Millennium (Series) | Study Guide

Stieg Larsson

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Millennium (Series) | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Stieg Larsson's psychological thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo captivated readers around the world with its fast-paced plot and memorable, troubled characters. First published in Sweden in 2005, the novel tells the story of Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a tech-savvy hacker, on a mission to solve a decades-old disappearance of a teenaged girl. Larsson wrote the novel to shine a light on misogyny and sexual assault, which he considered a cultural shame in his homeland of Sweden. He continued his story in two additional books that formed the Millennium trilogy: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's'Nest (2007). Both also feature the duo of Blomkvist and Salander.

The critically acclaimed Millennium trilogy was praised for its brutally honest depictions of and meditations on violence against women. The series has since achieved incredible popularity, selling more than 80 million copies and spawning film adaptations in Sweden and the United States.

1. Larsson witnessed a gang rape as a teen—an event that inspired The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

When Larsson was 15, he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl at the hands of several of his friends. Larsson reportedly did nothing to intervene—a decision he would regret for the rest of his life. The girl, who shared the name Lisbeth with Larsson's protagonist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, inspired the author to investigate violence against women in his native Sweden and write a novel from the point of view of a rape survivor. After Larsson's death, a friend of his explained that he never forgave himself for failing to help Lisbeth when he was a teenager.

2. The grisly murder of a prostitute in a Swedish slum also inspired The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

As a journalist, Larsson spent years investigating violence against women in Sweden. One incident that struck him as particularly horrific was the murder of Catrine da Costa in 1984. Da Costa was a prostitute who worked on Malmskillnadsgatan, a road in Stockholm that was notorious for prostitution, drug dealing, and other illicit activities. Da Costa's body was found heavily mutilated, with body parts thrown in two bags. Several men were put on trial—and later acquitted—for the murder, and the case remained unsolved. Larsson wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in response, to illuminate this type of heinous violence in Sweden―a society that is often thought of as safe and polite internationally.

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's original title was much more explicit regarding the theme of sexism.

Larsson initially had a different title in mind for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—he wanted to call it "Men Who Hate Women." The novel appeared under this title in Sweden but was changed for English-speaking audiences. Considering that Larsson portrays many of the male characters in the book as violent sexists, he thought the title would be suitable, if not subtle.

4. Death threats forced Larsson to forgo marrying his longtime partner.

Larsson received death threats while working as a writer and editor for Expo, an anti-fascist magazine, for which he conducted investigations of far right-wing organizations. Larsson's journalism attracted unwanted attention, and he received numerous death threats, anti-Semitic hate mail, and an envelope full of bullets. At one point, a group of neo-Nazis surrounded his building with baseball bats, waiting for him to come outside. Larsson spent years "lying low" amidst these threats, and his desire to remain anonymous prevented him from marrying his longtime partner, Eva Gabrielsson, since doing so would require them to publish their address. Gabrielsson later recalled:

It was absolutely impossible for us to go back to the wedding plans we had had. We had to take more and more security measures.

5. The fictional magazine of the series, Millennium, shares similarities with the real magazine that Larsson edited.

Larsson's character Mikael Blomkvist writes for Millennium, a political tabloid aiming to uncover corporate and political corruption. The fictional Millennium has many similarities with Expo, the magazine Larsson edited that attempted to expose radical right-wing groups in Sweden and their possible infiltration of government organizations. Larsson's novels were only a side project for the author—the majority of his time was dedicated to Expo and his activism work. The parallels between the two publications have led some readers to speculate that the series is, in some ways, autobiographical.

6. Actress Rooney Mara got a full set of piercings to play Salander in the 2011 Hollywood film adaptation.

When Rooney Mara was cast as Lisbeth Salander in the 2011 Hollywood film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it was clear that she'd need to make some cosmetic adjustments to match Larsson's description of the character. Instead of using fake piercings, however, Mara got real lip, eyebrow, nose, ear, and nipple piercings for the film. Although she removed most of the jewelry after filming concluded, she reportedly kept the nipple piercing in the event that she'd be asked to star in a sequel. She explained, "It's not something I want to ever get repierced. So I'm going to keep it in."

7. In order to "fit the role," Mara auditioned for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hungover after a night of binge drinking.

When Rooney Mara was auditioning to play Lisbeth Salander, the directors asked her to show up for an audition "a little more strung out" than usual in order to fit the character. To accomplish this, Mara spent the night before her next audition binge drinking, showing up extremely hungover the next day. Apparently, the night out was a welcome release after the stressful audition procedures. Mara explained, "It had been two months and at that point, it was kind of a relief to just get drunk."

8. Larsson died before the series was published.

Larsson died before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the other books in his Millennium trilogy were published. The author—who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and drank more coffee than water—died of a heart attack at age 50. Larsson's death came shortly after he'd submitted the novels for publication.

9. Larsson changed his name in his 20s to avoid confusion with another famous author.

Stieg Larsson was born "Stig Larsson," as Stig is the typical spelling of the Swedish first name. A friend of the author also had the name Stig Larsson, coincidentally, and became a successful writer before him. Larsson changed the spelling of his name, although the pronunciation remained the same, in order to avoid confusion with his friend's work. He also claimed that the two friends flipped a coin to decide which one would change his name.

10. Larsson was the first author to sell a million e-books on Amazon.

Although Larsson never saw the success of his novels, he is posthumously responsible for breaking a record with Kindle, Amazon's popular e-book service. In 2010 Larsson became the first member of Amazon's "Kindle Million Club," reserved for authors who have sold over 1,000,000 electronic editions of their books in the United States. An Amazon representative explained:

Larsson's books have captivated millions of readers around the world and ignited a voracious interest in the lives of its main characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael [Blomkvist]. It's been exciting to have been a part of introducing so many people to these great books.

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