After three books and three films, I am going to miss Lisbeth Salander.  She is the rarest of creatures in both book and film; she is unique.  She is the product of a creative mind who used the real life experiences of abused women to fashion a woman who doesn’t just survive. She triumphs.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is the most accessible of the three books. It is Mikael’s story more than Lisbeth’s.  It is about murder and Nazi’s and the disappearance of a young girl.  Lisbeth rescues Mikael, his magazine, and his reputation.  But what we get of Lisbeth’s story is violence beyond anything I have seen in a film.  The violence on the screen mirrored that in the book so for those who know what to expect, the violence is not gratuitous; it needs to be horrifying in order to understand how Lisbeth has become the woman she is.  The film was completely true to the book.

The second book, and the second film, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, is  the bridge that connects the first and third books.  While Mikael is at center stage in the first book, it is  not a mistake that the English titles of the books and films begin with “The Girl”  There are no stories without Lisbeth and the story that makes up THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is a story of brutality, cruelty, rejection, and alienation.  Lisbeth has been removed from humanity emotionally and, at times, physically.  She is locked up in a psychiatric hospital because she tries to save/avenge her mother who has been beaten so badly by Lisbeth’s father that she never recovers.  The Swedish government, the covert side of the government,  sacrifices a child to protect secret dealings with a spy.  Lisbeth doesn’t just have to deal with her father; she has the might and the long arm of the Swedish secret government determined to destroy her.  Lisbeth is playing with fire literally and physically.  When part two ends, she is near death because she is a threat, not to Sweden, but to the shadows that manipulate all that is good about the country for the protection of their own power.  The film is faithful to the book.

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST begins just where the second installment ends.  Lisbeth has been shot in the head.  She, silent as always, has somehow found another protector, her doctor, who knows instinctively that Lisbeth needs to be protected from the police and the government minions who will do what ever is necessary to have Lisbeth committed to an asylum for the rest of her life.  Did she kick a hornet’s nest or a nest of vipers?   Here, again, Mikael steps in to save her from her own worst impulses.  Like it or not, Lisbeth knows that her freedom is in Mikael’s hands and she agrees to write her autobiography.  The film doesn’t make it clear but the book does – her attorney is Mikael’s sister.  As the trial begins, Mikael is using Lisbeth’s autobiography to find information his sister can use in Lisbeth’s defense.  In the end, Lisbeth saves herself by trusting someone else.  The film is faithful to the book.

I read a number of reviews of the film version of THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST.  Reviews by people who did not read the books bemoaned the ending.  Stieg Larsson had written the three books before the first was published.  He knew from the beginning where the story was going to end.  The films are faithful to the books.  Does Lisbeth grow and change over the course of the story?  Maybe, a little.  But Larsson created Lisbeth as the emotionally damaged, physically and sexually abused victim of the lust for power of a small group of men.  Lisbeth’s ability to grow emotionally was pretty much shut down when she was first institutionalized.  She has grown to the degree that she allows the doctor and Mikael to help her but Lisbeth is unlikely to go off into the sunset for a happily-ever-after life.  Lisbeth is the product of the worst that a human being can do to another human being.  Lisbeth is pure intellect paired/ bolstered by the survival instinct.

Lisbeth is also Noomi Rapace.  If an American version had to be made, why did they not sign Rapace to inhabit Lisbeth again?  Lisbeth is revealed through Rapace’s eyes.  She doesn’t need dialogue.  It will be difficult to accept someone else in that role.  Because the films came after the books, readers had the opportunity to create their own images of Lisbeth.  As soon as Noomi Rapace appers on screen in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, she replaced the image I had.  Playing the second version of Lisbeth isn’t an enviable task.

The books frequently mention that Lisbeth is very small, not much bigger than a child.  In the films, there isn’t much done to draw attention to her size until a scene in THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST.  Lisbeth is brought into an interrogation room, accompanied by police personnel.  In that scene, make-up gone, Lisbeth does appear child-like.  It is a visual reminder of how young Lisbeth was when the process of destroying her life began.

Despite the rumors that there is another book that could be released to keep “The Girl” franchise going, it is difficult to see what Larsson might have had in mind.  The end of the movie is the end.  All the strands of the story are tied up neatly.  All the questions have been answered.  Even Lisbeth, while not understood, is explained.  There are no surprises at the end of THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST.  Larsson has treated his characters and his audience fairly.  The characters don’t reveal themselves to be other than what we have come to know.  The audience/readership was guided step-by-step to the conclusion that Larsson wanted his readers to reach.  The real genius of the Millennium Trilogy is that Lisbeth Salander is no less an unforgettable character on the page as she is on the screen.

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  1. I am writing exactly what I thought as I read your post: This is the finest review I’ve ever read of not just a book or series of books, but of a social phenomenon. I am impressed beyond words. Honestly impressed. Congratulations Beth, you are the bright shinning star of this Internet review world.


  2. Beth says:

    I don’t know how to respond to your comment. Thank you isn’t enough.

    Writing about Lisbeth is easy. Stieg Larsson created a woman more complicated than Lady Macbeth although I doubt Lisbeth will find her way into any high school curriculum. Noomi Rapace deserves every award available for bringing Lisbeth so fully formed from the woman we imagine on the page to the woman who dominates the screen.

  3. janebbooks says:

    Beth, a really good overview of MILLENIUM.
    Unfortunately, I am not a Lizbeth fan. I really enjoyed THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, both the book and the movie. And Noomi Rapace is an exceptional actress. But after a 100 pages or so into the second book, I realized that Larsson’s stories was not to my taste.
    Such a strange, confused young girl…and hopefully the last of her line. We really need to stop the damage that evil people do to others.

    • Beth says:

      Jane, I think that Larsson created Lisbeth as an atypical victim of abuse. That the book was originally titled MEN WHO HATE WOMEN gives us the premise from which he was working, that society overlooks some of its weakest victims. In Lisbeth’s case, she was still a child when the abuse started.

      Of course, since Lisbeth is a fictional character. Larsson was able to manipulate her story. He created her without the need for limits. That’s what makes fiction entertainment.

  4. kathy d. says:

    I agree with your review and your assessment of Lizbeth Salander. I have defended her all over the blogosphere at websites where some readers just don’t understand her, many of them men. That she was able to survive the worst abuse, and be brilliant, independent and courageous is a huge feat. That she didn’t become catatonic or just withdraw from the world and give up is a feat. She was a survivor and a fighter. When she felt that no one would help her–and everyone but her first guardian had betrayed her–she defended herself.
    In the end in the third book, though, the resolution is not a violent one. It occurs through painstaking planning, strategy and collaboration among many people, with several smart women in the lead, working with Blomkvist. Larsson’s respect for women comes through in that volume, by how he depicts the women who expose the conspiracy and aid Salander.
    And Noomi Rapace is Salander. I thought that the minute I saw her in the first film. She is amazing, portraying Salander’s eccentricities, her strengths, her bravery and her vulnerabilities.
    What a character! Will there ever be as complex a woman character as Salander?
    Will any woman character engender such a discussion all over the blogosphere, in the media, at reading groups and coffee shops?

    • Beth says:

      Fiction allows authors to manipulate reality in furtherance of the story. I can see why Larsson’s family are reluctant to have the rumored fourth book published. Lisbeth is the creation of one man’s imagination. To entrust her to someone else might change her completely. In Larsson’s hands, she has some restraint; someone else could make her act without any boundaries, making her more of a cartoon. On the other hand, someone could take her experiences, wash them away, and turn her into any other young woman on the street.

      Lisbeth can respond as she did to the horrors of her circumstances because her creator was also the creator of the circumstances. Lisbeth, as written, isn’t going to be the person in the next apartment who will babysit in an emergency. Lisbeth makes Lady Macbeth seem normal.

      Larsson created a one of a kind character who is so complex she is a victim of her creator as well. There is little room for redemption. She is fascinating because she isn’t the woman next door.

  5. kathy d. says:

    Does Salander need redemption? I don’t think so. She defended herself from the worst abuse and took revenge on her tormentors. She is a computer hacker and genius, to her own advantage, especially financial; it doesn’t bother me nor many readers. The only thing I wish is that she could recover enough from her past to have meaningful friendships and other relationships. Maybe the help she got from Annika Giannini, Blomkvist and her doctor would help her in terms of trusting people and being able to form friendships and trust. We’ll never know that.

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