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    husband, dad, teacher, filmmaker, writer, film geek, musician, DIYer, vegetarian, Bulldog, Buckeye, Nighthawk

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Millennium Trilogy


I’ve been re/reading Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of Millennium novels and re-watching the Swedish film adaptations as part of research for an academic paper. I had read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor/Men Who Hate Women) but this is my first time reading the other two novels, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes/The Air Castle That Was Blown Up). I’m a handful of chapters from finishing the third book and feel like sharing some random thoughts, just because.

These novels are great, but Larsson needed a ruthless editor and the time to pare down some elements. Sadly, Larsson passed away prior to publication of the novels. There may not have been the opportunity to do the usual editorial process. But there are entire subplots that do not progress the narrative. For instance, The Girl Who Played With Fire begins with Lisbeth Salander vacationing in Grenada. She has an affair with a local in his late teens. She encounters a couple from the U.S. in which the husband abuses the wife. She ventures out into a hurricane to rescue her young lover and ends up saving the wife and killing the husband. These events never come to bear in the remainder of the novel. And with only several chapters left in the final installment, it still hasn’t come into play and would be unnecessary if it did. Many passages and narrative strains along the way are redundant, too. It’s almost routine for the reader to be already aware of the perpetrator of a crime or a criminal’s identity, only for Larsson to give us a procedural account of one investigator or another trying to solve this crime. He shifts from one character’s perspective to another and repeats exposition we already know. The trilogy is brilliant in its creation of a vast diegesis populated by interesting characters. That sort of world-building is usually found in fantasy or science fiction narratives, not a realistic crime series with a social conscience. All of that could have been accomplished with at least 100 fewer pages in each novel.

Back when I first encountered The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I thought it was a great title. At this point, though, I greatly dislike the English-language titles of the first and third novels, neither of which is a direct translation of the original Swedish. Salander is the true protagonist of only the second novel. The first is primarily about Mikael Blomkvist’s investigation of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, and the third is an ensemble. The narrative shifts among Blomkvist, Erika Berger, investigators Jan Bublanski and Sonja Modig, Monica Figuerola, a whole network of criminals, and Salander. The English titles position Salander as the character that drives the narrative, and she simply isn’t for the great majority of the narrative.

It’s also part of a trend of characterization that somewhat undermines the feminism Larsson infused into the novels. Salander is “the girl” rather than a woman. Every male character who encounters Salander is fascinated by her. They dwell on her appearance and attempt to solve the mystery of her character. There are copious, detailed descriptions of Salander’s body. It’s a fine line between representing Salander as the object of the male characters’ gaze in order to interrogate that gaze versus being guilty of indulging in the male gaze. Unfortunately, Larsson steps over that line in ways. His feminism ultimately seems naïve and facile, although undoubtedly well-intentioned and valuable in a mainstream crime series.

bergerSpeaking of Berger, an entire feature film could be adapted from her subplot. I’d watch it, and it could be pointedly socially relevant. I am quite certain what she endures is a mere dramatic exaggeration of what many women in leadership positions deal with, and I’d bet harassment of exactly this kind is more common than most think. Oh, and if such a film were made, it would be a crime NOT to cast Lena Endre, who played Berger in the Swedish film adaptations, in the lead. She is the perfect Erika Berger, and I now realize how much her character was reduced in the adaptation process. What a shame. Both Endre and Berger deserved more.

Finally, does anyone else think Donald Trump is a mixture of Martin Vanger and Hans-Erik Wennerström? 😉 Sorry to throw in a political comment. We’ve been mired in the presidential campaign for months now, and that comparison kept occurring to me.

Despite any criticism I might have, I’m still a big fan of Larsson’s Millennium novels. I’m quite certain this won’t be the last time I read them.


The Girl Who Played With Fire

If you’re reading this in a public place, pause and look around you. Chances are, you just saw someone reading Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Or maybe one of its sequels, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” or “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

Larsson’s series of novels, collectively called the Millennium Trilogy, are taking over the literary globe. And for good reason. They combine traditional mystery plots with cyberpunk imagery and fiercely pro-female activism. Think Dorothy Sayers meets William Gibson meets Camille Paglia. Most of all, they are simply intricate and suspenseful reads.

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