In the presence of evil
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Hit Me Hard
I just finished Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I’m not sure I have the courage to watch the movie. The violence is sadistic. And the violent intent boils up from unvarnished evil. But because I am a sappy reader, I get even more queasy about well-drawn characters I’ve grown to care for who keep walking into ever more desperate situations.
In the Wikipedia entry for Mr. Larsson, there is a claim that everything that happened in the book—all that brutality—actually happened in Sweden at one time or another. Somehow Mr. Larsson had seen something in his growing up in rural Sweden that made him both fearful and a lifelong activist against far-right extremists. He responded to this evil with these “fictionalized portraits” of the people and culture he knew. Of course no culture has cornered the market on brutality, sadism and ever-deepening horror: Just last weekend as we sat on the Memorial Union Terrace at UW Madison on Saturday evening, I found myself pointing out the smokestack of the asylum on the other side of Lake Mendota where Wisconsin’s own Ed Gein was housed—he of the lampshades crafted from human skin.
But why spend time reading about great evil? And why be entertained by such things? It’s hardly uplifting, though the reason we watch shocking horror stuff is often for the very purpose of getting our blood moving.
And yet it is partly uplifting for a couple reasons: because the evil is overcome in the end (Oops. Did I spoil the book for you?). And because the evil is overcome at least in part by shining a light. By letting others see what was going on. My vision of the activity of solid reporting was raised by this bit of fiction, and it made me grateful for the journalists I read every day.
One part of the story speaks to the continuing human need to interact. I say that because the more hidden our behaviors became the more deplorable they can become. It seems that Blomkvist (Larsson’s main character) reason for living was to expose what was hidden. Another part of the story hints that it’s not so far-fetched to look deep inside ourselves and locate an equally limitless capacity for evil.
I cannot help but be reminded of that old dead letter writer who wrote that “everything exposed by the light become visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
Mr. Larsson’s book illuminated things for me.