Lisbeth Salander alias Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 9:15:37 PM
First a short quotation from an email sent from Stieg Larsson to his Swedish Publisher: "I have tried to swim against the tide compared to ordinary crime novels. I wanted to create main characters who differ dramatically from the ordinary crime characters. My point of departure was what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Would she be called a sociopath because she looked upon society in a different way and did not have any social competences? She turned into Lisbeth Salander who has many masculine features."
Several non-Scandinavian reviewers have chosen to draw other (more or less apt) parallels between Lisbeth Salander and a number of literary figures, but in this post I am going to focus on the comparison with Pippi Longstocking, partly because of Stieg Larsson´s intentions, partly because it adds to the understanding of the two main characters, including the interrelationship between them, in my humble opinion.
Just like Mikael Blomkvist, Salander thoroughly dislikes being compared to a hero from a children´s book. "He [Mikael Blomkvist] hates the nickname as anyone can understand. Someone would get a black eye if I were called Pippi Longstocking on a contents bill."
Lisbeth Salander is in her mid-twenties, a slight, anorexic-looking girl with short, coal-black hair and several tattoos, who could easily pass for a teenage girl. Perhaps not quite like Pippi with her overlarge boots and red plaits sticking out at right angles, but certainly a conspicuous person. In spite of being a lone wolf, Salander has managed to gain a position as a highly qualified and imaginative private investigator for "Milton Security", however.
With regard to the family situation of the two, readers of Pippi see her as an orphan in the beginning (throughout the first book perhaps? - not quite sure). Later it turns out that she has a father who is a sea captain as well as a ´negro king´ (the politically correct term = a South Sea King) ruling a remote island. So Pippi lives on her own in a huge, ramshackle house together with her monkey, Mr Nilsson, and her horse, called Horse. We do not hear of Lisbeth Salander´s father in the first volume either, and her mother lives in a nursing home, so for all practical purposes she is also quite alone in the world.
Another essential point is their attitude to authorities. Pippi strongly resents interference from well-meaning grown-ups, she eats and sleeps at her own convenience, and her transient school career was as strenous for her teacher as for herself. As a matter of course an officious, female neighbour meddles, calling in the police to put Pippi in a children´s home, but Pippi simply employs her super-strength and physically shows them the door.
Lisbeth, who is not only judged by her appearance, but also displays a number of autistic features (a diagnosis which is also made by Mikael Blomkvist near the end of the book), never even finishes her secondary schooling in spite of obvious intellectual abilities. The teachers are unable to relate to her and fail to notice that she is being bullied systematically by larger and stronger classmates. Compared to Pippi, Lisbeth is a more realistic, literary figure, thus she is forced to give in to ´the system´ the first time round. Social services embrace her, label her ´mentally ill´ and leave her at the mercy of her guardian. A quotation from her journal, "introvert, socially inhibited, lack of empathy, egocentric, psychopathic and anti-social behaviour, lack of cooperation and learning abilities." The major part of these epithets apply to Pippi as well, and the powers that be are not prepared to acknowledge the fact that beneath the disorganized facade these two girls are quite capable of taking care of themselves and forming strong friendships with people they like.
Lisbeth Salander is not a flat character, however, she is in the proces of finding her own identity as a grown-up woman. Through her work for the security company, and her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist, she is developing fast in various directions. Basically, she is extremely suspicious of other people´s motives and it costs her a great effort to trust anyone. Once she has relented and opened the door to someone, she is extremely helpful and loyal, however. If a friend is in need, Salander saddles her motorbike and takes action without delay (often by means of her supernatural - or just autistic - hacking abilities).
The Pippi Longstocking figure is indispensable to the story because Mikael Blomkvist is the cautious, almost bourgeois gentleman who is not really a match for hardboiled villains who shoot first and ask questions later. Lisbeth Salander gladly breaks the rules (and a number of Swedish laws) when it comes to avenging crime against women, and she is not in the habit of waiting quietly for the police. Furthermore, she is indispensable because equality between the sexes is crucial to Stieg Larsson. When the cavalry is really called for in Larsson´s universe, it is the super strong girl who charges on her polka-dotted horse.
Small wonder that the trilogy has been called a feminist project by some reviewers.