Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a man who knew as much about real evil as the fictional kind, wrote of a realization he had during his internment in the Soviet gulag: “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”
This insight made him well fitted for Christianity and anti-Communism. Stieg Larsson, the late Swedish author of the blockbuster The Girl Who… mystery novels, on the other hand, was a lifelong Communist, and so (one assumes) missed that memo. Communism has always been a Manichean creed, dividing good and evil along broad, neat lines, a habit that came in handy when they wished to annihilate people without all the bother of actually proving legal cases against them.
Having at last finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the final book of the trilogy (I’d have read it sooner if the greedy capitalist publishers hadn’t delayed the mass market paperback forever), I feel qualified to draw some vapid (not to mention envious) conclusions about them all. Communists like Larsson (one assumes, or presumes) have been faced with a crisis of faith ever since the 1980s. Larsson himself, judging from textual evidence in these books, seems to have substituted gender for class theory as a moral guide. I made a note as I read — “There are no bad females in this book.” That doesn’t hold true entirely for the series, I’ll admit. I recall at least one bad female in the first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but she was both rich and a Nazi, and so probably constitutes a special case.
In general, it appears, if one were to line up all humanity, women on the left and men on the right, Larsson would have drawn the line between good and evil somewhere east of center. One of the characters in this book says, “When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women, and the men who enable it.” The Swedish title of the first book of the series actually translates, “Men Who Hate Women.” (This present book, in case you’re wondering, goes by something meaning, more or less, “The Castle in the Air that Exploded” in Sweden.)
The idea of the woman warrior is a constant refrain. Each section of the book begins with a meditation on various accounts of women warriors in history (many of them legendary). Lisbeth Salander, the “Girl” of the titles, although a tiny, waif-like individual, is an expert at unarmed combat, and kicks serious butt above her weight class. This time, however, she spends most of the book confined to a hospital bed, and does her fighting with her mind (no mean weapon). So in her place Larsson introduces a tall, athletic, Amazon-like female cop (who predictably falls immediately into bed with Mikael Blomkvist, the chief male character) to demonstrate female physical equality. This leads me, in my wrongheaded way, to ponder the consistent inconsistency of doctrinaire feminists, whose operating principle seems to be that women need lots and lots of protections from the state, but that men had better not presume to protect them.
(I suppose I ought to take a few column inches at some point here to mention the plot, rather than just detailing my fascinating insights into it. This book reveals, at last, that the horrors of Lisbeth’s abusive childhood, of which we learned in the previous books, were not the fault of the Swedish welfare state which raised her [I rather liked that idea, but it turns out it’s wrong], but of a secret conspiracy within the Swedish state security apparatus. More on that later.)
Stalin is supposed to have said that one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic. Communist writers ever since have found inspiration in this principle, hiding the millions of victims of twentieth century Communist violence effectively behind the much more compelling figures of one or a few selected victims — often of McCarthyism or the Hollywood Black List — brought up close to the camera lens. Lisbeth Salander is the Girl Who Hid the Real Victims in these books.
In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the true villains (we learn this early on, so it’s not a spoiler) are a small, invisible group within the security system — a conspiracy of old Cold Warriors. Anti-Communists are, it goes without saying, paranoid. This development came as no great surprise, I suppose, but it was a disappointment. Larsson had done a creditable job of keeping political balance up to that point. I suppose it was too much to ask that he go the whole way without striking a blow for the True Faith.
Don’t take all this to mean that I didn’t enjoy The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, or the series as a whole. I found it great entertainment. Larsson excelled at creating vibrant, fascinating characters, and at building suspense. He had a magical gift.
And, as with all magicians, it’s important to keep your eye on what the left hand is doing.