Stieg Larsson

Not to be confused with Stig Larsson.
Stieg Larsson
Born (1954-08-15)15 August 1954
Skelleftehamn, Sweden
Died 9 November 2004(2004-11-09) (aged 50)
Stockholm, Sweden
Occupation Journalist, novelist
Nationality Swedish
Education 1979
Period 1990s–2004
Genre Crime fiction, thriller
Notable works The Millennium Trilogy
Partner Eva Gabrielsson (1974 - 2004; his death)

Karl Stig-Erland "Stieg" Larsson (/stɡ ˈlɑːrsən/; Swedish pronunciation: [ˈkɑːɭ ˈstiːɡ ˈæːɭand ˈlɑːʂɔn]; 15 August 1954 – 9 November 2004) was a Swedish journalist and writer. He is best known for writing the Millennium trilogy of crime novels, which were published posthumously and adapted as motion pictures. Larsson lived much of his life in Stockholm and worked there in the field of journalism and as an independent researcher of right-wing extremism.

He was the second best-selling author in the world for 2008, behind Khaled Hosseini.[1] The third novel in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, became the most sold book in the United States in 2010, according to Publishers Weekly.[2] By March 2015, his series had sold 80 million copies worldwide.[3]

Life and work

Early life

Stieg Larsson was born on 15 August 1954, as Karl Stig-Erland Larsson, in Umeå, Västerbottens län, Sweden, where his father and maternal grandfather worked in the Rönnskärsverken smelting plant. Suffering from arsenic poisoning, his father resigned from his job, and the family subsequently moved to Stockholm. Due to their cramped living conditions there, they chose to let their one-year-old son, Stieg, remain behind with his grandparents. Stieg lived with his grandparents until the age of nine, near the village of Bjursele in Norsjö Municipality, Västerbotten County.[4] 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 school during the long, snowy winters in northern Sweden.

In the book "There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me, Eva Gabrielsson describes this 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 was not as fond of the urban environment in the city of Umeå, where he moved to live with his parents after his grandfather, Severin Boström, died of a heart attack at age 50. In 1974, Larsson was drafted into the Swedish Army, under the conscription law, and spent 16 months in compulsory military service, training as a mortarman in an infantry unit in Kalmar.[5]

His mother Vivianne also died early, in 1991, from complications with breast cancer and an aneurysm.[6]


On his twelfth birthday, Larsson's parents gave him a typewriter as a birthday gift.[4]

Larsson's first efforts at writing fiction were not in the genre of crime, but rather science fiction. An avid science fiction reader from an early age, he became active in Swedish science fiction fandom around 1971; co-edited, together with Rune Forsgren, his first fanzine, Sfären, in 1972; and attended his first science fiction convention, SF•72, in Stockholm. Through the 1970s, Larsson published around 30 additional fanzine issues; after his move to Stockholm in 1971, he became active in the Scandinavian SF Society, where he was a board member in 1978 and 1979, and chairman in 1980.

In his first fanzines, 1972–74, he published a handful of early short stories, while submitting others to other semi-professional or amateur magazines. He was co-editor or editor of several science fiction fanzines, including Sfären and FIJAGH!; in 1978–79, he was president of the largest Swedish science-fiction fan club, Skandinavisk Förening för Science Fiction (SFSF). An account of this period in Larsson's life, along with detailed information on his fanzine writing and short stories, is included in the biographical essays written by Larsson's friend John-Henri Holmberg in The Tattooed Girl, by Holmberg with Dan Burstein and Arne De Keijzer, 2011.

In early June 2010, manuscripts for two such stories, as well as fanzines with one or two others, were noted in the Swedish National Library (to which this material had been donated a few years earlier, mainly by the Alvar Appeltofft Memorial Foundation, which works to further science fiction fandom in Sweden). This discovery of what was called "unknown" works by Larsson generated considerable publicity.[7]

Name change

Larsson's first name was originally Stig, which is the standard spelling. In his early twenties, he changed it to avoid confusion with his friend Stig Larsson, who would go on to become a well-known author well before Stieg did.[4][8] The pronunciation is the same regardless of spelling.

Activism and journalism

While working as a photographer, Larsson became engaged in far-left political activism. He became a member of Kommunistiska Arbetareförbundet (Communist Workers' League),[9] edited the Swedish Trotskyist journal Fjärde internationalen, journal of the Swedish section of the Fourth International. He also wrote regularly for the weekly Internationalen.[10]

Larsson spent parts of 1977 in Eritrea, training a squad of female Eritrean People's Liberation Front guerrillas in the use of mortars. He was forced to abandon that work, having contracted a kidney disease.[11] Upon his return to Sweden, he worked as a graphic designer at the largest Swedish news agency, Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT), between 1977 and 1999.[10]

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."[12] He also became the editor of the foundation's magazine, Expo, in 1995.

When he was not at his day job, he worked on independent research into right-wing extremism in Sweden. In 1991, his research resulted in his first book, Extremhögern (The 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.[12]

Death and aftermath

Larsson died on 9 November 2004 in Stockholm, aged 50, of a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs to his office, because the lift was not working.[13]

Larsson is interred at the Högalid Church cemetery in the district of Södermalm in Stockholm.

In May 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.[14][15] His long-term partner Eva Gabrielsson,[16] who found the will, has no legal right to the inheritance, sparking controversy between her and his father and brother. Reportedly, the couple never married because, under Swedish law, couples entering into marriage were required to make their addresses (at the time) publicly available, so marrying would have created a security risk.[17] 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 Larsson's work as a journalist and would have been difficult to bypass if the two had married or become registered partners.

An article in Vanity Fair magazine discusses Gabrielsson's dispute with Larsson's relatives, which has also been well covered in the Swedish press. She claims the author 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.[18][19] Larsson's story was featured on the 10 October 2010 segment of CBS News Sunday Morning. In this segment, Larsson's family claims that the fourth book, published in August 2015, is actually the fifth book.[20]



Main article: Millennium series

Soon after Larsson's death, the manuscripts of three completed, but unpublished, novels  written as a series  were discovered. 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. These were published posthumously as the Millennium series.

The first book in the series was published in Sweden as Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor  literally  Men who hate women (2005). It was titled for the English-language market as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and published in the United Kingdom in February 2008. It was awarded the Glass Key award as the best Nordic crime novel in 2005.

His second novel, Flickan som lekte med elden (2006, The Girl Who Played with Fire), received the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award in 2006 and was published in the United Kingdom in January 2009.

The third novel, Luftslottet som sprängdes ("The Air Castle That was Blown Up"), published in English as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, was published in the United Kingdom in October 2009 and the United States in May 2010.

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 comprise an eventual total of ten books, may also exist.[21] Gabrielsson has stated in her book, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me (2011) that finishing the book is a task she is capable of doing.[22]

In 2013, Swedish publisher Norstedts contracted David Lagercrantz, a Swedish author and journalist, to continue the Millennium series.[23] Lagercrantz did not have access to the material in Gabrielsson's possession, which remains unpublished. The book was published in August 2015 in connection with the 10-year anniversary of the series, under the Swedish title is Det som inte dödar oss (literal English translation: That Which Does Not Kill Us); the English title is The Girl in the Spider's Web.[24][25] Two further novels by Lagercrantz have been announced by the publisher.

Film adaptations

The Swedish film production company Yellow Bird has produced film versions of the Millennium series, co-produced with the Danish film production company Nordisk Film, which were released in Scandinavia in 2009.


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 (1994). In his work Larsson made a habit of inserting the names of some of his favourites within the text, sometimes by making his characters read the works of Larsson's favorite authors. Topping the list were Sara Paretsky, Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth George, and Enid Blyton.[26]

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.[27] There are additional connections to Lindgren's literary work in the Larsson novels; for example, the other main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is frequently referred to mockingly by his detractors as "Kalle Blomkvist", the name of a fictional teenage detective created by Lindgren.[28] The name Salander was actually inspired by the strong female character in the Kalle Blomkvist trilogy by Astrid Lindgren, Kalle's girlfriend Eva-Lotte Lisander.

Larsson has said when he was 15 years old, he witnessed three of his friends gang-raping a young girl, which led to his lifelong abhorrence of violence and abuse against women.[5] His longtime partner, Eva Gabrielsson, writes that this incident "marked him for life" in a chapter of her book that describes Larsson as a feminist.[6] The author never forgave himself for failing to help the girl, and this inspired the themes of sexual violence against women in his books.[29] 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 anti-extremists 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."[6][30]

There are also similarities between Larsson's Lisbeth Salander and Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise.[31][32][33][34] 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.


Stieg Larsson was the first author to sell more than one million e-books on[42]

Stieg Larsson prize

His family and Norstedts have instituted an annual award of 200.000 Swedish Krona in memory of him since 2009. The prize is awarded to a person or organization working in Stieg Larssons spirit.

The recipient in 2015 was Chinese Yang Jisheng for his notable work Tombstone which describes the consequences of The Three Years of Great Chinese Famine.[43]


Non-fiction books


The Millennium series:

Periodicals edited

Science fiction fanzines:



  1. "Bestselling fiction authors in the world for 2008". AbeBooks. 15 January 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
  2. Maryles, Daisy (3 September 2011). "The Winning Game: 2010 Hardovers, Facts, Figures". Publishers Weekly.
  3. "Here's the Cover for the New Book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series". Time. 21 March 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Petersson, Jenny. "Berättelsen om Stieg Larsson" [The story about Stieg Larsson] (in Swedish). Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  5. 1 2 Kurdo Baske (2010-08-02). "How a brutal rape and a lifelong burden of guilt fuelled Girl with the Dragon Tattoo writer Stieg Larsson". Daily Mail. Archived from the original on 2014-11-06. Retrieved 2015-02-19. Despite the acclaim, however, Stieg remains a man of secrets. Before his death few people knew he was writing his novels, and he was intensely private, rarely talking about the first 20 years of his life. On one occasion though, he told me a chilling story about something in his past that drove his passion and creativity.
  6. 1 2 3 Gabrielsson, Eva,; Colombani, Marie-Françoise; Coverdale, Linda (2011). "There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and Me. New York: Seven Stories.
  7. Itzkoff, Dave (8 June 2010). "Unpublished Manuscripts by Stieg Larsson Are Found". The New York Times.
  8. Forsman, Hans. "Stig Larsson: Han ändrade själv stavningen" [Stieg Larsson: He changed the spelling himself] (in Swedish). Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  9. "Steig Larsson"., Books Of The World.
  10. 1 2 "Biography – Background – Stieg Larsson, the man behind Lisbeth Salander". 9 November 2004. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  11. Khaleeli, Homa (16 October 2010). "Stieg Larson 'spent year training Eritrean guerrillas'". The Guardian. London.
  12. 1 2 "About Expo". 7 May 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  13. "Profile: Stieg Larsson: Even his early death became a big thriller". The Sunday Times. 27 September 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2010.(subscription required)
  14. "Stieg Larssons testamente hittat" (in Swedish). 28 May 2008.
  15. Cantwell, Oisin (28 May 2008). "Ville ge arvet till lokalparti" (in Swedish). Aftonbladet.
  16. website. Supports Eva Gabrielsson's position.
  17. Cohen, Nick (13 September 2009). "Read Stieg Larsson, the bestselling socialist militant". The Observer. London.
  18. "The Battle Over Stieg Larsson's Estate Intensifies". Vanity Fair. 5 January 2010. Archived from the original on 2014-07-21.
  19. Antonia Hodge (2010-01-03). "The Girl who didn't Inherit a Fortune: Widow of bestselling Swedish author Stieg Larsson has not seen a penny of his £20m". Daily Mail. Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 2015-02-19. But because they weren't married and Larsson died without making a will, Eva has inherited neither his fortune -- estimated at £20million and growing by the day -- nor the rights to the books.
  20. "The Mystery of Stieg Larsson". CBS News. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  21. McGrath, Charles (23 May 2010). "The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson". The New York Times Magazine.
  22. Sciolino, Elaine (17 February 2011). "A Word From Stieg Larsson's Partner and Would-Be Collaborator". New York Times.
  23. Flores, Juan (17 December 2013). "". Dagens Nyheter. Retrieved 17 December 2013. External link in |title= (help)
  24. "Fjärde boken i Millenniumserien ges ut". Aftonbladet. 17 December 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  25. "Ny "Millennium"-bok i augusti". Folkbladet. TT Spektra. 27 January 2015. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  26. Lindgrendetails, Astrid (28 July 2009). "Stieg Larsson – infloox ––– NOT VETTED –––". Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  27. Lindgren, Astrid (29 July 2009). "Pippi Longstocking → Stieg Larsson". infloox. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  28. answer on the nickname. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  29. James, Susan (5 August 2010). "Stieg Larsson Silent as Real-Life Lisbeth Raped". ABS News. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  30. Carr, David (8 July 2011). "Remembering Stieg Larsson". New York Times Book Review.
  31. Blackburn, David (6 May 2010). "The end of Modesty Blaise". Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  32. Behe, Rege (15 April 2010). "Nordic invasion: Movies, books, music and more". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  33. McDonald, Neil. "Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy". Quadrant Online. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  34. Redvall, Eva (1 February 2008). "Millennium trilogy sold to thirty countries". Sydsvenskan. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  35. Allen, Katie (6 October 2008). "Rankin and P D James pick up ITV3 awards". Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  36. "Galaxy British Book Awards site". Retrieved 2012-12-27.
  37. "2009 Galaxy British Book Awards. Winners. Shortlists. 1991 to present". Archived from the original on 28 September 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  38. "Bouchercon World Mystery Convention : Anthony Awards and History". Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  39. "The Anthony Awards". Archived from the original on 2 January 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  40. Hibbert, Katharine (30 September 2009). "A terrible injustice mars the publication of Stieg Larsson's final book | Books | Arts". The First Post. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  41. Donahue, Deirdre (23 December 2010). "Author of the year: Stieg Larsson's legacy lives on". USA Today. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  42. Flood, Alison (28 July 2010). "Stieg Larsson becomes first author to sell 1m ebooks on Amazon". The Guardian. London.
  43. The annual Stieg Larsson prize

Further reading

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