no timidity, please

I was interested to read the New York Review of Books' piece on the Millennium Trilogy. It was pretty good, including that I was amused to see they started with the Bible clue solution (the sudden and otherwise pointless appearance of Blomkvist's daughter with the key information he needs) which I mentioned as well.

I thought the final point in the piece was facile and wrong, but it was generally a good analysis. They don't give Larsson enough credit for his strengths (as I talked about in the piece linked to above), but they're also less annoyed by his consumer fetishism than I was (as I talked about here) and more forgiving of his pacing (which I talked about here).

However, the review did make one point that had not occurred to me, and I think it's a very important point.

Then Laura Stanfill wrote an excellent post about writers not being timid (titled, of course, "The Parsnip"). This was my comment:

This has been on my mind, in a way, since I just read a review in the New York Review of Books of the Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) and the reviewer points out that Lisbeth Salander never actually kills anybody. She tortures, she humiliates, she allows people to die when she could save them, and she arranges for people to be killed by others, but she never actually pulls the trigger herself.

Salander is so involved with violence and vengeance that it never even occurred to me that she doesn't kill anybody. The reviewer says that this is clearly manipulated by the author in order to keep the readers on her side, and I think this is a correct analysis. There is no evidence in the text that Salander has any moral compunctions against killing (quite the opposite), so it's the author stacking the deck.

There is no moral advantage to having Salander be non-lethal (nailing somebody's foot to the floor with a nail gun and then calling his other enemies to come kill him while he's immobilized is about the same as killing him, really), so it's just to placate the readers, to stack the deck.

I say, go for it, don't fudge. I have a character who has killed a lot of people. She's better now, though still armed and capable of violence, but I never downplay the fact that she's done what she's done. I think she is a sympathetic character in some ways, but in any case she is what she is, not a watered-down PG version.

Referring to starling, of course.

This is related to what I wrote about in my last post. It's a mark of authorial confidence to allow your "good" characters to do bad things and feel you can still keep the reader on their side. Confidence which Hitchcock had (in spades) and which Stieg Larsson (not surprisingly – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was his first novel) did not.

It is a real shame that he died, since the things he lacked as a novelist are the things you can learn pretty easily.

Later addition
: This post also applies to these modern vampires who don't actually kill anybody. Vampires should kill people and drink their blood to survive. That's pretty much part of the definition. Otherwise, if you're going to wuss out on that part, please call them something else.

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