For the Last Time, Lisbeth Salander Is Not Pippi Longstocking

What Women Really Think
Dec. 20 2011 4:45 PM

For the Last Time, Lisbeth Salander Is Not Pippi Longstocking

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Rooney Mara in a poster for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

On Dec. 21, the much-anticipated Hollywood version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo officially opens, and we will be thrown yet again into the dark world of Lisbeth Salander, the hero of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling Millennium trilogy.

Over the past year much has been made of Larsson explicitly writing Lisbeth, with her tattoos, trauma and propensity for violent wrath, as the grown up version of Pippi Longstocking, another super-strong, anti-establishment Swedish girl and the heroine of Astrid Lindgren’s series of classic children’s books.

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This always makes me squirm.

Yes, both characters do spring from the same Swedish/Western cultural well, and both have no mother to speak of and missing fathers that turn up with unforeseen consequences. But Larsson claimed that Lisbeth is Pippi grown up in the real world, instead of that this is what happens to his Pippi in his alternate universe. This isn’t what Lindgren intended.

In a wonderful 1983 New Yorker profile, she had this to say about her heroine:

Pippi says, ‘I’m going to be happy and free and stronger than anybody.’ She has power, but she never misuses it. She’s just kind. But do you think children of the future will be like that? I’d be very happy to believe that. I don’t know what will happen to our world if there aren’t any kind leaders being born.

Maybe I should just let go and appreciate Larsson’s poetic license and extension of Pippi into a righteous feminist vigilante. But I can’t. At the end of the last of the original Pippi books, Lindgren implies that Pippi will never grow up, that she somehow represents a mythological vision of untouched childhood.

As the father of a a 5-year-old Swedish daughter who thinks of Pippi as the strongest girl in the world -- even if she values Pippi’s "thing finding" abilities more highly -- I feel especially protective of Lindgren’s vision. I’m sure my daughter will see plenty of darkness in her life. We all do. But she will also know that girls can be strong and free and that it is possible to go on grand adventures and come home safe and unbroken.

Pippi’s is beautiful and worth preserving, and Larsson should have left it well enough alone.

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