Wednesday 21 January 2015

The Psychology Of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

And All Who Salander

The Psychology Of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Edited by Robin S Rosenberg
Benbella Books
ISBN: 978-1936661343

The Psychology Of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a collection of essays written by various psychologists who are generally specialists in their chosen areas of interests. I was at first put off from buying this tome, it has to be said, because it is from a range of publications branded as “pop psychology” books and, frankly, it sounded a bit amateurish to me. However, I also ultimately found myself compelled to buy it because I am a big fan of Stieg Larrson’s Millenium Trilogy of novels (the films and comic books... not so much) and I haven’t come across any literary, or any other form of, analysis of the characters therein, to date.

That being said and much to my surprise, this is not an amateurish take on pitching a bunch of pretentious ideas and applying them to a literary character to make them fit. It is, in fact, a genuinely enlightening and, for the most part, interesting series of essays about various facets of human psychology and, though the Lisbeth Salander character does, on occasion, just seem like she’s plugged into the central ideas expounded on in a lot of the pieces in here, she is treated as such in a relevant fashion and it’s almost always a fascinating reading experience as you weave your way through various ideas and character types which are relevant to those depicted in the Millennium Trilogy, as they are brought out and explored in a little more depth.

The book starts out a little shakily at first, with an essay on the archetype of the “Goth” subculture. It’s an interesting read alright but the paper starts off with a couple of things which didn’t sit well with me. Firstly, the evidence that Salander is, indeed, part of the unofficial Gothic tribal culture is a bit annoying. I have read the books, seen the four (to date) movies and read the comic books and there’s nothing in there that would have tipped me off to the fact that Salander is an avid follower of Goth fashions or attitudes, to be honest. Secondly, the essay starts off by defining what the stereotypical response of the general public is to a “Goth” and uses that as a basis to argue for and against, in terms of details of the “general” Goth personality. Again, the writers’ conclusions as to how I would stereotype a Goth are far from what I would actually make assumptions about... so are they saying I’m not a member of the general public? That being said, the things it does reveal about the typical Goth personality are very interesting and so I have to say I got more out of it than I was annoyed by, if truth be told.

One stereotype that was definitely shattered for me, as I went through the book, is that I found the tome in question really wasn’t a pretentious and dry load of old techno-babble at all. The book challenged me a number of times and I was extremely grateful for that. For instance, in the essay which is talking about gender, I learnt that a) gender is not another term for a person’s sex, there’s a specific distinction and b) there are actually five sexes (or do I mean genders... I’m now not quite sure) - one male, one female and then three other variations of sex that can be easily hidden and confused within either one or the other, or both. This was an eye opener and something I found fairly compelling.

The Psychology Of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was full of engaging and intriguing nuggets of information on a whole host of things and I whizzed through the book very quickly, I have to say. Mesmerising topics such as the various methods or approaches a counsellor or psychologist can use when a patient refuses to discuss anything and just remain silent, for instance. Or gems like the ingredients of a person who can develop (or naturally has) a “resilient” personality and why they become like this. Another essay talks about feminism and the way in which sexism manifests itself in various forms and there’s even one section which is a kind of psychological profile of the “hacker” personality and how that fits in with Larsonn’s depiction of his central character. All of these are, of course, interpolated within Salander’s personality and each of the various writers (most of them are writing teams of colleagues) make cases for their specific diagnosis of Salander’s personality or, in some cases, set out to disprove a basic assumption about the character, by juxtaposing various ideas and findings about specific issues and relating them back to Larrson’s work.

Now, there are some less interesting flights of fancy in the book, I would have to say, but most of the essays in here are well worth the price of admission, so to speak, and the various pieces put forward in here all have at least two things in common. One is that they all seem to think, or perhaps the word should be acknowledge, that Stieg Larrson is some kind of genius and a most empathic individual. I would have to agree with that conclusion, at least, I guess. The other thing they all have in common, and this was very important to me as someone who is not, in any way, knowledgable about psychology, is that the essays are all written in a very straight forward and elementary way. I was never once lost in the exploration of what, in some cases, might have been quite challenging concepts if they were written in a less user friendly manner. This is a very easy read and although the ideas on offer here will certainly have you thinking into the night, and possibly wanting to do more research on the subjects yourself, there are no barriers to understanding in the way these are written and... well... someone like myself certainly appreciates the simplicity which complex ideas can sometimes be couched in. So full marks to all the writers for that.

In concluding then, I'd have to say The Psychology Of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an excellent study, not so much of the central character of Larrson’s books but of various character types which, in most cases, are all facets of the character that he worked into the fictional personae of Lisbeth Salander. Yeah, it’s hit and miss in some places but, ultimately, my misses and hits are not going to be the same as yours and the book does its job. That is to say, it stimulates the mind and allows you to explore very real issues which you might not have known about were it not for the fact that they are being applied to one of modern literature’s most popular heroines in a long time. Anybody who wants to know what kinds of personality types make Salander tick or with an interest in these kinds of issues will most likely enjoy this book. It was, after all, a good buy and something I’m very pleased to have read. This one’s definitely worth your consideration.

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