US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy

By Alfred J. Garrotto | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Stieg Larsson Trilogy: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Vintage, 2009), The Girl Who Played With Fire (Vintage, 2010), and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Knopf, 2010)

I've always marveled that some children reared in dysfunctional families grow up to be marvelous, well-adjusted human beings. Others born into loving homes choose an opposite path.

Those who have scratched their way to maturity--even happiness--against the odds now have a new model and patron saint in Lisbeth Salander, the female protagonist of Stieg Larsson's best-selling Swedish trilogy: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Purists will argue that a literary character cannot qualify as a saint. There was a time when I, too, delimited my spiritual world along the boundary line separating fact and fiction. A crack appeared in my dualistic standard in 1969, when the Catholic Church admitted that shaky evidence existed to support the historicity of some saints who had long enjoyed annual feast days. Among those was everyone's favorite co-pilot and dashboard bobble head, St. Christopher.

Humans, religious or not, have always drawn inspiration from both legend and historical people and events. So, why not adopt Lisbeth Salander as a saint for our time?

I won't give away the details of her life story here for the sake of those who haven't read the books. Personal discovery of her inner life, values, and unique, but finely tuned, morality is one of the trilogy's great rewards. But I give nothing away by saying that the universe dealt Salander one of the worst hands of any child, fictional or real.

Canonizing Salander challenges us to adjust our understanding about morality. By rigid standards, behaviors that enable her to survive as a functioning human being are immoral. But behavior alone does not determine morality.

For me, the most sensible and hallowed definition of morality is enshrined in my own Catholic tradition. Individual conscience is the final arbiter, superseding everything else. The essence of morality is being human in the best sense, according to each person's capability. Since we are made in God's image, whatever helps us to grow emotionally and spiritually--and thus become more like God--is moral. A decision or action is immoral that causes us to be less than the person God created us to be.

Co-protagonist Mikael Blomkvist says of Lisbeth, a murder suspect in The Girl Who Played with Fire, that she possesses a highly developed sense of morality.

By this he means that her moral compass is trustworthy, and she operates from this core principle. By what right, then, does anyone judge her choices, especially in light of the abuse she suffered as a child and teen from the very adults responsible for guiding and protecting her?

That she arrives at womanhood as a still-moral and functioning human being is miracle enough to merit this fictional character the title of patron for the 21st century.