The XX Factor

Is Lisbeth Salander a feminist heroine?

The ever-brilliant Laura Miller at Salon has written an appreciation of Lisbeth Salander , the antisocial hacker heroine of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millenium trilogy, which began with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (recently adapted to film) and is now about to conclude with The Girl Who Kicked Hornet’s Nest . Miller attributes her love of the series to the union of two disparate qualities: the utter mundanity of the prose and the mythic power of Lisbeth’s role as a kind of revenge goddess.

I enjoyed Dragon Tattoo when I first read it, but I lost interest about halfway through the overly convoluted second installment, The Girl Who Played With Fire . Throughout the series, though, one question kept nagging at me: Is Lisbeth Salander a feminist heroine?

On one hand, she’s a super-smart, takes-no-guff, possibly-Asperger’s-having hacker: Awesome! Lisbeth felt like something fresh and different and cool when we first met her: A character who wasn’t going to pander to our need to like her. But then, in the second half of Dragon Tattoo (spoiler alert), Larsson has her fall in love with the hero, Mikael Blomkvist, in a way that really irked me. My friend pointed out that Blomkvist comes across like a bad Mary Sue character -i.e., a wish-fulfilling stand-in for the author. (Larsson, before he died, was also a middle-aged, crusading journalist.) The novel portrays Blomkvist as having this mysterious sexual power over women without really giving us a reason to understand why ; it just insists that this is the case. And there’s nothing about Lisbeth that suggests she would be vulnerable to his inexplicable charms - she has utterly rejected every other kind of human attachment thus far - and yet, she succumbs! Hard! To me, that felt like bending a character unnaturally to fit the logic of the romantic suspense story, and it made me angry. And then, at the beginning of The Girl Who Played With Fire , when Lisbeth gets a boob job, I just threw up my hands.

Let me reiterate: It didn’t bug me that Lisbeth DID these things but rather that they felt like they weren’t rooted in a consistent psychology. Readers: What do you think? Am I being too hard on poor Kalle Blomkvist? Or on Lisbeth? What did I miss by skipping out on the last part of Girl Who Played With Fire ? Love letters to Noomi Rapace, the actress who plays Lisbeth in the films, also accepted.