Man who's playing with fire: David Lagercrantz on continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series
Swedish author says he couldn't turn down offer to write further adventures of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, despite the pressure and the opposition from Larsson's widow
David Lagercrantz was acclaimed as one of Sweden’s bestselling authors long before he was contracted to write the fourth instalment in the Millennium series about Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Created by his fellow countryman and journalist Stieg Larsson, the series became a global publishing phenomenon after Larsson’s death in 2004, selling in excess of 80 million copies. Lagercrantz began his career as a crime reporter and was chosen by Swedish publisher Norstedts – with the blessing of Larsson’s father and brother, inheritors of Larsson’s estate – to write The Girl in the Spider’s Web, because of his habit of writing about “complex geniuses”. He talks to Bron Sibree
You’ve won accolades for nine previous bestselling works, including your ghost-writing of the international bestselling memoir of slum-kid turned soccer virtuoso Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic. So why take on the risky and controversial task of extending the life of the Millennium universe?
My rule in life is to always follow my passion and that was what I felt for this. I felt a passion that I haven’t felt in years. I wrote it in a sort of fever. I would wake up at 4am and work because I knew that I had to have a complex intrigue. Part of the brilliance of Stieg Larsson’s books is that they are so complex, so many different facets coming together. When I got this assignment, I just thought “this is important, the whole world wants to read it, and so it’s important that I write a good book, otherwise people will kill me”. I knew I would regret it if I said no.
What was it specifically about the series that ignited your passion?
Every century creates a couple of characters that really live. Back in the 19th century we had Sherlock Holmes who we’re going back to over and over. And now we have the superheroes of Hollywood – and Lisbeth Salander is one of them. She’s unique. She was a brilliant invention of Stieg Larsson. She is just so interesting, her mythology, her background, her character – she is a new kind of female heroine. I’ve tried to make people understand her more in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, but she has to remain a riddle. All great characters, great icons, in literature are a bit of a riddle, and that’s the reason we go back to them over and over. So I think the characters are the most interesting thing, not only Lisbeth but also Mikael Blomkvist, the passionate reporter, who I could easily identify with and who, in a way, is her Dr Watson.
Extreme secrecy has shrouded the writing of this book. Although you still cannot discuss the plot, can you tell us how it came about?
When they [publisher Norstedts and the Larsson estate] suggested this, I just felt, “I want to do this”, and then my brain went crazy. Years ago as a reporter, I wrote about an autistic savant, this eight-year-old boy who couldn’t speak and didn’t have any contact with his parents, but one day he passed a street light and the next day he drew the street light and without knowing anything about perspective, he drew it perfectly. There are other examples like that, of the photographic memory that autistic kids have. And then I suddenly thought “what happens if a character like this witnessed something horrible?” and then I saw him as sort of a mirror figure to Lisbeth Salander and then I got another idea and another and then the next morning I got the main part of the story.
Tell us about your penchant for writing about geniuses.
I’m always interested in talented or odd people, and my whole life I’ve written about geniuses who society has treated badly and they strike back – or not. I’ve written about Swedish geniuses, and other geniuses such as Alan Turing, who I wrote about in my novel Fall of Man in Wilmslow. I’ve always been interested in people who think out of their time and I have this passion, actually, for science. I’m just so enormously interested in how, when you think of these revolutionary ideas, other people get threatened, especially if you are different. So that’s the sort of archetype of story that I want to write. And Lisbeth Salander is so brilliant – she is crazy brilliant. In one of Stieg Larsson’s books she even solved Fermat’s Last Theorem, so in this book I let her be fascinated in black holes and quantum mechanics, and those nerdy things that interest me. Maybe I have too much science, but I couldn’t write it if I couldn’t put in ideas that I was fascinated with.
You’ve said the only downside about this assignment is the ongoing battle between the Larsson estate and Larsson’s long-time partner, Eva Gabrielsson, who remains bitterly opposed to extending the Millennium series and has accused you of being unfit for the job because you’ve had “an easy life”.
I’m so sad that they haven’t reached a settlement and that I make her so sad or angry. It hurts me because I am so passionate about this. Maybe I had an easy life compared to Stieg Larsson and others. I can’t do anything about my background, but the only thing I can say is if you want a writer from the same background as Stieg Larsson, there would be too few to select from.
Will you return to Lisbeth Salander in another book in the series?
I’m still thinking about what I really want to do, because I have got so many suggestions. Maybe I’ll write another Millennium book, or maybe I’ll do something else. What I want to do, even if I write another Millennium book, is to go into new worlds, to have new challenges. I just don’t know. Maybe next time I’ll do something even crazier.