Stieg Larsson

stieg larsson

Stieg Larsson (1954 – 2004) was a Swedish journalist and writer, best known for his ‘Millennium series’ of crime novels, which were published posthumously.

Larsson lived and worked much of his life in Stockholm, in the field of journalism and as an independent researcher of right-wing extremism.

Stieg Larsson lived with his grandparents until the age of nine in. His longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson describes this period as Larsson’s motivation for setting part of his first novel ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ in northern Sweden, which Gabrielsson calls ‘godforsaken places at the back of beyond.’ Larsson lived with his grandparents in a small wooden house in the country which he loved. He attended the village school and used cross-country skis to get to and from there every day. He was not as fond of the urban environment in Umeå, where he moved to live with his parents after his grandfather died of a heart attack at age 56.

Larsson’s first fiction writing efforts were not in crime fiction, but in science fiction. An avid science fiction reader from an early age, he became active in Swedish science fiction fandom around 1971, co-edited with Rune Forsgren his first fanzine, ‘Sfären,’ in 1972, and attended his first science fiction convention.

Larsson was politically involved with the Kommunistiska Arbetareförbundet (Communist Workers League) while working as a photographer. In politics he was the editor of the Swedish Trotskyist journal Fjärde internationalen.’

Larsson spent part of 1977 in Eritrea, training a squad of female Eritrean People’s Liberation Front guerrillas in the use of grenade launchers. He was forced to abandon that work due to having contracted a kidney disease. Upon his return to Sweden, he worked as a graphic designer at the largest Swedish news agency, Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT) between 1977 and 1999.

Larsson’s political convictions, as well as his journalistic experiences, led him to found the Swedish Expo Foundation, similar to the British Searchlight Foundation, established to ‘counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people.’

When he was not at his day job, he worked on independent research of right-wing extremism in Sweden. In 1991, his research resulted in his first book ‘Extremhögern’ (‘Extreme Right’). Larsson quickly became instrumental in documenting and exposing Swedish extreme right and racist organizations; he was an influential debater and lecturer on the subject, reportedly living for years under death threats from his political enemies. The political party Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) was a major subject of his research.

When he died, Larsson left behind manuscripts of three completed but unpublished novels written as a series. He had written them for his own pleasure after returning home from his job in the evening, and had made no attempt to get them published until shortly before his death. The first was published in Sweden in 2005 as ‘Män som hatar kvinnor’ (‘Men who hate women’). It was titled for the English market as ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ and published in the United Kingdom in 2008. His second novel, ‘Flickan som lekte med elden’ (‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’), was published in the United Kingdom in 2009. The third novel in the ‘Millennium’ series, ‘Luftslottet som sprängdes’ (‘The air castle that was blown up’), published in English as ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,’ in the United Kingdom in 2009.

Larsson left about three quarters of a fourth novel on a notebook computer, now possessed by his partner, Eva Gabrielsson; synopses or manuscripts of the fifth and sixth in the series, which he intended to contain an eventual total of ten books, may also exist. Gabrielsson has stated in her book, ‘There Are Things I Want You to Know About Stieg Larsson and Me’ that finishing the book is a task that she is capable of doing.

Larsson died in 2004 in Stockholm at the age of 50 of a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs to his office because the lift was not working. There were rumors that his death was in some way induced, because of death threats received as editor of ‘Expo,’ but these have been denied by Eva Gedin, his Swedish publisher.

In 2008, it was announced that a 1977 will, found soon after Larsson’s death, declared his wish to leave his assets to the Umeå branch of the Communist Workers League (now the Socialist Party). As the will was unwitnessed, it was not valid under Swedish law, with the result that all of Larsson’s estate, including future royalties from book sales, went to his father and brother. His long term partner Eva Gabrielsson, who found the will, has no legal right to the inheritance, sparking controversy between her and his father and brother. Reportedly, the two never married because, under Swedish law, couples entering into marriage are required to make their addresses (at the time) publicly available; marrying would have been a security risk. Owing to his reporting on extremist groups and the death threats he had received, the couple had sought and been granted masking of their addresses, personal data and identity numbers from public records, to make it harder for others to trace them; this kind of ‘identity cover’ was integral to his work as a journalist and would have been difficult to bypass if the two had married or become registered partners.

Gabrielsso claims the Stieg had little contact with his father and brother and requests the rights to control his work so it may be presented in the way he would have wanted.

Through his written works, as well as in interviews, Larsson acknowledged that a significant number of his literary influences were American and British crime/detective fiction authors. His heroine has some similarities with Carol O’Connell’s ‘Mallory,’ who first appeared in ‘Mallory’s Oracle’ in 1994. In his work he made a habit of inserting the names of some of his favorites within the text, sometimes by making his characters read the works of his own favorite authors. Topping the list were Sara Paretsky, Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth George and Enid Blyton. One of the strongest influences originates from his own country: ‘Pippi Longstocking,’ by Sweden’s much-loved children’s author Astrid Lindgren. Larsson explained that one of his main recurring characters in the ‘Millennium’ series, Lisbeth Salander, is actually fashioned on a grown-up Pippi Longstocking as he chose to sketch her.

There are also similarities between Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise. Both are women from disastrous childhoods who somehow survive to become adults with notable skills, including fighting, and who accomplish good by operating somewhat outside the law. One of Larsson’s villains, Ronald Niedermann (a.k.a. ‘blond hulk’), has much in common with the invulnerable, sociopathic giant named Simon Delicata in the fourth Modesty Blaise book ‘A Taste for Death.’

When Larsson was 15 years old, he witnessed the gang rape of a girl, which led to his lifelong abhorrence of violence and abuse against women. His longtime partner, Gabrielsson, writes that this incident ‘marked him for life’ in a chapter of her book that describes Larsson as a feminist. The author never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, and this inspired the themes of sexual violence against women in his books. According to Gabrielsson, the ‘Millennium’ trilogy allowed Larsson to express a worldview he was never able to elucidate as a journalist. She described, with a great deal of specificity, how the fundamental narratives of his three books were essentially fictionalized portraits of the Sweden few people knew, a place where latent white supremacy found expression in all aspects of contemporary life, and anti­extremists lived in persistent fear of attack. ‘Everything of this nature described in the ‘Millennium’ trilogy has happened at one time or another to a Swedish citizen, journalist, politician, public prosecutor, unionist or policeman,’ she writes. ‘Nothing was made up.’

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