On the Millennium Trilogy

Salander as Superhero

By Robin S. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Lisbeth Salander is a captivating protagonist. Her appearance and demeanor lead us–and the characters in her world–to make assumptions about her, to pigeonhole her as a Goth, a slacker, a rebel. Over the course of the first novel and the trilogy, Stieg Larsson upends our analysis of her character as he reveals her inner life, her outward behavior, and the choices she’s made. We can’t help but admire her grit and persistence, her inner strength and commitment, her strong moral code, and her adherence to it.

There’s a sense in which Salander is an action hero, even though the action isn’t generally hitting, punching, or kicking (though she engages in some of those actions, too). Rather, she engages in hacking, researching, and other uses of her substantial intellect and emotional strengths. Her heroism is demonstrated mentally as well as physically. I’ll go one step further: I think that Salander is a superhero. She has the three most important characteristics typical of a superhero: a mission, (super)powers, and a superhero identity.1 The fact that she’s not explicitly labeled as a superhero–and that we only subliminally come to understand her as one–adds to her appeal. Let’s explore these characteristics in more detail.

The Mission

Every superhero has a mission. Batman seeks to avenge his parents’ deaths by “spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.”2 Spider-Man’s mission is to use his spider-like powers to help others. Superman fights for truth, justice, and–until recently–the American way.3 Most superheroes don’t begin with those missions, though.  …

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