who wants nicer villains?

Someone over at Entertainment Weekly‘s book blog, Shelf Life, has suggested that Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy wasn’t the self-proclaimed feminist he thought himself to be.

The logic goes like this, and I quote: “Larsson seems to want it both ways: to condemn such savagery [as descriptive rape scenes, for example,] while simultaneously exploiting it in graphic detail for titillating storytelling purposes.”

So, because he doesn’t pull punches in describing the violence and brutality committed against his female characters, he must be enjoying it a little too much? Is that it? Or he’s a sellout because he’s willing to go to dark places, painting these horrific pictures for his readers when his true agenda is just to sell more books by exploiting his female cast?

That, I suggest, is a stretch.

I’ve just recently finished this series of books. I loved them. And I will agree that there are scenes that are difficult to read because it’s true that Larsson describes some pretty dark shit. I would like to offer a different interpretation, however, of his motives: perhaps he just understood what makes a villain a villain.

You can’t very well convince your readers that the bad guy is truly evil if you don’t allow them to see his evil ways in action. Larsson shows us the depth of the depravity of his villains, all of whom are male, by showing just how merciless they can be toward both men and women. Sure, he could have made the narrative more tame. But I would not have seethed with hatred toward them, and I’m supposed to. The title character sure as hell did.

By showing me the full extent of their treachery, I was led down the same emotional path his principal characters were led down. That, my friends, is just good story telling, not some cheap, exploitive stunt.

And it’s worth mentioning that his female characters are strong people. They fight back. And they win.

How, exactly, does that make him not-a-feminist?

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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