Study Guide

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Introduction

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first novel in Stieg Larsson's stunningly popular Millennium trilogy. Tattoo was first published in Sweden under Larsson's original title Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women, in 2005.

The trilogy has sold almost thirty million copies, in over forty countries (source), and has so far spawned a trilogy of Swedish films. Columbia Pictures has the North American movie rights, so look out for the Hollywood versions (source). Posthumous awards (that's right, Larsson's dead – more on that in a minute) from Sweden, South Africa, and the UK, to name a few, are piling up as we speak (or, rather, as we write).

This high-tech thriller introduces the trilogy's stars: journalist/lady lover Mikael Blomkvist and the girl with the dragon tattoo herself, vigilante-hacktivist-PI Lisbeth Salander. Tattoo is the story of how Salander and Blomkvist uncover an epic international financial fraud, two serial killers, and solve the 36-year-old mystery of a missing 16-year-old girl. All the while, Salander battles her sadistic social worker, hacks up a storm, and struggles to keep her mysterious past…mysterious.

As you might have heard, Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004, after he'd delivered the finished trilogy to his Swedish publisher Norstedts, but before his work was published. He started writing the trilogy just two years prior while on vacation with Eva Gabrielsson, Larsson's romantic partner of over thirty years (source). Apparently he wrote detective stories for fun and relaxing relief from his "real" job.

And what was that real job? Fighting crime, folks, and exposing corruption. Larsson was an expert in and activist against neo-Nazism, fascism, and violence against women. He was editor-in-chief of Expo, part of the Expo Foundation. The foundation was "established in order to counteract the growth of the extreme right and the white power-culture in schools and among young people" (source). These issues do make their ways into Larsson's novel, to be sure. And Tattoo even has its own version of Expo, which was called Millennium.

Since neo-Nazis were constantly threatening Larsson's life, he needed to keep his whereabouts on the down-low. Eva Gabrielsson says she and Larsson never married for that reason. Swedish married couples are required to post their address as a matter of public record, and Larsson and Gabrielsson needed to keep their address secret. Larsson didn't leave behind a completed will, and his entire estate went to his father and brother, excluding Gabrielsson. The matter is still in dispute, and probably will be for a while (source).

Gabrielsson is in possession of a partial draft of the fourth installment of the Salander-Blomkvist novels (he planned for nine or ten) and Larsson's computer, papers, and notes. She might even have some of those old detective stories he wrote for rest and relaxation. But this material probably won't see the light of day, so long as the parties remain in conflict (source).

Larsson's death and subsequent fame has also brought forth his detractors. Anders Hellberg, who worked with Larsson as a journalist in the early days, says Larsson was such a crappy writer he couldn't possibly have written the trilogy. Hellberg doesn't know who did, but says that Eva Gabrielsson is a likely candidate. Like Eva Gabrielsson, Kurdo Baksi (Larsson's friend and colleague at Expo) has written a biography of Larsson, and defends him unwaveringly. When asked about the allegations that Larsson was a second-rate journalist and an inadequate writer, Baksi says, "Many people are angry. [Larsson] is a god in Sweden" (source). Now, on to this Swedish god's novel!

What is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo About and Why Should I Care?

So, why have readers been shelling out the big bucks to the bookstores, stealing copies from libraries, and running out to have dragons tattooed on their bodies? Well, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has something for almost everyone, and we don't say that too often. If you're a fan of, say, Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics or The Economist, you'll be instantly taken in by the details of Swedish financial history and financial flimflammery.

If your reaction is, "Boring. Where's the girl with the dragon tattoo?" Just you wait. There's drama, vengeance, murder, mystery, money-stealing, tattooing, and even a bit of romance. There're rogue forces taking on law-eluding criminals, killers, and corrupt people in power. There's lots of fun with technology, and lots of hacking.

Lisbeth Salander, star of this show, is what some might call a "hacktivist" – a computer genius who hacks for social justice. But, does Lisbeth always use her talent for good? Is she a dangerous vigilante criminal or is she an agent of justice who has to use violence and thievery to make the world a safer place? It is up to you, dear readers, to decide these lofty issues.

And here's a tip: Don't get tripped up by the complicated Vanger family genealogy. Everything will come together. Just sit back and relax and try to guess who did what to Harriet Vanger to make her go missing 36 years ago. Or, if you're into that kind of thing, dig into life of this troubled and successful family worthy of a long-running soap opera. And if all that isn't enough, this book explores the basics – friendship, relationships, trust, kindness, and how hard it can be to form intimacy in this hard world. Like we said, something for everyone!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Resources

Websites

An Official Larsson Website
This site features all the latest from Larsson's US publishers.

A Stieg Larsson Website
"Where Stieg Larsson's spirit lives."

Sally's Friends
A fan website loaded with all kinds of fun stuff.

Milan Records
Website for the movie soundtrack.

Stieg Larsson's English Translator
This is Reg Keeland/a.k.a. Steven T. Murray's informative blog.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, in Sweden
This is the official Swedish website for the novel. It contains an interview in English with Sonny Mehta from Knopf, one of Larsson's US publishers.

Expo
This is the site for Expo, the magazine or which Larsson was editor-in-chief. Most of the site is in Swedish, but this links to an English language info page (phew!).

Human Rights in Sweden
This is the Swedish government's human rights website.

Movie or TV Productions

Män som hatar kvinnor, 2009
That translates to Men Who Hate Women, which is the original title of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and the Swedish film adaptation. It's available with English subtitles.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Columbia Pictures owns the US film rights to the novels, and Hollywood productions are already in the works.

Documents

"Swedish Suspense"
Time magazine's review of the novel.

"The Life of Stieg Larsson"
We love this photo-timeline from The New York Times.

"A dedicated anti-fascist and good friend: Stieg Larsson 1954 – 2004"
An obituary in Searchlight, which is a partner with Larsson's magazine Expo.

Interviews
Interviews with Larsson's father, Erland Larsson, and Larsson's UK publisher, Christopher MacLehose.

Roger Ebert's Review
Ebert says, "Lisbeth is as compelling as any movie character in recent memory."

"In Search of Stieg Larsson"
BBC's Finlo Rohrer examines Larsson's life and untimely death.

"Behind the Mask of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
An interview with Noomi Rapace, who plays Salander in the Swedish trilogy of films that are based on the Larsson's Salander/Blomkvist novels.

"The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson"
An informative feature on Larsson, from The New York Times.

"Read Stieg Larsson, the bestselling socialist militant"
An article from The Guardian that discusses Larsson's activism.

Video

Movie Website
This is the official website for the trilogy of Swedish films based on Larsson's novels. You can watch trailers here.

An Interview with Noomi Rapace
Meet the girl who plays Salander in the Swedish film.

Films & Stars Movie Report
If you aren't excited about the movie yet, this will pull you in.

"Female Hackers"
A video about ladies who are hacking for social justice.

Movie Trailers and Clips
From Apple Movie Trailers.

Audio

"Super-Smart Noir With A Feminist Jolt"
Give a listen to NPR's review of the novel, on Fresh Air.

"Film Weekly meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
Check out Jason Solomon's podcast, and hear about his meeting with Noomi Rapace.

"The Never-Ending Salander Soundtrack"
Brought to you by fans of Lisbeth Salander.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Audiobook
Purchase and download the Audiobook from Random House Audio

Images

Photo of Larsson
Larsson is reclining and having a coffee break.

Another Photo of Larsson
Larsson posing.

Map of Hedeby Island
This map, not included in English language publications of the novel, helps us imagine fictional Hedeby Island.

Map of Hedeby Island
This map features the east side of the island with Gottfried's cabin.

A Book Cover
We love the cover of a Portuguese translation.

Another Book Cover
And here we have the cover of a Chinese translation of the novel.

Stieg Larsson and Eva Gabrielsson
These two don't look too pleased that their teacups haven't been refilled.