September Quibbler Contest Winner: When Harry Met Salander

This is the winning entry for the Literary Potter Quibbler contest.

by Elizabeth Tolbert

There is a wonderful quote by Maya Angelou that states, “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” There are times when we find that those words ring true, and it is usually when we least expect it. Even two people whom we perceive to be polar opposites have more in common than we think. Take, for instance, Harry Potter and Lisbeth Salander (of the Millennium Trilogy, just in case you’re not familiar. In which case, dishonor on you and dishonor on your cow.) Now, you’re probably thinking, “what on earth could the Boy Who Lived have in common with the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?” And the answer to that is a lot more than you or I could possibly have imagined.

Let’s start with their backgrounds, shall we? As you know, Harry’s parents died tragically, leaving him in the neglectful and barely-there care of his reluctant aunt and uncle. While Lisbeth is no orphan, her parents were unable to properly care for her, seeing as one is in a permanent care facility and the other is a murderous psychopath. This left her under the temporary care of foster parents and legal guardians. Both characters grew up in a perpetual orphaned state with unreachable parents.

Then there is the nature of their characters. Likely because of the manner in which they grew up, both characters are incredibly stand-offish, at least at first. They are the two most stubborn characters I have ever read about. There are numerous occasions in both series in which Harry and Lisbeth absolutely, flat out refuse to accept help from anyone, even their friends. They are both prone to pushing people away; Harry, when he feels as if others are sacrificing too much for him, and Lisbeth, when she feels others are getting too close emotionally. There is also the fact that both characters feel, more often than not, like outsiders. Harry has always been treated differently; first it was because he was tormented by his cousin and didn’t fit into his aunt and uncle’s standards. Then, once he entered the wizarding world, he was separated from others because of his level of fame and his unique abilities (we’ll get into those later, promise!). Likewise, Lisbeth has been an outsider from the beginning because of her intelligence, alternative looks, and tremendous lack of social skills.

Another unique aspect of Harry and Lisbeth’s lives are that both characters possess very distinctive body markings. Harry is instantly identified by the lightning shaped scar on his forehead. Similarly, while Lisbeth has many tattoos and piercings, but she is most known for the large and beautiful dragon tattoo on her back and the wasp tattoo on her neck. Indeed, their physical markings come into play to negatively identify both characters at some point in their stories. When Harry is brought to Malfoy Manor in Deathly Hallows, it is because the Snatchers recognize, however vaguely, his scar. In Lisbeth’s case, when she is wrongly wanted for murder in The Girl Who Played With Fire, it is her wasp tattoo that authorities classify as her identifier.

Perhaps the greatest similarity between Harry and Lisbeth is that both experienced a defining event that totally affected the course of their lives shortly before the age of thirteen. The instant that Harry turns eleven, it is revealed to him that he is a wizard and a whole world of magic is opened to him. Much less happily, when Lisbeth turns twelve, she tries and fails to stop her abusive father by setting him on fire, landing herself in a questionable psychiatric ward, getting declared legally incompetent, and shuffling through many foster homes after.

One of the most important characteristics that set Harry and Lisbeth apart from everyone else is their very unique talents. (I told you we’d come back to this.) Harry can see into Voldemort’s thoughts and feel his emotions. He also has the ability to converse with snakes. Lisbeth’s talents include being a world-class computer hacker—the very best of the best—and the impressive possession of a photographic memory.

Because of their outsider status, neither Harry nor Lisbeth had many, if any, childhood friends. When he enters Hogwarts, Harry embarks on an epic friendship with Ron and Hermione. He then goes on to befriend a most unlikely cast of characters, from werewolves to half-giants to Luna Lovegood and everyone in between. In the same sense, Lisbeth also gets a late start on making friends and the friendships she does form are just as curious as Harry’s. Her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist is certainly unusual, as the two are on opposite ends of the social ladder. There are also her odd friendships with her boss Armansky, her guardian Palmgren, and her longest friend Miriam Wu. But what Harry and Lisbeth most have in common in terms of friendship is that they learn what friendship truly means. For both characters, their friends go above and beyond to show them true sacrifice, loyalty, and companionship. It is these very friendships that soften Harry and Lisbeth’s reserved personalities and shows them what it really means to love and to be loved.

In an overwhelming series of events, both characters fight a final battle of sorts against adversaries that each of them have staved off since childhood. When Voldemort killed Harry’s parents and inadvertently marked Harry as his equal, Harry has suffered prolonged battles against him and because of him. The deaths of Harry’s parents, the neglect at the hands of his aunt and uncle, the loss of many of his friends, and his perpetual awareness of how his life must end were all because of Voldemort’s choices. Lisbeth’s adversary was her own father, a man who continually abused her mother, causing Lisbeth to eventually try to kill him. This resulted in even more abuse for her through a twisted psychiatrist, a manipulative and sadistic guardian, the media, the police, and then ultimately, her father again. Both Harry and Lisbeth’s lives were shaped by the actions of two power-hungry men and yet both characters ended up defeating their enemies and thus freeing themselves.

With their similar backgrounds, unique talents, and shared life occurrences, Harry Potter and Lisbeth Salander are actually much more alike than their respective literary representations would have us believe. Indeed, that is the idea that makes them most akin; that these two adverse personalities can and do share so many important qualities and experiences. “Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” (Goblet of Fire, page 723) Dumbledore’s words have never been more true.