Stieg Larsson’s Crime novels
Interview with Tony Watkins by Christian Bensel, 23 March 2010
The bestselling Millennium Trilogy features cases of mass murderers, human trafficking and government conspiracies. 27 million copies have been sold in over 40 countries according to theEconomist (March 22, 2010), making the late Stieg Larsson the second most sold author worldwide in 2008 (after Khaled Hosseini).Today, his books still rank in the top selling lists of Europe.
Christian Bensel asked writer and cultural commentator Tony Watkins on the significance of crime novels and the message behind Stieg Larsson’s trilogy.
Tony, you seem to spend a lot of time in cinemas or reading great book – and then thinking about them.
What to you hope to achieve?
Part of the work of Damaris is to equip the church to understand the culture that we are in. Culturewatch itself and much of my work is more focussed on helping people who are not Christians to begin to think more deeply about the books, the films and the television that they are already watching. And to realise that they actually raise very fundamental issues such as morality, happiness, freedom, love, spirituality, identity, religion, politics. These issues are at the very centre of any narrative. And the Bible and Christians have a lot to say about them.
Yes, absolutely, I think there is an argument for saying that crime novels are the fictional form which takes the hardest look at where society is at the moment and raises the biggest questions over the dark side of human nature.
What makes crime novels so appealing to European readers?
Crime fiction nearly always has a strong narrative drive and it engenders feelings of mystery and intrigue, but also of fear, because of the possibility of what’s out there. Crime fiction presents us with the dark underbelly of our society, with the fear of what can happen with us. It helps us to face those fears in the same way as fairy tales did.
Does the success of crime novels also show a fundamental hunger for justice, for truth?
Absolutely, yes. Those are the two big drives of crime fiction, that we want justice to be achieved at the end. There is a longing for justice. And crime fiction is all about the pursuit of truth and the investigation of truth and the marshalling of evidence.
I think that’s true. A lot of postmodernism happens at a fairly intellectual level and deep down most people still keep that longing for truth and justice. Cracks are appearing in the relativist paradigm.
Stieg Larsson must have had a passion for justice – his friend described him as a sort of Don Quixote, trying to save the world. How can we incite Christians not to give up on society?
I don’t know really because I think that Christians ought to know enough already to know what to do. The problem of how do you move somebody’s will is very difficult. Make them all read Stieg Larsson perhaps.
In your article “Moral Climate” you ask questions about the foundations of ethics: “How are we to say that Nils Bjurman’s sexual treatment of Lisbeth Salander is wrong, and that Blomkvist’s sexual behaviour is right?” But the character of Blomkvist never uses force in relationships and thinks about satisfying other’s desires. He sees himself as a tool. Bjurman uses the other person as a tool. There’s a clear difference between the two. Isn’t that enough of a distinction?
The fact that Blomkvist has sexual relationships with three people in the first volume alone means that he is not ultimately concerned about the needs of any one of them, because that would require a commitment that he doesn’t go off having sex with other partners. He’s not really meeting somebody’s needs.
What basis does Stieg Larsson have for his morality? A lot of his morality is good morality. But I don’t think that he has a solid basis for it. He is an inheritor of the Christian tradition within Western Europe that has given us this strong moral framework and there are many people like Larsson, humanists, people like Richard Dawkins who live in the benefits of that Christian tradition and yet want to deny the basis of it. They don’t realise that they’ve actually taken the foundations out from under their feet and are left with no secure place to stand
Even if people have good morals – no matter what they base them on – where can they find the strength to not exploit and violate others?
What does drive Blomkvist and what does drive Larsson is their intuitive sense of right and wrong. It is deep, deep within us. For a Christian, the strength to do good also comes from the work of the Holy Spirit within us who clarifies that intuitive moral sense and brings it to the surface, and provides an inner dynamic to make acting on it possible.
Tony Watkins is a speaker, writer and editor, working mainly with Damaris. His main responsibility is as Managing Editor ofCulturewatch.org. Tony is the author of Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema (2007) and Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Philip Pullman (2004), co-author of Back in Time: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who (2005) and a contributor to a number of other books including Matrix Revelations: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to the Matrix Trilogy (2003) and the Talking About books, of which he is the series editor. He also teaches “Prophets” on the Bible&Culture course.
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