The Home Front

The Dark World of the Dragon Tattoo

The novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has just hit the big screen in the Hollywood version. The American movie, like the Swedish version a few years ago, is very true to the book in the relentless darkness of the tale. I have no particular inside information as to what the author Stieg Larsson was trying to say. But the fact is, he has created a very grim world, full of violence against women and children: rape, torture, kidnapping, gruesome serial murders.

This malevolent world that Larson has created is not taking place in some benighted past, not in the Middle Ages, or even the Dreaded Fifties. This is our world, our time. Actually, the whole story takes place in that most enlightened country of the industrialized world, Sweden.

What went wrong? In the world of Lisbeth Salander, there are no functioning authority figures or structures. The fathers are abusive. The police are non-existent, at least in the first book. The legal system is corrupt. The wealthy do whatever they can get away with. This is the final end of the world without law. It is quite literally every man for himself.

Antinomians *of all parties and all denominations, take note. This sinister world without law is not a world of unlimited freedom: Lawlessness turns out to impose constraints of its own. Lisbeth Salander’s world shows what the law of the strongest looks like. As I said, I don’t know what Larsson intended to say. And I’m not claiming that the Swedish version of sexual liberation and the welfare state had to end this way. I only say that this world without any functioning authority structures is the world Larsson was drawn to create. He didn’t invent it completely out of whole cloth. He invented it out of the world he actually inhabits.

And the fact is, millions of people are drawn to these works. What is the attraction? I think that against all odds, we identify with Lisbeth. She is a mildly autistic, extremely smart, anti-social young woman, covered with piercings and tattoos. She is absolutely unique and pretty nearly alone. There is nothing typical about her.

I think many of us — liberal, conservative and moderate — experience ourselves as helpless and at the mercy of the System. Lisbeth is literally raped by the authority figures that should be keeping order in her life and protecting her from harm. We feel her pain, because in some sense, we feel we live in a hostile world that looks out only for itself — and not for us. We know Lisbeth shouldn’t be taking the law into her own hands. But we can’t help rooting for her when she does.

And this autistic savant is emotionally isolated. She is not literally and completely alone; she turns out to have more people on her side than she realizes. But I do think we identify with her isolation. Loneliness is the hallmark of our modern age. This is not how Scandinavian sexual openness or its American counterpart were supposed to end up.

*Antinomianism is derived from the Greek anti, which means “against” and nomos, which means law. As a general principle, antinomianism teaches that moral laws are relative in meaning and application instead of fixed or universal.

As a Christian theological teaching, antinomianism is used to refer to the idea that the Gospel frees a Christians from obedience to any law, scriptural, civil, or moral, and hence that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace rather than through obedience to any rules.

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