What the dragon tattoo says about the girl

A girl with a tattoo is completely different from a girl with a dragon tattoo. The girl with the generic tattoo could be anybody these days, a college co-ed, a rock musician, the checker at the grocery store – and the tattoo could be anything from a discreet flower blossom to a full-blown demon. But specifying dragon tattoo says something more. At the very least, one senses that a character with a dragon tattoo might do a little fire-breathing.

But that’s not all. Here is some of  what vanishingtatoo.com writes about the dragon motif:

“The dragon is a “classic” tattoo motif, popular with both men and women. As a tattoo design the dragon shows the profound influence that Japanese and Chinese culture have had in Western tattooing for nearly two centuries… The dragon is a culturally far-ranging character whose apparent bad temper should be interpreted as simply amoral, neither good nor evil. The forces of nature are not human-hearted, representing as they do the cycle of life and death, followed again by birth and renewal. Nature nurtures and nature destroys. So too, does the dragon.”

This description reveals why the dragon is such a good symbol for Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo in the mega bestseller by the same name. In his initial description of this compelling character Stieg Larsson says Salander had “high cheekbones that gave her an almost Asian look.” Androgynous, of indeterminate age, amoral and a complete force of nature, Salandar roars through Larsson’s three books, an embodiment of the dragon on her left shoulder-blade.

The point here is that detail matters a lot in character creation. And Salander is brought to life with telling detail. Her red hair dyed “raven” black was “short as a fuse,” Larsson writes. “She looked as though she had just emerged from a weekend orgy with a gang of hard rockers.” Yet, “in spite of the tattoos and the pierced nose and eyebrows, she was well, attractive.”

In the imagination of the reader, she is well, alive. And we think this is a big reason behind the success of these books.