander very seriously indeed. Unfortunately the Millennium series is no clever fairy tale or allegory, and Lisbeth represents every child that has been abused and every woman that has been brutalized and humiliated. There is a particular scene in TGTPWF when Salander goes to buy an apartment and because of her appearance is treated like a naughty child and sent away without proper consideration.
We as a society feel guilty at our failings and are intrigued by the idea of a typical 'child like' seemingly helpless victim having the skills and determination to fight back against her oppressors. She is the investigator for our time just as much as Miss Marple was for her age.
I can't wait for the next book in Stieg Larsson's series, Luftslottet som spangles, winner of the Nordic Glass Key in 2008.


Blogger Dorte H said...

Stieg Larsson does in fact compare Salander to Pippi, no matter what her readers think about the fact :)
And whoever said that books with fairy tale features should not be taken seriously? I could mention several works of great fiction which we DO take seriously in spite of symbolic characters or allegory.
(Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Doris Lessing ...)

4:22 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for your comment Dorte.
My point was that reviews that state "she is fantastic. I didn't believe in her for a moment. Salander is clearly based on Pippi Longstocking..." and that "are fascinated by her but others see her as too fantastic" [which you sensibly disagreed with] might lessen the impact of her story. Unfortunately I cannot recall the exact place at the moment where I saw someone had said "we weren't intended to take them seriously".
Social services failures are widespread and in the UK we have had several recent terrible cases of abuse e.g Baby P and Shannon Matthews. I feel very strongly about this subject as at one stage I had three different close female relatives being physically abused. Two of these abusive relationships were people in their 80s and 90s so this is not only a problem in the young.

Just glancing at the Wikpedia entry about Pippi Longstocking she seems a very happy character and I don't see Lisbeth Salander smiling a lot. It is obvious that Larsson mixed in a medley of characters and ideas which I never realised while I was reading the books. My excuse is I have read too many non fiction books, too many crime fiction noir books, not enough literary books, and even Maxine did not get the Star Wars allusion.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Hello Uriah.
Thanks for taking me seriously!
First: As a woman I certainly agree that abuse of women is a horrible crime.
Second: undoubtedly, this is also Stieg Larsson´s message.

Nevertheless, I may have been the person who said we were not supposed to take Salander "as a character" seriously. Perhaps I should have said ´literally´ or something else. What I mean is just that Larsson is a postmodern writer who uses elements of humour, magic & fairy tale even when writing about serious subjects. Perhaps the idea is that while reading 500 pages of crime and abuse, readers simply need comic relief once in a while?

By the way, I am going to write some posts about Astrid Lindgren & Stieg Larsson myself. They will (hopefully) come up soon on my crime fiction blog.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte my mother was one of seven sisters! I take anything a woman says very seriously. ;O)

I agree Scandinavian crime fiction is not all gloom and doom. I shall watch out for your Astrid Lindgren posts as my granddaughter is 10 and thinks she is Pippi Longstocking-like character.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Baker wrote a review on his blog yesterday or the day before - I posted a link at Friend Feed (crime and mystery room). In that review he wrote that he did not take Lisbeth seriously - and it was he who made the direct Pippi Longstocking comparison you quote, Norman/Uriah.

I don't think you and Dorte are disagreeing ;-). I called some of the elements "comic book" in my review at Euro Crime, and there are also these fairy tale aspects which Dorte well described in her response to my review (the Vox archive version). I see these elements as part of the storyteller's craft - fantasy and fable don't mean that the message isn't serious. Many people did not "get" that J K Rowling's magnificent Harry Potter septet was a very dark piece of work about moral choice and how we cope when faced with making dreadfully hard, tragic decisions. Harry is subjected to terrible tragedies in his life as his real parents and all his substitute parent figures are gradually and violently removed from him on his journey to adulthood. Similarly, Lisbeth has fantasy, fun and comic book elements to her, but her story is dreadfully dark - as you say, Norman, she represents every abused child and has been betrayed time and time again by a cruel system and cruel parent figures (Philip Pullman-eque also).

Sorry about the long ramble, but the bottom line for me is that the author has used a full box of tricks to tell his story and to say the important things he wanted to say. I am sure that the three of us agree on this.

And, a PS, I very much like your "dog that barked in the night" excerpt from the review that invented an episode!

8:55 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Hi Maxine.
Thank you for mediating :)
- in fact I think Norman? and I have realized that we are not disagreeing (haven´t we?). At least I enjoy this ongoing discussion about Salander, and at the same time I thoroughly respect Norman´s views about the serious message.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Of course we are not disagreeing. :O)

1:29 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Just posted the first of at least two comments on Stieg Larsson & Astrid Lindgren.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I remembered now it was not off Lackberg's website I found it on a google search.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Of course it is not rude.
I´ll be happy to help you if I can (Swedish is more difficult than Norwegian to Danish readers, but I should be able to make a rough translation at least. If not, Camilla L. can probably help me a bit).
I will be quite busy for a day or two, however (my work is calling).

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Lisbeth fanpage.

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to you both for such an interesting conversation. I hope that I can merely match something to the cake.

The use of decription of Salander in terms of "fairy tale" undertones adds to the darkness by contrasting and twisting initial assumptions (her appearance for example)into something more powerfull. Her character to me is full of pathos. How many times have me not judged the external which has been so out of kilter with the reality of the person. For me this heroine is a full catch of contradictions which makes the idea of her more real and believable.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Noomi Rapace Fan said...

The novel by stieg is awsome ...but i watched the movie the girl with dragon tattoo....very good job...what a thrill...and the lisbeth aka noomi rapace is realy brilliant.......chilling...

7:32 AM  
Blogger Kenneth C. Crowe said...

Here was my take on Lisbeth Salaner:
Lisbeth Salander is Cool Hand Luke, Jesse James, Dillinger, Robin Hood, Bill Munny (the gunman in the “Unforgiven”). Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, is a modern outlaw (or should I say outsider) of epic proportions who uses modern e-weapons (computers and i-phones) with devastating skill.
The magnificent character that Larsson has created is who lifts his three thrillers (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played with Fire”, and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”) far above the pack of this genre that pours into book stores year in and year out.
Of course, the three books are really one novel. The first and third books propel the reader; the middle book, “The Girl Who Played with Fire”, drags, but is necessary to consume, no matter how disappointedly, to understand the final book.
Should Salander serve as a role model, girls and young women will aspire to be bi-sexual, unforgiving almost predatory avengers, fearless and unbelievably effective in a fight against any man no matter how fierce, totally self-confident, capable of financing their lives by stealing from the unworthy rich, and most of all super hackers.

7:52 AM  

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