The Ambiguous Authorship of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series

Swedish journalist and writer Stieg Larsson, the original author of the Millennium series — known in English as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — died of a massive heart attack at the age of 50 in 2004. Shortly before his untimely end, he had given his publisher the manuscripts for the crime fiction trilogy starring the now infamous characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Having spent his life as an activist, fighting racism and sexism and as a hard leftist reporter, Larsson’s Millennium series holds a breath of realism that immerses the reader so completely in the story that it can often feel like a journalistic account rather than a work of fiction. This, in part, is why the rumor mill turned so heavily following his death.

Larsson made political enemies during his career as a journalist. Many people were determined to paint his sudden death as a conspiracy on the part of one of his opponents. After all, his death seemed identical to the kind of perfectly coordinated assassinations Larsson’s seedier characters attempt to pull. However, the most likely (and official) report is that Larsson was a man who cared little for his body, worked himself to the bone, and smoked upwards of 60 cigarettes a day. In 2004 when the elevator in his office building was out of commission, he climbed the seven flights to his office, and died of a heart attack as a result.

The legend surrounding Larsson’s death is that he had roughly drafted out a total of ten books for the Millenniumseries. Life-partner Eva Gabrielsson adamantly denies that Larsson had done this, but his UK publisher MacLehose Press has been quoted confirming that said outline exists and that Larsson had intended to continue; however, they admit that they have never actually seen the draft.

This has been highly criticized and speculated by many fans of the Millennium series. Due to his unexpected passing, Larsson had no legally binding will. He had never actually married his life partner Gabrielsson. As such, his estate was evenly divided between his brother and his father.The drama that ensued between Gabrielsson and Larsson’s family led to the discovery that Gabrielsson was in possession of Larsson’s personal laptop containing 200 pages of his unfinished fourth novel in the series. She swore never to publish it, instead asking the public to “Let his authorship die in peace.”

Larsson’s family and publishers, however, made a different decision. Now, more than ten years after the original publication of Dragon Tattoo, fellow Swedish author David Lagercrantz has taken on the task of continuing Larsson’s work in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. While this has greatly displeased Gabrielsson and caused much speculation among critics, it does appear as though Lagercrantz is the only man qualified for the job, if it’s going to be done.

Lagercrantz’s primary concern when taking on this project was to remain true to Larsson’s work. Posthumously continuing another writer’s work is a tricky thing. Doing justice to the original story while implementing a new writing style and narrative seems nearly impossible. Luckily, Lagercrantz is a well-received journalist and biographer. His most famous work, I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović, of which he was the ghostwriter, earned him his notoriety.

There were essentially two elements that all parties agreed were most important in the continuation of Larson’s series: that Lagercrantz must portray a recognizable and believable rendering of the Millennium universe, and secondly, that he not try to directly imitate Larsson. This is quite a feat. Attempting to perfectly mimic Larsson’s writing style would ruin the story. Lagercrantz’s respect for Larsson’s existing body of work and his knowledge of the Swedish organizations involved in the story (e.g. the Swedish Security Service and various news organizations within Sweden) was a huge success on the part of the publishers in choosing Lagercrantz for the job. One of the trending stories at the time that Lagercrantz was finishing the series was that Lagercrantz, in staying true to the occurrence of hacker threats in the series, worked on the novel on a laptop without any internet connection in order to guarantee the protection of the work. His emails to publishers regarding the book were coded, and they even went so far as to copy the manuscript onto a USB drive in order to safely transport it without fear of someone intercepting it. You can read Lagercrantz’s interview with The Verge in which he discusses this process.

When it was released this September, Spider’s Web topped bestseller lists worldwide and sold over 200,000 copies in the first week.

Despite the tragedy of Larsson’s death before ever knowing the success of his own novels, it is incredibly interesting to see his story continue under the guided eye of another writer. The fact that this continuation has been widely well-received is a testament to both the complex world Larsson originally created and the skill of Lagercrantz to build off of the author’s work to render an authentic continuation. Some people will inevitably consider Spider’s Web to be an abomination on an already perfectly self-contained trilogy. Perhaps a little weariness isn’t a bad thing. However, any fan of the Millennium series has the potential to cast aside the unorthodox nature of the fourth novel’s inception and simply enjoy stepping back into the mystery and adventure of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist.

Read the latest installment for yourself before forming an opinion on Lagercrantz’s ability–you may be pleasantly surprised.

**Originally published by me via The Witty Agent on November 24, 2016.

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