On the Millennium Trilogy

If Lisbeth Salander Were Real

By Hans Steiner

Few characters in recent fiction have captured the imaginations of so many in so short a time as Lisbeth Salander, one of the two protagonists of the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson. A quick web search of her name turns up 1,410,000 results in 0.11 seconds. Comments range from adolescent idolatry to serious and protracted discussions as to whether Lisbeth in fact is a real person. The rapid production of three Swedish films summarizing the three volumes and their current American remake also supports this contention, which raises the question: What it is about a gun-slinging, boxing, chain-smoking, bisexual, seemingly fearless Gothic princess whose range of emotions is severely constricted that touches the hearts, desires, and imagination of so many? This effect is even more surprising if one considers that the books tend to be dark in their mood and describe a series of events that are clearly outside the range of normative human experience. They are usually of a violent, deeply perturbing nature, and many of these unsettling events are even perpetrated by Lisbeth herself. What is it about a vengeful, tattooed, multiply pierced, diminutive, boyish-in-build character–who is sometimes suspected of suffering from Asperger’s syndrome and is described as paranoid schizophrenic–that elicits our sympathy, interest, and even passion?

There are many possible answers to this question. The most interesting ones for our purpose lie in the deeper psychology and psychiatry of the character, which will be laid out in some detail in the main body of this essay. But another  …

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