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Stieg Larsson was born on August 15, 1954, in Skelleftehamn, Sweden. Until the age of nine he lived with his grandparents near the village of Bjuresele near Norsjö municipality, a locale he includes in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Later, after a move to Stockholm, Larsson developed an interest in science fiction and later became a political activist and journalist. He edited several political journals and focused his research on the growth of extreme right and racist organizations in Sweden. He subsequently founded the Swedish Expo Foundation, meant to counteract the growth of such groups, and in 1995 became the editor of the foundation’s magazine, Expo. Larsson’s research on extreme-right hate groups and racism earned him a great deal of acclaim and notoriety, and he reportedly received frequent death threats. Larsson’s partner, Eva Gabrielsson, claims that the two of them did not marry precisely because doing so would have exposed their address and placed them at greater risk for retribution. Because of their decision not to marry and because Larsson’s will was invalid, upon Larsson’s death in 2004 his father and brother received the rights to his estate, unpublished works, and royalties.
Larsson’s most famous work, the Millennium series, consists of three bestselling novels. The first of these novels, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, has twice been adapted to film, once in Sweden and more recently in the United States. Originally titled Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) in Swedish, the novel won several awards in Sweden after its initial posthumous publication in 2005, including the Glass Key Award in 2006, the 2008 Boeke Prize, and the Anthony Award. Though the novel fits neatly into the crime mystery genre, Larsson leans heavily on his own personal experiences to convey the story of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Critics argue that Larsson’s unrelenting focus on systematic violence against women stems from an incident that occurred in his teens when he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl. Additionally, Larsson’s own career as a writer and editor, his research on extreme right and racist groups, and his knowledge of Sweden’s geography inform his fictional depictions of the magazine Millennium, the anti-Semitic background of the Vanger family, and the setting of the text.
The Sweden that Larsson depicts in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a socially progressive society nevertheless cursed by blatant misogyny and anti-Semitism, becomes the main subject of Larsson’s sharp critique of state-sanctioned violence against women and rampant racism. The book, divided into four distinct parts, boasts four accompanying epigraphs that detail the statistics of abuse against women in Sweden. More meaningfully, the book plays out these statistics in the many “men who hate women” and in the person of Lisbeth Salander, who suffers frequently at the hands of men and who must depend on herself for justice. Larsson’s concerns about racism and lingering anti-Semitism in Sweden also crop up in the history of the Vanger family, which he depicts as rife with white supremacists and abusive, racist men. At the same time, the novel does make an effort to illustrate the diversity of Sweden, from the urban bustle of Stockholm to the quaint calm of Norsjo, as well as its socially progressive attitudes. Overall, though the text contains the fundamental elements of a crime thriller, it also serves as a critique of Swedish society, lending the book a distinct urgency and pointedness.
The book additionally demonstrates the importance of journalism to a functional democracy. Throughout the text, Blomkvist’s integrity and his desire to uncover fraud and deception exemplify the journalistic profession at its best. One might consider Larsson to be speaking through Blomkvist at the novel’s end when Blomkvist claims that journalists have an inherent duty to act as a check on excess power and economic corruption. Larsson, a journalist himself who also worked as a publisher, invests journalism in the novel with a potent power to oversee and illuminate problems in society before they become endemic. In his own life, Larsson paired journalism with social activism. During his time as the publisher of Expo, he used the magazine to counteract racism and hate groups in Sweden and later published a book, Extremhögern (Extreme Right), that also sought to expose and document such groups. In many ways, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo serves as Larsson’s critique of the social and economic ills in Swedish society, and he presents journalism as the best way to reveal and treat such maladies.