The Girl Who Normalized Non-Monogamy: Incidental polyamory in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy
"Around 27 million [other sources say more than 65 million] copies of the books comprising Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy have been sold worldwide to date," writes Ludi, an organizer of the U.K.'s OpenCon, in a timely essay at Polytical ("Ethical non-monogamy in the UK"). "People everywhere have been reading and absorbing [the books'] themes of systematic violence against women, financial corruption, social exclusion… and ethical non-monogamy."
Larsson, who died in 2004 at age 50, was a Swedish anti-fascist political activist and crime novelist whose three thrillers were published in English as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. He was reportedly the world's second-best-selling author in 2008. From Ludi's essay:
...A summary: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist works for Millennium magazine, edited by Erika Berger. [Although Berger is not the central character or plot element], they are lifelong friends and long-established lovers. Berger is also married, to Greger Beckman, who works elsewhere. Everyone is fully knowledgeable and consenting: we hear about their history, and we see them negotiate, divide up holidays and successfully use hierarchy....
A long-established triad
Non-monogamy is introduced in the first book (Dragon), but the history is not explained until the second book (Fire). Here, we discover that Berger and Blomkvist have been falling into bed with each other on a regular basis, regardless of their relationship status elsewhere, for around twenty years. When she marries, they hold back for several months, but eventually sleep together again. The next day, Beckman invites Blomkvist for a walk and a conversation: he is understanding, and they establish they can co-exist as metamours....
...We see Blomkvist explaining matters to new lovers, reassuring them where needed; generally, other people are presented as having not heard of the possibility of non-monogamy before...
...Berger, Blomkvist and Beckman embarked on non-monogamy as a practical solution to an immediate issue: namely, that Berger wanted to have both a husband and a lover. The books do not mention the word ‘polyamory’ or even ‘non-monogamy’, and the triad are presented as unusual in their social circles. It’s unknown whether any of them are aware of the existence of polyamory as a lifestyle, or of other poly people....
Regrettably, the polyamory was completely omitted from the Swedish films of the books.... The first Hollywood remake launches this month, and I’ll look forward to seeing whether they present it there....
Read Ludi's article (Dec. 12, 2011).
While we're at it, here's another Polytical review of a genre-fiction poly classic: the Honor Harrington series.
The Honor Harrington series is a space opera currently spanning over 10 books.... The series follows the title character, Honor Harrington, through her naval career, starting as a Commander on her first faster-then-light command, and most recently as an Admiral in two different navies....
[David] Weber has openly said that the story was inspired by the Napoleonic wars, with Harrington standing in for the Duke of Wellington. Throughout the story, Weber introduces multiple fully developed societies and worlds. In the tradition of Isaac Asimov, he uses these societies to explore questions of what makes a society work....
In his second book, he introduces the world of Grayson, a theocracy... where polygyny is the only expected form of relationship.... Weber shows intimate details of how even in a patriarchal society, polygyny can be a healthy and welcome family style, with sister wives who support and care for each other, and husbands who cherish all of their large families.
...And, slowly, over the course of several books, he brings it home. To the main society of his series, Honor Harrington’s home, the Star Kingdom of Manticore, loosely based on England of the 18th and 19th centuries. Here, there are several suggestions throughout the series that monogamy is not the only option... but this is behind the scenes, and only suggested.
Until, that is, Honor falls in love.... The two star-crossed lovers spend a few books fighting their attraction to each other, until the man’s wife invites Honor over, and tells both of them to stop being idiots. Ultimately this leads to a very satisfactory relationship, two children, and a (legal) marriage....
...I started reading [the series] before I knew what polyamory was, and this series has a lot to do with why I was able to accept the idea so easily! But expect great characters, fascinating worlds, epic space battles, duels, politics, culture clash and everything anyone could possibly want from a well done space opera....
Read the whole article (June 28, 2011), by the Jessica known for her Polyamory Practically blog.
Are such works of fiction important? I'd say that depends way more on their inspiration power than on their sales figures. Still, if Steig Larsson has sold 65+ million copies in six years, that's maybe ten times what Stranger in a Strange Land has sold in fifty (though Stranger's sales numbers are hard to come by). That one was a crucial work of fiction, inspiring and motivating many of the people who went on to create the modern polyamory movement. I'm rather proud of my article about this, by the way: Polyamory, Robert Heinlein, and his new definitive biography.
AND, while we're at it, here are twelve books about polyamory itself that have come out since the flood began in 2008. It's not too late to order for Christmas! The titles below link to my own reviews of nine of them. I'll eventually get to the rest.
In reverse date order:
● The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory: A Hands-on Guide to Open Sexual Relationships, by Françoise Simpère (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2011).
Simpère is a widely published and quoted open-relationship advocate in France. This is a translation of her Aimer Plusieurs Hommes.
● Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships, by Kathy Labriola (Greenery Press, October 2010).
Labriola is a nurse and counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area who has professionally advised many hundreds of poly groups and observed the poly scene for more than 20 years. Here she offers distilled practical advice from this experience.
● What Does Polyamory Look Like? Polydiverse Patterns of Loving and Living in Modern Polyamorous Relationships, by Mim Chapman (iUniverse, August 2010).
When someone says "I'm poly," it can mean very different things. A guide to navigating among five major styles of polyamory widely practiced in the community today.
● Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships, by Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik (Findhorn Press, August 2010).
A relationship coach in the Netherlands who specializes in multi-partner situations describes the commonest recurring patterns and problems among her clients, and means to their resolution.
● Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners, by Deborah Anapol (Rowman & Littlefield, July 2010). Now also in paperback.
One of the founding mothers of the modern polyamory movement in the 1980s and 1990s takes a careful, sociologist's look at the current state of the movement she helped to create.
● Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá (HarperCollins, June 2010). Now in paperback with the subtitle How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships.
This groundbreaking, mythbusting New York Times bestseller makes the case, from anthropology and physiology, that humans are evolved to be naturally, easily nonmonogamous, a fact that has been suppressed by civilization to our detriment. See also my post Sex at Dawn and the Future of the Polyamory Movement.
● Swinging in America: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the 21st Century, by Curtis R. Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Sinski (Praeger, November 2009).
The first 40% of this book an a study of the swinger subculture and the people in it. The second 60% is a critique of monogamous ideology in Western society, and this Bergstrand considers to be the most important part of the book.
● Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet, by Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio (North Atlantic Books, September 2009).
This ethereal, philosophical polemic for multiple love as an opening to saving the world spends much of its time floundering in embarrassing New Age HIV denialism.
● The Ethical Slut, Second Edition; A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (Ten Speed Press, March 2009).
Expanded by 30% and now aiming for a wider audience, this new edition of the 1997 word-of-mouth cult classic is still the most popular guide to the networked or "free agent" model of poly though it now includes an added chapter on opening an existing relationship.
● Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, by Tristan Taormino (Cleis Press, May 2008).
If The Ethical Slut is the bible of free-agent "single" poly, Opening Up has become the top choice for couples looking to open an existing committed relationship of whatever sort. Tristan Taormino, a brassy star among America's sexerati, did exhaustive work interviewing in depth more than 100 people and couples in a dizzying variety of open and poly arrangements successful and not. Learn from them.
● Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, by Jenny Block (Seal Press, May 2008).
With a husband, daughter, and long-term girlfriend, Dallas writer Jenny Block has fearlessly put herself out as an exemplar of successful open marriage and bold Texas feminism.
● The Polyamory Handbook: A User's Guide by Peter J. Benson (AuthorHouse, March 2008).
A longtime poly-community stalwart and activist compiles a big, workmanlike guide to every Poly 101 and 201 issue you can think of.
More books are in the pipeline. Franklin Veaux says he is working on his More Than Two. Jay Wiseman is said be to working on a book about poly and kink. And I bet there are more.