The Dragon Lady: Lisbeth Salander

I don’t normally read popular fiction. I’m usually affixed to books that contain older and more weathered fiction like Chekov, O’Connor, Hemingway, etc. or to science books such as “The Best American Science Writing of 2010”, “Once Upon Einstein” or” Calculus for Dummies”.

While reading “The Best American Science Writing of 2010” a fellow passenger on a daily commute suggested strongly that I read the Steig Larsson books: “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”. I could tell that this gentleman was deeply engrossed in the books as were other passengers. The book covers showed up everywhere I looked. So, I decided to take a departure from my everyday route and read the books.

In short, I found the books story-telling engrossing.  Larsson is a good at weaving a multiplicity of detailed character threads to fashion an intriguing tale about a young woman, Lisbeth Salander, the story’s protagonist. The story basically tells how a diminutive tech savvy girl deals with overwhelming evil. Sadly, though, the story is not redemptive for any one, not for Lisbeth or the reader. 

The three books which make up  the Millennium Trilogy deal with evil using a cast of horrendous characters: unfeeling, misogynistic and murderous white men. This diabolical group includes Lisbeth’s monster of a father, her ‘Super-Race’ machine of a brother (literally unfeeling), an even more monstrous uncle and nephew, a state imposed guardian, an evil system hidden within the government and a horde of eastern European sex traders. Lisbeth, the super-hacker, is able to outsmart, outwit and out punch her opponents until she is free to live her life. That’s the best she can hope for in this story.

The Lisbeth character is a ‘modern’ woman in charge of her body. She has multiple piercings in a hardened outer shell. Her anti-social demeanor,possibly Asperger syndrome her former guardian speculates, keeps her aloof and people guessing as to what she is up to. She is a mysterious force to reckon with. A mystifying dragon lady with all odds stacked against her.

Yet, Lisbeth has feelings. There is a hard-drive of detached emotions operating under the cover of a hook-up sexuality. This dragon lady woman acts out with women because, we are lead to suppose, men have treated her so badly. We are led to feel sympathy for her ‘situation’ and to accept her choices whenever she beds down with women. Near the end of story, after she has dealt serious blows to the white men who have abused her she casually and discriminately hooks up with a married man who’s staying in the same hotel as she is. They have meaningless sex over several nights. Apparently, she has now taken charge of her sex life after the brutal rapes that incurred in her past. We learn of her excessive drinking and her own unchaste behavior to mollify her pain. She uses men like they have used her. This is not feminism. Rather it is unresolved anger, returning evil for evil. She is a woman disconnected from herself and her pain. Shes operates out of an existential ethic, creating her own values and meaning to life as she goes along.

How the books deal with evil shows the out working of the postmodern mind: intelligence wins the day; knowing how to ‘hack’ the system can be your salvation; evil is to be redirected any way it can; learn to outsmart evil and you’ll come out on top; don’t even bring God into the picture; we can save ourselves if we are smart enough, if we stay one step ahead of evil. (Think of the presumptive Wikileakers and Wikihackers.)

We also see a synthesis of good and evil in these books. The ends justify the means. The ‘good’ victim girl, Lisbeth, uses evil to deal with the evil doers. I won’t describe the details here.

Throughout the Millennium Trilogy there is a baseline desire to get to the bottom of the evil that has occurred and to expose it. Henrik Vanger, a retired industrialist begins the process. I do like the fact that along with a journalist and friend of Lisbeth, Mikael Bloomkist Henrik sought to ‘out’ the evil that’s been done to Lisbeth. That is a necessary step in dealing with evil. In our world during a recent televised newscast it is told that in the trial of Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper and rapist, Elizabeth Smart takes the stand, faces her accuser and speaks out the evil that has been done to her. This confronting of evil is an absolute necessity for the victim, for the perpetrator and for those who have become aware of this horrible crime. It is absolutely necessary to bring to justice all of the evil doers. These acts, granted by God in the present, of bringing those to justice who have perpetrated evil are a precursor to the Final Judgement awaiting evil. Without giving away too much of the story, in the case of Lisbeth there is a trial where she faces those who have acted unjustly towards her. The truth about the crimes done to Lisbeth is revealed. Outing the information is not enough, though, for any type of redemptive closure. It is a good beginning, though.

The revelation of evil as perpetrated, in and of iteslf, is not enough to deal with the systemic evil that is inherent in man and man’s societies since Adam’s Fall. Neither is sheer will power, as Nietzsche would have us believe is necessary for survival. Evil has been dealt a death blow by the cross of Jesus Christ. Because of the cross, man can confront evil, name it for what it is, forgive the perpetrators and seek reconciliation and restoration. There is no mention of the cross in these books. One only sees man’s attempt to do battle with it in his own terms.

For the person who embraces the cross there is hope, whereas, the person who continues to battle evil with wile and strength may become stronger but, it will certainly bring them to the breaking point and to despair. In Lisbeth’s case, a large amount of money she had stolen from a ‘bad guys’ account became the restoration and succor for the evil that’s been done to her. In reality, though, money does not destroy the effects of evil. Money can become another master that controls us, perhaps to the point of doing evil. There is no solution to the problem of evil with a redistribution of wealth, despite what these books convey.

The art of story telling is excellent in Larsson’s books. But the story’s worldview is only worth the price of admission to view the postmodern mind trying to deal with evil using its form of “higher morality”.

Nietzsche: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Lisbeth’s confrontation with evil throughout the books is met with her ever more wily approach to evil. Sadly, at the end of the story there is no message of hope or redemption. Evil is not overcome by good. There only remains the ‘inked’ vestige of a dragon – the Biblical symbol of the evil one.

(A note about the movies based on these books: The stories are based in Sweden. The movies are in Swedish. You can watch them with sub-titles. Also, the movies fast forward through the book. You would have to read the books to understand the myriad details supporting the story to make sense of it all. Finally, the story repeatedly deals with elements of evil:  brutal violence, rape, perverse sexuality and more.)


“To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.”

– Miroslav Volf
The End of Memory, Remembering Rightly In A Violent World


Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


“The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

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