Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are the central characters in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. In the first novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005, Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women) there’s a sub plot and a main plot. Lisbeth Salander’s backstory, she’s a survivor of sexual abuse, forms the sub-plot. She works with journalist Mikael Blomkvist as an independent investigator. They have a sexual relationship, although she also has sexual relationships with women. She likes Mikael Blomkvist even though they’re not really suited to one another. He already has an ongoing relationship with a female journalist, and this one (unlike his one with Lisbeth Salander) represents respectable normaility.
Lisbeth Salander’s backstory (a superhero-like origin story) and sub-plot foreshadows the sexual abuse related main plot. Because we follow her experience that much closer it feels more dramatic and visceral. And, in some ways, the main plot is a let down, comparatively.
Incredibly, Lisbeth Salander’s character originated from the idea of a character who resembled a grown up Pippi Longstocking. Clearly, Stieg Larsson developed her into an altogether different kind of character, a dark survivor who is easy for the reader or viewer to empathise with because of the injustice that she’s faced.
She’s a very alienated character who trusts no one. She is independent, a talented computer hacker, resourceful, and she never forgives transgressions made against her. She’s been described as showing traits associated with Asperger syndrome because of her inability to form relationships with other people or to see beyond her own direct experience.
The character in the novels feels like a slightly different one to the Lisbeth Salander in the films. She also changes in the novels, gaining confidence and becoming more capable in The Girl Who Played with Fire than she was in the first novel. Like other crime genre characters, Jack Reacher for example, she is verging on a cartoon character, but like Jack Reacher she’s always portrayed in a realistic manner that makes her believable as a real person and not a classic hero or a contemporary superhero. She is, in short, one of the most vividly engaging female genre characters ever created.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (book): Brilliant.
The Girl Who Played with Fire (book): Interesting.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (book): Interesting.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (film, 2009): Interesting.
The Girl Who Played with Fire (film, 2010): Disappointing.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (film, 2010): Disappointing.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (film, 2011): Interesting.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (film, 2017): Disappointing.