Mind Matters — Stieg Larsson’s Novels and Their Significance

Lisbeth Salander has been on my mind a lot lately. She is the protagonist in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of novels, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. These Swedish novels are now also rendered in Swedish films.

Interestingly, the first novel’s Swedish title was Men Who Hate Women. Why I address these books and movies here is that I believe they are far more than entertainment. There is, I think, a profound significance that they appear now, to capture the psyches of so many of us.

Briefly, The trilogy intertwines the lives of the characters, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Lisbeth is a young woman who witnessed the brutal abuse of her mother by her father, and was then brutally abused herself over the years by so called professionals and caretakers. However, she used her brilliant mind and her cunning to face traumatic events with a solitary sense of “I will not be a victim.” Blomkvist is the investigative reporter whose life becomes entangled with hers. Together they solve in the first book, a mystery disappearance of a young woman of a wealthy business family, only to discover sexual abuse within the family, along with vicious hate crimes against many women.

Abuse of women is not “over there,” somewhere or nowhere—“only a movie.”

Domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse remain in all societies to one degree or another. Stieg Larsson’s novels and the movie versions thereof are graphic and difficult, but somehow also compelling because their portrayal of violence against women is not gratuitous.

There has been both a fear and a putdown of women for thousands of years with the rise of patriarchy. Just as in the dialectic of master and slave, neither men nor women win in patriarchy. When we denigrate a people by nationality, gender, religion, socio-economic class, we eventually denigrate ourselves. And so the patriarchy, in its creating a hierarchical structure based on power, greed, wealth, material resources, territory—in the end subsumes itself. Patriarchy, in its denial of the feminine principle (within all of us) cannot sustain itself forever.

I think Stieg Larsson got this. His novels are not simple escapism/crime fiction. I believe he had set out to influence—perhaps even unbeknownst to him—the collective psyche to see the elephant in the living room. That is, that the abuse of women, the rape of the feminine, was not only to individual women (millions though they are) but that there is a global rape created by a patriarchal, hierarchical perspective which cannot abide the rising feminine.

Larsson’s Lisbeth depicted the young wounded feminine evolving from her abusive history to reclaim her power. Larsson’s alter ego Blomkvist was the epitome of the new man—carrying his own gentle receptivity to meet the assertive feminine embodied in Lisbeth.

Fiction can be like a parable. Some people get the message. Others simply twist the message into some literal narrow meaning. My hunch, however, is that there’s got to be something afoot in the collective mind (interesting image—foot in mind) that prompts Larsson’s trilogy to be as ubiquitous as a Sarah Palin pun. And there the similarity stops—cold as a snowy day in Sweden.