Everyone has either read or heard of the Millennium novel series.
If you haven’t, it’s about a journalist and computer hacker who work together to fight Sweden’s right-wing forces. The first three novels, including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, were written by Swedish journalist and writer Stieg Larsson. After Larsson’s sudden death in 2004, the fourth and fifth novels were written by Swedish author and crime journalist David Lagercrantz.
But who was the man who wrote the first three books?
Stieg Larsson entered the world on 15th August 1954. He lived with his grandparents in the Swedish countryside until he was nine-years-old. He loved the small wooden house his grandparents owned, but didn’t like the city of Umeå, where he lived with his parents after the death of his grandfather.
Due to conscription law, Larsson served in the Swedish Army between 1974 and 1975. He was trained as a mortarman.
Larsson started writing at age twelve, using a typewriter his parents bought him for his birthday. He wrote science fiction stories, which were all published in magazines. He would later become editor or co-editor of some of these magazines. Between 1978-79, he was the president of Skandinavisk Förening för Science Fiction, Sweden’s largest science fiction fan club. He also wrote for, and edited, the Swedish section of the Fourth International.
Larsson started engaging heavily with far-left political activism during his writing career. He joined his local branch of the Communist Workers’ League, and researched right-wing extremism in Sweden in his spare time. He even published a book on the subject in 1991. In 1995, he established the Swedish Expo Foundation “with the aim of studying and mapping anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and racist tendencies in society”. He also wanted the Foundation to protect “democracy and freedom of speech [in Sweden] against racist, right-wing extremist, anti-Semitic and totalitarian tendencies”. He also became the editor of the foundation’s magazine, Expo. He spoke publicly about right-wing extremism, and fast became instrumental in exposing Swedish extreme right and racist organisations. He was subjected to heavy criticism and hate for this, and even received death threats.
The death threats, whether they were legitimate or not, naturally made him fear for his life. He replaced the front door of his home with a fireproof one. He also travelled to and from work at different times each day, and frequently changed the route he would take when going home.
In 2002, he started writing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He then wrote the two sequels after finishing it and was working on the fourth book at the time of his death. He wanted the series to comprise ten books in total. He wrote the novels spare time, and often ended up working on them long into the night. But he didn’t make any attempt to get them published until just before his death, having decided that the royalties would serve as his retirement fund.
He submitted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels to a publishing company, but they turned them down. The second publishing company Larsson contacted, Norstedts Förlag, accepted the novels, and they’ve since sold millions of copies.
But Larsson didn’t live to see the phenomenon the Millennium series would become. Seven months after he signed the contract with Norstedts Förlag, he suffered a fatal heart attack after climbing the stairs to the Expo offices. He was fifty-years-old. The heart attack was caused by his unhealthy lifestyle: he was a fast food-eating, coffee-drinking, chain-smoking workaholic.
In his will, Larsson stated that he wanted his assets to be left to his local branch of the Communist Workers’ League upon his death. But the will wasn’t witnessed, so it was invalid under Swedish law. Larsson’s estate (including the royalties from book sales) instead went to his next of kin: his father and brother. This sparked controversy because Larsson’s long-term partner, Eva Gabrielsson, wants to control his work, but she has no legal right to do so because she and Larsson never married.
Despite this, the original three Millennium novels have remained popular to this day. Eighty million copies had been sold by March 2015, and Lagercrantz’s contributions to the series (The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye) have only boosted sales even more. The novels have been adapted into films. There’s no doubt in my mind that the series will continue to be popular.
Words by Callum J Jones