Stieg Larsson, Lisbeth Salander, and The Millennium Trilogy

 
 

Lesbian and bisexual characters sell.

If you haven’t picked up one of Larsson’s books yet, you’re in the minority. He was the world’s second-best selling author last year (behind The Kite Runner’s Khaled Hosseini), and well over 12 million copies of his book have been sold worldwide. Three million of the books have been sold in Sweden, a country with only 9 million people.  

Keep those stats in mind the next time someone suggests mainstream audiences will never accept queer characters.

The popularity of the stories and the characters — including the bisexual Lisbeth and the lesbian Miriam — doesn’t end with the books. According to Wikipedia, the already-released Swedish movie based on Larsson’s first novel was the most popular Swedish film in history. What’s more, The Guardian reports George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt are interested in playing the male lead, Mikael Blomkvist, in the projected U.S. version of the movie.

There’s no word yet on which women might be interested in playing Lisbeth in the U.S. version (Natalie Portman, anyone?), but a few people you may have heard of are reportedly interested in directing: Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese.

It’s already been made into a movie in Scandanavia, with Noomi Rapace playing Lisbeth.

Men are creating some of the best queer characters.

Whedon created Buffy, Tara and Willow, to name a few; Terry Moore created Katchoo; Rob Tapert created Xena; and now there’s Larsson with Lisbeth and Miriam. Clearly, many — though certainly not all — of the best lesbian and bisexual characters are being created by men.

Why is that the case? It may well be that female writers aren’t getting an equal shot at publication or promotion, or it could be that the best female writers are choosing to write about other topics. Laurie R. King has openly admitted she was encouraged by her publisher to focus on her Sherlock Holmes-related mysteries, rather than the less popular Kate Martinelli mysteries, which feature a lesbian protagonist.

Larsson wasn’t immune to the lure of money; in fact, he hoped his novels would provide a retirement fund for him and his partner of more than 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson. But he also wrote three books before submitting them to a publisher, working on his own and presumably without the distractions and pressures of the publishing industry. He could have played it safe with Lisbeth’s sexuality, but instead it appears he was so caught up in creating a compelling character that he ignored any potential drawbacks.

"[Lisbeth] became like a third person in our house," Gabrielsson told Newsweek. "Stieg would be up all night writing, and when I woke up he would say, ‘You wouldn’t believe what Salander just did!’ It was like a menage à trois."

Feminism is still alive and kicking.

Larsson’s novels are unabashedly feminist in their tone and message. His preferred title for the first novel, Men Who Hate Women, says it all: Larsson, often through Lisbeth, indicts institutions that allow or facilitate the abuse of women, as well as the sick, pathetic men who carry out the abuse.

While most thrillers focus on the hapless female victims — the bloodied, abused and murdered girls and women we feel sorry for and ache to protect or avenge — Larsson focuses much of his attention on dissecting the Big Bad: the men who abuse. His characters talk with johns and sex traffickers and rapists, revealing the men to be, variously, dumb, deluded, evil and pitiful creatures.

With their weak excuses and sputtering calls for mercy, it’s ultimately the abusers, not the abused, whose mental anguish and personal failings Larsson lays bare.

In his marvelous, and decidedly feminist, restructuring of the traditional crime novel, it’s not just that the abusers get what’s coming to them — it’s that, often, it’s a woman who delivers the final blow.

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