We’ve been having some pretty wild weather here in the Wairarapa lately, which meant that I’ve been sitting without power for over 24 hours earlier this week. While sitting around waiting for the contractors from the power company to turn up and put me back on the grid, I’ve managed to read myself through a substantial chunk of Stieg Larsson’s “Millenium” trilogy*: finally! I should say!
A book featuring a reclusive, socially impaired female computer whizz, and set in Stockholm, Sweden? One of my adopted home towns? I’ve had the feeling that friends have been looking at me askance for a little while now, wondering when I would finally pick it up.
In a way, this post follows on neatly from my previous musings about witches: Lisbeth Salander, the book’s female protagonist, is for all matters and purposes a modern, urban version of the Young Witch. She is utterly self-sufficient, incredibly resourceful and smart, and she stubbornly refuses to let herself be battered into any pre-conceived gender roles. She can do magic with her computer and she isn’t at all concerned about sticking to the rules.
At least, she is that in the first of the three books that make up this trilogy: in a complete reversion of the usual gender stereotypes, she rushes in with a golf bat and rescues her “Knight in Shining Armour” from being almost strangled by a madman (in a scene that is deliberately framed in terms of the kind of violence which is usually done to women), and she all-around saves the day. Even though the first book features a violent act done to her, which will become crucial in the two sequels, in the first book Lisbeth comes across as spunky and on top of things, not as a victim.
What is interesting to observe—and I am still not sure what I think about it—is how the second and third book increasingly focus on the violence and injustice that has been done to her, and portray her as a battered victim—someone who is now dependent on the help of several Shining Knights (most of them male).
I haven’t yet seen either of the two film versions (there is a Swedish production starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Lisander, and an American production with Rooney Mara in that role)—but judging from the fan art I found on DeviantArt, the imagery seems to tend heavily towards a battered, vulnerable Lisbeth Salander—rather than the cool, self-reliant and resourceful person she comes across as in the books.
There are parallels with other fictional characters: one that springs to my mind immediately is Robin Hobb’s Fool. In fact, the image above could just as well be an illustration for the “Tawny Man” trilogy.
The Fool is a character who is extremely private, as well as being possessed of all sorts of astonishing skills. Just like Lisbeth, he suffers through excruciating violence at one point in the book. In a crucial scene, he reveals the tattoos of dragons on his back to another character in the book, who he is in love with but who only offers him friendship in return. It is a moment of utter vulnerability for Robin Hobb’s character. However, I cannot recall that a scene like the one depicted above actually occurs anywhere in Stieg Larsson’s books!
Looking at the image below, it seems to me that someone has also confused Lisbeth Salander with Frodo Baggins. A Sacrifice. I guess one could argue that Lisbeth is also a diminutively small person who, almost single-handedly, brings the Forces of Evil crashing down. But unlike Frodo, she very much survives this effort.
The depictions of Lisbeth Salander I have found on DeviantArt, rely heavily on scenes from one of the movie versions, and on the faces of one of the two actresses who have portrayed this character. These days, film versions of best-selling books happen so fast that there seems to never be time for artists to come up with their own inner image of a character, before the physicality of one or other actor takes over. Which, in my view, is a bit of a loss: I made a point of reading the books first, before tackling either of the film versions.
I have a reasonably clear image of Lisbeth, but it is hard to not have it contaminated in some way by the ubiquitous movie stills and movie fan art which is all too easily available on the internet. I imagine her not nearly as grim and dour and sad—and not so much of a typical “noir” heroine, chain smoking and revolver slinging: after all, she is supposed to be an adult version of Pippi Longstockings! That is an aspect of the character which I do not seem to find in any of the images I have seen.
* Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
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