|Millennium series character|
Lisbeth Salander, as portrayed by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish film series.
|First appearance||The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo|
|Last appearance||The Girl in the Spider's Web|
|Created by||Stieg Larsson|
|Portrayed by||Noomi Rapace (Swedish)
Tehilla Blad (Swedish, child)
Rooney Mara (English)
|Aliases||Wasp, Irene Nesser, Monica Sholes|
|Occupation||Computer hacker in the Hacker Republic
Private investigator at Milton Security
|Family||Agneta Sofia Salander (mother)
Alexander Zalachenko (father)
Camilla Salander (twin sister)
Ronald Niedermann (half-brother)
She first appeared in the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (original Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, literally "Men who hate women" in English). She is also featured in The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest.
In the only interview he ever did about the series, Larsson stated that he based the character of Lisbeth Salander on what he imagined Pippi Longstocking might have been like as an adult. In the trilogy, Salander has the name "V. Kulla" displayed on the door of her apartment on the top floor of Fiskargatan 9 in Stockholm. "V. Kulla" is an abbreviation of "Villa Villekulla", the name of Pippi Longstocking's house.
Another source of inspiration was Larsson's niece, Therese. A rebellious teenager, she often wore black clothing and makeup and told him several times that she wanted to get a tattoo of a dragon. The author often emailed Therese while writing the novels to ask her about her life and how she would react in certain situations. She told him about her battle with anorexia and that she practiced kickboxing (previously jujitsu).
After his death, many of Larsson's friends said the character was created out of an incident in which Larsson, then a teenager, witnessed three of his friends gang-raping an acquaintance of his named Lisbeth, and did nothing to stop it. Days later, wracked with guilt, he begged her forgiveness — which she refused. The incident, he said, haunted him for years afterward, and in part moved him to create a character with her name who was also a rape survivor. The veracity of this story has since been questioned, after a colleague from Expo magazine reported to Rolling Stone that Larsson had told him that he had heard the story secondhand and retold it as his own.
Lisbeth Salander has red hair, which she dyes black. Upon her first appearance in the series, she is described as a pale, skinny young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She has a wasp tattoo about two centimeters long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm, another loop around her left ankle, a Chinese symbol on her hip and a rose on her left calf. She has a large tattoo of a dragon on her back that runs from her shoulder, down her spine, and ends on her buttocks. This was changed in the English translation to a small dragon on her left shoulder blade.
Salander is a world-class computer hacker. Under the name "Wasp", she becomes a prominent figure in the international hacker community, known as the Hacker Republic. She uses her computer skills as a means to earn a living, doing investigative work for Milton Security. She has an eidetic memory, and is skillful at concealing her identity, possessing passports in different names and physical disguises that she uses to travel undetected around Sweden and worldwide.
She has a complicated relationship with investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, which veers back and forth between romance and hostility throughout the trilogy. She also has an on-again off-again romantic relationship with Miriam "Mimi" Wu.
Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm and Anna Westerstahl Stenport write,
Her appearance suggests a profound lack of interest in creating a mainstream stable domestic sphere for herself or in house-keeping — microwave pizza and cola are her food staples. Salander's relationship to gender roles and notions of home thus appear construed in explicit opposition to ideologies of the welfare state, including its gendered presuppositions. In terms of sexuality, Salander is a popular culture fantasy — adolescent-looking yet sexually experienced."
The survivor of a traumatic childhood, Salander is highly introverted, asocial and has difficulty connecting to people and making friends. She is particularly hostile to men who abuse women, and takes special pleasure in exposing and punishing them. This is representative of Larsson's personal views and a major theme throughout the entire trilogy. In the series, Blomkvist speculates that Salander might have Asperger syndrome. Her mental state is never definitively described, however, an ambiguity that many antagonists in the series try to use against her; her sexually abusive public guardian, Nils Bjurman, describes her as "a sick, murderous, insane fucking person", while her one-time jailer Dr. Peter Teleborian describes her as "paranoid", "psychotic", "obsessive", "schizophrenic", and an "egomaniacal psychopath".
On the other hand, Larsson himself stated that he thought that she might be looked upon as somewhat of an unusual kind of sociopath, due to her traumatic life experiences and inability to conform to social norms.
In the book The Psychology of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, on the question "Is Salander a psychopath?", Melissa Burkley, Ph.D. and Dr. Stephanie Mullins-Sweatt write; "Although Salander is antagonistic and violent, she doesn't appear to lack a conscience, which is the hallmark trait of a psychopath. While she may not always follow society's rules, she does have her own set of moral principles that abide by a code of right and wrong."
In spite of all the opinions and speculations about her mental health diagnoses, at the end of the final book in the series she is declared sane and competent:
In the exhilarating court scene in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Salander’s lawyer, Anita (sic) Giannini, tramples Dr. Teleborian as she demonstrates that Lisbeth is 'just as sane and intelligent as anyone in this room.' This victory puts Lisbeth back on the right side of the asylum’s doors, as her declaration of incompetence is rescinded, then and there. Sanity prevails."
Writers have described her as a "fiercely unconventional and darkly kooky antiheroine", a "superhero", a "misfit" and "an androgynous, asocial, bisexually active...loner who makes a living as a computer hacker..." Queen's Quarterly wrote that "the diminutive, flat-chested, chain-smoking, tattoo-adorned, anti-social, bisexual, genius computer hacker Lisbeth Salander" has become "one of the most compelling characters in recent popular fiction".
Storyline in books
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is introduced as a gifted, but deeply troubled, researcher and computer hacker working for Milton Security. Her boss, Dragan Armansky, commissions her to research disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist at the behest of a wealthy businessman, Henrik Vanger. When Blomkvist finds out that Salander hacked his computer, he hires her to assist him in investigating the disappearance of Vanger's grandniece, Harriet, 40 years earlier. Salander uses her research skills to uncover a series of murders, dating back decades, tied to Harriet's disappearance. During the investigation, Salander and Blomkvist become lovers.
The novel reveals Salander was declared legally incompetent as a child, and is under the care of legal guardian Holgar Palmgren, one of the few people in the world she trusts and cares for. When Palmgren suffers a stroke, the court appoints her a new guardian: Nils Bjurman, a sadist who forces Salander to perform oral sex in return for access to her allowance. In a second sex session at his flat, he rapes and sodomizes her, unaware that she is recording his actions with a hidden camera. A few days later, she returns to his flat and, after disabling him with a taser, fastens him to his own bed with his own bondage equipment. She then explains that she will release the recording unless he restores her access to her money and recommends that she be declared legally competent. She then sodomizes him with an anal plug and tattoos the words "I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST" on his abdomen. She threatens to expose Bjurman unless he recommends that she be declared mentally competent.
Salander eventually uncovers evidence that Harriet's late father, Gottfried, and her brother, Martin, committed the murders. Salander then finds Blomkvist just in time to save him from Martin, who is in the midst of torturing him. She pursues Martin on her motorcycle, but he is killed when he deliberately veers into an oncoming truck, effectively committing suicide. Salander later uses her hacking skills to discover that Harriet Vanger is alive and hiding in Australia, and to get sensitive information about Blomkvist's arch-rival, corrupt media magnate Hans-Erik Wennerström. With the information uncovered by Salander, Blomkvist publishes an exposé article and book that ruins Wennerström and transforms Blomkvist's magazine, Millennium, into one of the most respected and profitable in Sweden. During her investigation of Wennerström, she uses her hacking skills and a series of disguises to withdraw billions of Swedish kronor from one of Wennerström's off-shore accounts.
At the end of the book, Salander acknowledges to herself that she has fallen in love with Blomkvist. On her way to tell him so, however, she sees him with his longtime lover, Millennium editor Erika Berger. Heartbroken, she abruptly cuts off all contact with him.
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The Girl Who Played With Fire begins with Salander returning to Sweden after traveling for a year. Shortly afterward, Salander is falsely implicated in the murder of three people — Bjurman and two of Blomkvist's colleagues. The frame-up is in fact a conspiracy between her biological father, former Soviet spy Alexander Zalachenko, and the Section, an illegal faction within Säpo, the Swedish Security Service, whose members had protected him after he defected from the USSR. Zalachenko had been a high-ranking member of the GRU, and his defection was regarded by Säpo as an intelligence windfall, thus leading to the Section covering up his subsequent illegal activities. Zalachenko had his son (and Salander's half-brother) Ronald Neidermann kill Blomkvist's colleagues, who were writing an exposé article on their prostitution ring, and Bjurman, a former Säpo employee who would have been exposed in the article as Salander's rapist. The Section then falsely incriminates Salander to cover up their concealment of Zalachenko's crimes.
Blomkvist tries to help Salander, even though she wants nothing to do with him. When she hacks into his computer, he leaves her his notes on the prostitution ring, from which she learns that Zalachenko is behind the frame-up. By the end of the novel, she tracks Zalachenko to his farm, where he shoots her in the head and has Neidermann bury her alive. She digs her way out, however, and hits her father in the face with an axe before losing consciousness. Blomkvist finds her and calls an ambulance, saving her life.
The novel expands upon Salander's childhood. She is portrayed as having been an extremely bright but asocial child who would violently lash out at anyone who threatened or picked on her. This was in part the result of a troubled home life; Zalachenko repeatedly beat her mother, but escaped punishment because the Section perceived his value to the Swedish State as being more important than her mother's civil rights. Zalachenko also indirectly destroyed Salander's relationship with her sister, Camilla, who repressed her memories of the abuse and saw her father as gentle and loving.
One day when Salander was 12, Zalachenko beat her mother so badly that she sustained permanent brain damage. In retaliation, Salander hurled a homemade Molotov cocktail into her father's car, leaving him permanently disfigured and in chronic pain. The Section, fearing this would lead to their exposure, had the girl declared legally insane and sent to a Children's Psychiatric Hospital in Uppsala. While there, she was placed under the direct surveillance of psychologist Dr. Peter Teleborian, who had earlier conspired with the Section to have her declared insane. During her stay at the hospital, Teleborian put her in restraints for the most trivial infractions as a way of venting his repressed pedophilic urges. On the Section's orders, Teleborian declared her legally incompetent so that no one would ever believe her accounts of what they had done. They then had Bjurman, a lawyer in their employ, appointed as her guardian after Palmgren's stroke.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
In the third and final novel of the series - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest - Salander is arrested for the three murders while she recuperates in the hospital. Zalachenko, who is a patient in the same hospital, is murdered by one of the Section, who then tries to kill Salander; fortunately, her lawyer (Annika Giannini, Blomkvist's sister) has barred the door. The would-be assassin then commits suicide.
Due to her deep-seated mistrust of authority, Salander refuses at first to cooperate in any way with her defense, relying instead on her friends in Sweden's hacker community. They eventually help Blomkvist discover the full scope of the Section's conspiracy, which he strives to publish at the risk of his own life. Salander eventually writes, and passes to Giannini, an exact description of the sexual abuse she suffered at Bjurman's hands, but written in such a way as to make it sound astounding so as to mislead the prosecution.
At her trial, Salander is defiant and uncooperative. The prosecuting counsel uses testimony from Teleborian, appearing as their principal witness, to depict her as insane and in need of long-term care. Annika then destroys Teleborian's credibility by introducing the recording of Salander's rape, and produces extensive evidence of the Section's plot, published in Millennium that morning by Blomkvist. At the same time as Annika starts questioning Teleborian, the 10 members of the Section are arrested and charged with a long list of crimes. Salander's trial is briefly interrupted to permit the arrest of Teleborian for possession of child pornography, which was uncovered by Salander's fellow hackers. Salander is set free the same day, her name cleared.
After she is cleared of the charges, Salander receives word that, as Zalachenko's daughter, she is entitled to a small inheritance and one of his properties. She refuses the money, but goes to a disused factory she has inherited. There, she is attacked by Niedermann, who has been hiding there since shortly after the confrontation with Salander at Zalachenko's farm. She nails his feet to the floor, and then calls the same gang who attacked her in the previous novel, who want him dead because he killed some of their people. Before they arrive to kill Niedermann, she contacts the police.
That night, Blomkvist shows up at her door, and the two reconcile as friends.
Portrayals in films
In 2009, the Swedish film and television studio Yellow Bird produced a trilogy of films based upon the novels. In these films, Salander is played as an adult by Noomi Rapace and as a child by Tehilla Blad. Rapace received a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role nomination in 2011.
David Denby of The New Yorker stated that the character of Lisbeth Salander clearly accounts for a large part of the novels' success. Deirdre Donahue of USA Today referred to Salander as "one of the most startling, engaging and sometimes perplexing heroines in recent memory." The New York Times 's David Kamp called her "one of the most original characters in a thriller to come along in a while." Likewise, Muriel Dobbin from The Washington Times dubbed her one of the most fascinating characters to emerge in crime fiction in years; "Her remoteness and her capacity for anger and violence are in contrast with a desperate vulnerability that she reveals only to the most unlikely of people."
Reviewing the first Swedish film, Roger Ebert noted that it is "a compelling thriller to begin with, but it adds the rare quality of having a heroine more fascinating than the story". The Independent 's Jonathan Gibbs called the character "a vision of female empowerment – a kind of goth-geek Pippi Longstocking," but also an "agglomeration of clichés." Richard Schickel of Los Angeles Times suggested that Salander represents something new in the thriller genre; "She's a tiny bundle of post-modernist tropes, beginning with her computer skills."
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- "Lisbeth Salander, the Girl Who Rocked the Mystery-Action Genre". Politics Daily. 10 July 2010. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
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- The Stieg Larsson Trilogy from Quercus, publishers of Stieg Larsson
- The official Millennium site of Nordstedt Publishing
- Lisbeth Salander: The Movies Have Never Had a Heroine Quite Like Her - David Denby for The New Yorker, 2011/12/27