Monday, August 30, 2010

Stieg Larsson: Death and Discovery

Stieg Larsson: Death and Discovery

by Jacqueline Seewald

Readers romanticize writers and artists who have died,
especially those who die tragically while still young. Witness the value we now place on the art of Vincent Van Gogh who could barely sell a painting while alive and eventually committed suicide. Then there is the story of John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces, who in despair over lack of success as a novelist committed suicide at the age of thirty-two, only to be “discovered” as a great writer thanks to the persistence of his mother and the generosity of Walker Percy.

Stieg Larsson died of a massive coronary at the age of fifty in 2004, a short time after delivering his three Millennium novels to his Swedish publisher. No one including his publisher had any idea that these novels would become international blockbuster bestsellers. Although Larsson co-published two SF magazines with Eva Gabrielsson, his life partner/common law wife, he was mainly known as a left-wing journalist, a journalist who was editor-in-chief of the magazine Expo and campaigned against right-wing extremism in Sweden. He was outspoken against Neo-Nazism and often in fear from death threats made against his life.

There is no question that he both read and admired mystery fiction. Two of the writers that his journalist hero Mikael Blomkvist reads in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are Sara Paretsky, who also has a social agenda and strong political and social convictions, and Elizabeth George, who writes dark, complex mystery fiction as well.

There is an even greater tragedy and irony to Larsson’s story. Larsson, although an advocate and defender of women’s rights, as can be witnessed in the character of Lisbeth Salander, did not leave a will. Therefore, Eva Gabrielsson, his wife in every way that mattered except legally, inherited none of the millions his novels have now earned. Sweden does not recognize common law marriage. He failed in effect to protect the rights of his own life partner.

As both a reader and a writer of mystery and romance fiction, I have quite naturally read Larsson’s work and appreciate it. But a questions remains: Would Stieg Larsson’s novels have been such amazing bestsellers had he not tragically died before publication? What is your opinion as a reader and/or writer? Please join the discussion and leave a comment.

Jacqueline Seewald
TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, Five Star/Gale, September 2010
THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print


Anonymous said...

Can you imagine Larrson doing guest blogs, posting on Facebook, tweeting about his series of books and having the mega-success they've had? The books have some great plot twists, no question, but frankly, so do many others. And the writing is competent, but, certainly not writing I'd like to emulate. My opinion: the GIRL books have taken off via a media blitz like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or SNAKES ON A PLANE. I think part of their appeal is the fact that Larrson is dead. But like any writer, I'm sure he worked hard. Too bad he's not around to enjoy his books being published, even if they are a flash-fad.

dkchristi said...

I didn't read the book but saw the foreign film, The Girl With the dragon tattoo. It was shocking in many ways but certainly had a satisfying ending. The movie's impact was as much a product of the acting and directing as the story line itself. Therefore, I cannot make an opinion regarding the author.

Often, artistic people are troubled souls whose artistic expression releases the angst to a degree, but they are often ill suited to the rejection that comes with art. Not like selling Avon, the rejection is often felt inthe very essence of the artist at a cellular level.

Once again, however, I note the importance of an advocate, whether during life or death, who continues to promote the writing and see that its worth is recognized. Of course, the drama of an early death associated with an unfinished work of art (including a novel) does give it a mystique. However, I doubt that death is sufficient to bring a non-talented work to light. author of Ghost Orchid, a tight mystery of love, lies and redemption wrapped in the aura of the mystical ghost orchid

Pauline B Jones said...

I haven't read him and would have more respect for his advocacy creds if he'd DONE what he SAID. I have no patience anymore with people who talk and don't do. Do I think he'd be famous if he'd lived? No.

Blackdragon said...

I plan on reading his books. I think they would sell well if he were alive.

Terry Odell said...

Good question, because I absolutely slogged through Dragon Tattoo, and would never read another book by Larsson. The only reasons I finished were 1) I felt obligated -- probably a result of being brought up to clean my plate, and 2) people said it would get better, but I normally don't give a novel 200 pages to see if it'll get better.

I'm starting to follow someone's formula. Subtract your age from 100, and that's how many pages you "owe" an author to grab you.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Rebbie, D.K., and Pauline,

Each of you makes important points on this topic. It does seem to me that many talented people only receive recognition after they die.
Are they hyped because of it? I can't say for certain. If so, it's unfortunate. I think of great writers of past centuries like Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and even Herman Melville whose work only received proper recognition after they died.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Black Dragon,

I do agree with you. I think mystery and romance readers/writers should definitely read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, if only because it is the first book in a #1 selling trilogy.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


It took some effort for me to get invested in the novel myself. The prologue was interesting but the beginning chapters are slow going. I probably wouldn't have read the entire novel if it hadn't been hyped so much.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I'm a big fan of people who do as they say. The fact that he didn't protect his life partner seems so incongruous with his stance on women's rights.

I'm still trying to figure out how to get a huge PR buzz going on my books. Not planning on dying to get famous. I've got lots more stuff I want to do.

MUDDY WATERS coming in October

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I'm with you there! I'd love publicity for my writing too, but I'm not about to die for it.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I haven't read the books yet, but the DVD for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo just arrived from Netflix. Usually I prefer to read the books before I see the movies, but I'm going to do it backwards this time. I guess I'd best reserve judgment until I do both.


Sharon Ervin said...

Public opinion is like birds flocking, all swooping one way and another on the whim of one or a clique. I do not write for approval. Like many famous authors who died without enjoying popular approval, I write what comes, and enjoy the doing. If someone compliments my work, I am delighted, of course, but sweet words are not my goal. Some friends, people I admire, hate the books I write. My own mother concedes I have a gift, then asked, "Why don't you write something worthwhile?" I laughed. "Worthwhile," like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder, or in this case, the reader. I offer no apologies. I love what I write. That's enough.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


What a wonderful statement! It certainly works for me. There is a quote: "Not always right in all men's eyes but faithful to the light within." It seems to fit. Don't know where it came from only that my mother quoted it to me when I was a child. As writers, we're always sticking our necks out. We can't and shouldn't try to please everyone, but be true to our own inner light.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Jackie: Enjoyed the post about Larsson, although I've not familiar with his work. Many musicians, too, were not recognized during their lifetime--and inventors and scientists. The list goes on. The world is filled with unsung heroes, and many of them are creative artists with a little by-line in the history books.

The Belle in Blue said...

I've never considered dying as a promotional tool, but I did consider faking my teenaged son's kidnapping by a crazed fan since he's the embodiment of one of the characters in my first book, TRUE BLUE FOREVER. My husband talked me out of it. Party pooper!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Joyce,

You're right about history being full of creative people who were unappreciated in their own time. It's really sad.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Welcome to Author Expressions! You certainly lead an interesting life. Your book sounds fascinating.