[ 1954.08.15 – 2004.11.09 ]
In the flood of views and opinions that have been published about Stieg Larsson, on the web, in books and in the media in general, after the time of his death, it’s become clear that Stieg Larsson and Millennium-series phenomena has eclipsed Stieg Larsson as an individual.
The Larsson-family has had to realize the impossibility in correcting inaccuracies or refuting even the most outrageous statements made as to who Stieg was when he was still with us.
What we can and want to do is tell our story of who Stieg was, or rather, of who he was to us, his close family. Apart from the objective facts about Stiegs life, where he worked, what he wrote, we would like this to serve as inspiration to those who come in contact with Stiegs work as well as the Stieg Larsson Foundation.
And so, this is our story, the way we knew Stieg. Curious, imaginative, meticulous and bent on defending injustice and exposing fascism. The boy and man that used stories, in fiction and journalism, to manifest his convictions.
It all started at a very early age.
A childhood in the country
Stieg Larsson was born on the 15th of August in 1954 outside the north Swedish town of Skellefteå. The first years of his life, a time spent at the farmstead of his maternal grandparents has by some biographers and bystanders been described as “poor” and Stieg as “abandoned” by his parents.
These statements aren’t only lacking in empathy but also simplify hard decisions that would not under normal circumstances have been made. They are also inaccurate in that they describe Stiegs parents as unloving and irresponsible in relation to their oldest son.
Northern Sweden in the mid 50s was a small tight-knit society on the brink of modern times, a society that had for many years centered around on subsistence farming and forestry where very little regular employment was offered. One of the major employers in the area where Stieg was born was the steel smelter industry of Rönnskärsverken where Stiegs mother, Vivianne, and father, Erland, both worked.Work at the smelter was hard and held little hope of moving its employees towards better, more fulfilling lives.
As a result, Stiegs parents made the difficult choice to move south to the capital of Stockholm to find better employment in order to build a better future. The decision was made that Stieg stay behind with his grandparents at the small farm of Moggliden.
It’s hard to imagine a life that forces parents to leave their only child to go to work elsewhere, even if the basis of the decision is to lay the foundation of a better future for an entire family.
As Vivianne and Erland moved and started working towards that new future Stieg was offered a safe, secure childhood. As well as the constant of love from both his grandparents there was always food on the table and a rich environment in which to grow.
At Moggliden Stiegs curiosity was tickled by the rhythm of life around him. Animal tracks in the snow behind the woodshed, the names of birds and the distinctly changing seasons.
Moggliden, as well as his parents and grandparents focus on giving Stieg the best life possible, was the safe haven that laid the foundation of courage and the drive to know more, to delve deeper. Distinguishing features of Stieg as a person and writer.
During Stiegs years at Moggliden Erland and Vivianne visited as often as they could and when their hard work eventually paid off allowing them to move back north to settle in the growing university town of Umeå, 130 kilometers south of where Stieg was born, Stieg rejoined his parents and his younger brother, born in Stockholm, to become part of the family.
Umeå in the early 60s was a growing small town with a budding university. Vivianne got a job as a shop assistant and Erland, who had a talent for drawing, eventually landed work as an illustrator for the local newspaper.
One of the Larsson-brothers favorite pastimes was sneaking into the local cinema where their father sometimes worked extra. In time the library also became an important factor in Stiegs life. His favorite books were the adventure stories by Jules Verne.
Connecting to Stiegs interest in the natural world, stemming from the years with his grandparents, he was given a telescope and instantly started taking notes on what he saw when watching the night time sky.
Stiegs notebooks soon filled up, notes grew into longer texts and inevitably the telescope had to step down in favor of the typewriter. Stieg now worked well into the night and subsequently was given his own study in the basement of the house to not disturb his younger brothers sleep for writing in their shared bedroom.
Meticulous research combined with a sense of discipline and productivity, the ability to sit down and write until the writing was done, (he kept writing at odd hours for the rest of his working life), would become necessary traits in Stieg as a writer and in his journalism, aimed to expose the racist and neo-nazi movements that were once again emerging in Europe.
Moving to Stockholm
At the end of the 70s Stieg and his girlfriend Eva Gabrielsson moved to Stockholm. Both had been actively engaged in politics and maybe they both felt the need for a bigger space, geographically, socially and politically, in which to develop.
Eva studied to become an architect and Stieg took his first few serious steps towards becoming a full time journalist. Not being admitted to a formal education in journalism he worked extra at the post office and wrote freelance articles for magazines willing to publish his texts.
Slowly, and with much hard work, his luck started turning and Stieg eventually landed a job as a researcher at Swedens largest news agency, Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå. He would remain for a decade in various capacities, researcher and illustrator, to finally reach the position of feature-writer for the agency.
Working as a researcher Stieg was on the bottom rung in the journalistic hierarchy, but he relished the opportunity the research gave him to become a more knowledgeable, and therefore better, writer.
As a graphic illustrator he was often in touch with his father and apart from his daytime job he started writing books and went on to create the anti-racist foundation and magazine, Expo. It was in the capacity as Editor In Chief for the latter that he was best known in Sweden before the Millennium-novels were published.
By virtue of his extensive knowledge on the neo-nazis and racist movements in Europe the anonymous researcher eventually became a sought after authority and lecturer.
Parallel to his work as a journalist Stieg began to shape other ideas. He felt the need to carry his message and convictions further but also needed new ways to channel his productivity and creativity.
His starting point was Astrid Lindgrens childrens stories about Pippi Longstocking, a much loved but also controversial anti-hero. Stieg asked himself what a modern, grown up, Pippi would look like. Someone who fights the injustice and evil of an adult world. The image of the tattooed, computer hacking, orphan Lisbeth Salander, and with together with her the Millennium-trilogy, began to take shape.
Stieg became fully immersed in his work habitually writing through the night on nothing but coffee and cigarettes.
Stieg chose the criminal genre for his first large scale fictional project because it served his goal of describing a darker side of modern society but also because he knew it well, having written many articles on crime writers and their books as feature writer.
In spite of being knowledgeable Stieg still stayed in touch with his family. Both his father and brother Joakim through their respective professions provided background facts for Stiegs books and Joakims daughter Therese partly stood as a model for Lisbeth Salander answering questions on tattoos and kick-boxing.
As the Millennium trilogy was accepted by one of Swedens largest publishers, Norstedts, all three books were already written.
Stieg suspected the books would do well. Norsteds saw the possibility of some success abroad, Swedish crime novels having been successful in some foreign markets, and had offered Stieg an unusually sizable advance.
Stieg spoke to his father and his family about these expectations. Finally the many years and many long nights of writing for free or for very little were about to come to an end. As the three novels lay ready to be published, the first one in the spring of 2005, Stieg passed away on the 9th of November 2004 at the age of 50.
So who was Stieg Larsson? For the Larsson-family he is still a much loved child and brother who left us much too early. We know that he, through his writing, still had many things left undone. Questions still to be posed to the people in front of and behind the extreme political movements, institutional violence and oppression exposed and injustices to be fought.
We want to carry on asking those questions and fighting that injustice. The Stieg Larsson Foundation is one of the ways in which we’ve chosen to do so.