The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
First edition (Swedish)
AuthorStieg Larsson
Original titleMän som hatar kvinnor
TranslatorReg Keeland, pseudonym of Steven T. Murray
GenreCrime, mystery, thriller, Scandinavian noir
PublisherNorstedts Förlag (Swedish)
Publication date
August 2005
Published in English
January 2008
Media typePrint (paperback, hardback)
ISBN978-91-1-301408-1 (Swedish)
ISBN 978-1-84724-253-2 (English)
Followed byThe Girl Who Played with Fire 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (original title in Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor, lit.'Men Who Hate Women') is a psychological thriller novel by Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson (1954–2004), which was published posthumously in 2005 to become an international bestseller.[1] It is the first book of the Millennium series.


Larsson spoke of an incident which he said occurred when he was 15: he stood by as three men gang raped an acquaintance of his named Lisbeth. Days later, racked with guilt for having done nothing to help her, he begged her forgiveness—which she refused to grant. The incident, he said, haunted him for years afterward and in part inspired him to create a character named Lisbeth who was also a rape survivor.[2] The veracity of this story has been questioned since Larsson's death, after a colleague from Expo magazine reported to Rolling Stone that Larsson had told him he had heard the story secondhand and retold it as his own.[3] The murder of Catrine da Costa was also an inspiration when he wrote the book.[4]

With the exception of the fictional Hedestad,[5] the novel takes place in actual Swedish towns. The magazine Millennium in the books has characteristics similar to that of Larsson's magazine, Expo, such as its leftist socio-political leanings, its exposés on Swedish Nazism and financial corruption and its financial difficulties.[6]

Both Larsson's longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson and English translator Steven T. Murray have said that Christopher MacLehose (who works for British publisher Quercus) "needlessly prettified" the English translation; as such, Murray requested he be credited under the pseudonym "Reg Keeland".[7] The English release also changed the title, even though Larsson specifically refused to allow the Swedish publisher to do so, and the size of Salander's dragon tattoo; from a large piece covering her entire back, to a small shoulder tattoo.[8]


Henrik Vanger, the retired CEO of the Vanger Corporation, receives an anonymous dried wildflower in a picture frame on his birthday, November 1, for 36 years. He has all of the frames displayed on a wall in his house. Every year, he phones his friend, a retired detective, who shares his birthday and his age, and tells him about the latest flower. They can only wonder who sent it and why.

In December 2002, Mikael Blomkvist, publisher of the Swedish political magazine Millennium, loses a libel case involving allegations about billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. Blomkvist is sentenced to three months (deferred) in a minimum-security prison and the fines in damages empty his life savings. Even worse, his prestigious reputation as a hard-hitting investigative journalist is in shreds. At Christmas, he is invited to meet Henrik Vanger, patriarch of a declining but still powerful family business, unaware that Vanger has checked into his personal and professional history; the investigation of Blomkvist's life has been carried out thoroughly, if not entirely legally, by Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant but aloof, rail-thin Goth researcher and computer hacker, aged 24, who masks a deeply troubled past in black lipstick and bad manners.

With nothing better to do, Blomkvist says goodbye to his co-founder, editor, and longtime lover, the beautiful and well-educated, married, upper-class Erika Berger, and heads off to the remote fictional north Swedish region of Hedestad.

In his mansion on Hedeby Island, Vanger shows Blomkvist his wall of framed wildflowers. Until she was sixteen years old, he explains, this was something his beloved niece, Harriet, had given him every year—until she vanished at 16. No one has seen her since.

Vanger promises to provide Blomkvist with damning evidence against Wennerström in return for discovering what happened to Harriet, whose disappearance has never been solved. She was last seen in 1966 during the annual family business gathering at the Vanger estate on the island, the same day that a massive traffic accident on the only bridge to the island temporarily cut off all contact from the mainland. Extensive searches through woods and water around the island, begun that very night by the same then-young detective who checks in each birthday, ruled out natural accidents. Her body was never found. Vanger, plagued all his life by her disappearance, has concluded that she was murdered by someone who knew her well enough to keep torturing him with these gifts. This points to his viciously factionalized family: three fanatical Swedish Nazis, one of whom still lives on the family compound, Vanger's brother Gottfried, now long dead but while he lived a drunk and philanderer, his miserable wife Isabella, also on the island, such a terrible mother that Vanger took custody of Harriet and Martin when they were still children. Only Harriet's brother - Vanger's nephew, Martin - is a reasonable man whom his uncle has entrusted as Vanger Corp's CEO. Intrigued, Blomkvist stays on the island researching this family, poring through cartons of material from failed investigations, hoping to find anything new to Harriet's disappearance, which has, in fact, been investigated exhaustively in the previous decades. Cecilia, another cousin, conveniently pretty, drops by for a tumble and some sexposition but otherwise, Blomkvist is alone on this freezing, isolated place.

Meanwhile, Salander's state-appointed legal guardian Holger Palmgren suffers a stroke. He is replaced by Nils Bjurman, who takes over control of her own earnings and extorts sexual acts from Salander before allowing her to have it; the first time, Salander asks for money, it's oral sex; the second time Salander asks for money, he handcuffs her to his bed as she screams in protest and violently anally rapes her. Secretly recording this second episode, Salander takes her revenge, showing him the recording of his torture of her and explaining she will ruin him by public disclosure of this tape unless he gives her full control over her life and finances. She then uses a tattoo machine to brand him as a "sexist pig and a rapist".

On Hedeby Island, Blomkvist stumbles on a key piece of evidence: a series of photographs taken of Harriet at a village parade shortly before she disappeared. These show her reacting with discomfort to something she sees. They also show a random woman standing next to Harriet, taking pictures of what might have frightened Harriet across the street; Blomkvist tracks down this woman and is able to see the resulting photograph, which depicts a young man but is too indistinct to provide further clues. Blomkvist also discovers a set of names and five-digit numbers, believed to be old telephone numbers, in Harriet's journal; however, his daughter Pernilla identifies them as verses from the Book of Leviticus, which describe gruesome ritual murders of women as punishment for violating ancient sexual taboos. Blomkvist correlates one of them with the grotesque murder of a Vanger Corporation secretary in 1949, in which she was mutilated in a manner similar to a Bible verse, and realizes that he may be on the trail of an old serial killer. Vanger's lawyer suggests Salander as a research assistant.

Blomkvist realises that Salander hacked into his computer for the initial report and, impressed rather than offended by her remarkable skills at learning everything about him, asks her for help with the investigation. The two eventually become lovers. Meanwhile, Salander uncovers the remaining four murders corresponding to the Bible quotes in Harriet's journal, as well as several more that fit the profile. However, they realize this is more than just an old cold case when a local cat is left horribly murdered, its limbs placed in the shape of a swastika on their doorstep, and Blomkvist is shot at from a distance during an afternoon jog.

Convinced that there must be a connection between the murders and the Vanger family, Salander searches through the Vanger Corporation archives. She notices that all of the murders occurred in locations where the corporation did business. She learns that Gottfried Vanger, the father of Martin and Harriet, was in town on Vanger business at the time that every murder occurred except for the final one, which took place after Gottfried was (confirmed) deceased.

While Salander continues to hunt through the archives, Blomkvist identifies the young man in the photograph by matching the patch on the blazer he's wearing to the uniform of boys at Martin Vanger's prep school. Before he can do anything, Martin takes Blomkvist prisoner in a secret torture chamber in his basement. Revealing that Gottfried made him watch the ritual rapes and murders of women on their business travels, he also tells him that Gottfried sexually abused him; Martin considered this incest his duty. Following Gottfried's death Martin continued murdering women, but abandoned the gory crime scenes, with their desecration of women's bodies along the ancient Biblical passages which motivated his father, and simply dropped their bodies in the sea. Martin questions Blomkvist about what he has discovered about Harriet and Blomkvist realizes that Martin did not murder his sister. Martin attempts to torture Blomkvist to death, but Salander, who had made the connection with Martin independently, arrives and attacks him. Wounded, Martin flees by car, pursued by Salander on her motorbike. Martin suicidally smashes headlong into an oncoming truck; his car explodes and Martin dies in the conflagration while Salander drives past the accident.

Though many baffling, old murder cases have now been solved, Harriet's whereabouts remain a mystery. Cecilia's sister, Anita, once Harriet's closest friend, now lives in London and is the only relative who might know something about Harriet's fate. When she tells them nothing, Blomkvist and Salander tap her phone and learn that Harriet is still alive and living under Anita's name in Australia. When Blomkvist flies there to meet her, Harriet tells him the truth about her disappearance: her father Gottfried had begun repeatedly raping her at 14. She killed him in self-defense, fleeing him in a drunken rage, but this merely resulted in Martin taking over his father's pattern of rape; he had also witnessed Gottfried's death, thus silencing Harriet into enduring the incest. Harriet found some peace when Martin was sent away to preparatory school, but he returned the day of her disappearance as captured by the photos. Harriet realized she would never be free of him unless she ran away, so she found a place to hide during the traffic accident on the bridge. Anita smuggled her to the mainland the next morning and gave Harriet her own passport, giving her cousin a new, safe identity. Blomkvist persuades Harriet to return to Sweden, where she reunites with Henrik. Meanwhile, Salander's mother, a woman severely brain-damaged by her husband's spousal abuse, dies suddenly, and Blomkvist goes with Salander to the lonely funeral.

Blomkvist learns that the evidence against Wennerström that Vanger promised him is useless due to the statute of limitations. However, Salander hacked Wennerström's computer in December and discovered that his crimes went far beyond what Blomkvist had been attempting to document. Using her evidence, Blomkvist prints an exposé in Millennium and publishes a massive book, a year after the guilty verdict, which ruins Wennerström and restores Millennium's tattered reputation. Salander, using her hacking skills, and traveling to Zurich disguised as a wealthy heiress under two fake identities, succeeds in stealing some 2.6 billion Swedish krona (about US$260 million) from Wennerström's secret offshore bank accounts. Amongst family holiday gatherings, Blomkvist and Salander manage to slip away to spend a romantic Christmas night together in his cabin. Salander realizes, much to her confusion, that she is in love with Blomkvist, something that has never happened to her before. She heads for Blomkvist's apartment, intending to declare her love for him and give him a wonderful Christmas present, but when she sees him outside with Erika Berger, his long-time lover and founding partner of Millennium, their body language of their lifelong affection is unmistakable and Salander's fantasy is shattered. She throws the present into a dumpster and heads home in the snow.

As a postscript, Salander continues to monitor Wennerström and after six months, anonymously informing a lawyer in Miami of his whereabouts. Four days later the body of Wennerström is found in Marbella, Spain, shot three times in the head, presumably by the drug cartels whose money vanished when Salander emptied his accounts.


  • Mikael Blomkvist – journalist, publisher and part-owner of the monthly political magazine, Millennium
  • Lisbeth Salander – freelance surveillance agent and researcher specializing in investigating people on behalf of Milton Security
  • Erika Berger – editor-in-chief/majority owner of Millennium and Blomkvist's long-standing lover
  • Henrik Vanger – retired industrialist and former CEO of Vanger Corporation
  • Harriet Vanger – Henrik's grandniece who disappeared without trace in 1966
  • Martin Vanger – Harriet's brother and CEO of Vanger Corporation
  • Gottfried Vanger – Henrik's nephew, and Martin and Harriet's deceased father
  • Isabella Vanger – Gottfried Vanger's widow, and Martin and Harriet's mother
  • Cecilia Vanger – daughter of Harald Vanger and one of Henrik's nieces
  • Anita Vanger – daughter of Harald Vanger and one of Henrik's nieces, currently living in London
  • Birger Vanger – Harald Vanger' son; one of Henrik's nephews
  • Harald Vanger – Henrik's elder brother, a member of the Swedish Nazi Party
  • Hans-Erik Wennerström – corrupt billionaire financier
  • Robert Lindberg – a banker, Blomkvist's source for the libelous story on Wennerström
  • William Borg – a former journalist and Blomkvist's nemesis
  • Monica Abrahamsson – Blomkvist's ex-wife whom he married in 1986 and divorced in 1991
  • Pernilla Abrahamsson – their daughter who was born in 1986
  • Greger Beckman – Erika Berger's husband
  • Holger Palmgren – Salander's legal guardian and lawyer who becomes disabled by a stroke
  • Nils Bjurman – Salander's legal guardian and lawyer after Palmgren
  • Dirch Frode – former lawyer for Vanger Corporation, now a lawyer with only one client: Henrik Vanger
  • Dragan Armanskij – CEO and COO of Milton Security, Lisbeth's employer
  • Plague – computer hacker/genius
  • Eva – Martin Vanger's girlfriend
  • Christer Malm – director, art designer and part-owner of Millennium
  • Janne Dahlman – managing editor of Millennium
  • Gustaf Morell – retired Detective Superintendent who investigated Harriet's disappearance
  • Anna Nygren – Henrik Vanger's housekeeper
  • Gunnar Nilsson – caretaker of Henrik Vanger's domain in Hedeby

Major themes[edit]

Larsson makes several literary references to the genre's classic forerunners and comments on contemporary Swedish society.[9] Reviewer Robert Dessaix writes, "His favourite targets are violence against women, the incompetence and cowardice of investigative journalists, the moral bankruptcy of big capital and the virulent strain of Nazism still festering away ... in Swedish society."[1] Cecilia Ovesdotter Alm and Anna Westerstahl Stenport write that the novel "reflects—implicitly and explicitly—gaps between rhetoric and practice in Swedish policy and public discourse about complex relations between welfare state retrenchment, neoliberal corporate and economic practices, and politicised gender construction. The novel, according to one article, endorses a pragmatic acceptance of a neoliberal world order that is delocalized, dehumanized and misogynistic."[10]

Alm and Stenport add, "What most international (and Swedish) reviewers overlook is that the financial and moral corruptibility at the heart of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is so profound as to indict most attributes associated with contemporary Sweden as democratic and gender-equal. The novel is in fact far from what American critic Maureen Corrigan calls an "unflinching ... commonsense feminist social commentary".[11][10]

Larsson further enters the debate as to how responsible criminals are for their crimes, and how much is blamed on upbringing or society.[1] For instance, Salander has a strong will and assumes that everyone else does, too. She is portrayed as having suffered every kind of abuse in her young life, including an unnecessary commitment to a psychiatric clinic and subsequent instances of sexual assault suffered at the hands of her court-appointed guardian.

Maria de Lurdes Sampaio, in the journal Cross-Cultural Communication, asserts that, "Blomkvist, a modern Theseus, leads us to the labyrinth of the globalized world, while the series' protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, modeled on the Amazon, is an example of the empowerment of women in crime fiction by playing the role of the 'tough guy' detective, while also personifying the popular roles of the victim, the outcast and the avenger." In this context, she discusses "Dialogues with Greek tragedy... namely Salander's struggles with strong father figures." Sampaio also argues,

Then, like so many other writers and moviemakers, Larsson plays with people's universal fascination for religious mysteries, enigmas and hermeneutics, while highlighting the way the Bible and other religious books have inspired hideous serial criminals throughout history. There are many passages dedicated to the Hebrew Bible, to the Apocrypha and to the controversies surrounding different Church's branches. The transcription of Latin expressions (e.g., "sola fide" or "claritas scripturae") together with the biblical passages, which provide the clues to unveil the secular mysteries, proves that Larsson was well acquainted with Umberto Eco's bestsellers and with similar plots. There are many signs of both The Name of the Rose and of Foucault's Pendulum in the Millennium series, and in some sense these two works are contained in the first novel.[12]

Reception and awards[edit]

The novel was released to great acclaim in Sweden and later, on its publication in many other European countries. In the original language, it won Sweden's Glass Key Award in 2006 for best crime novel of the year. It also won the 2008 Boeke Prize, and in 2009 the Galaxy British Book Awards[13] for Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year, and the prestigious Anthony Award[14][15] for Best First Novel. The Guardian ranked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo #98 in its list of 100 Best Books of the 21st Century.[16]

Larsson was awarded the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for International Author of the Year in 2008.[17]

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo received mixed reviews from American critics. It debuted at number four on The New York Times Best Seller list.[10] Alex Berenson wrote in The New York Times, "The novel offers a thoroughly ugly view of human nature"; while it "opens with an intriguing mystery" and the "middle section of Girl is a treat, the rest of the novel doesn't quite measure up. The book's original Swedish title was Men Who Hate Women, a label that just about captures the subtlety of the novel's sexual politics."[18] The Los Angeles Times said "the book takes off, in the fourth chapter: From there, it becomes classic parlor crime fiction with many modern twists....The writing is not beautiful, clipped at times (though that could be the translation by Reg Keeland) and with a few too many falsely dramatic endings to sections or chapters. But it is a compelling, well-woven tale that succeeds in transporting the reader to rural Sweden for a good crime story."[19] Several months later, Matt Selman said the book "rings false with piles of easy super-victories and far-fetched one-in-a-million clue-findings."[20] Richard Alleva, in the Catholic journal,Commonweal, wrote that the novel is marred by "its inept backstory, banal characterizations, flavorless prose, surfeit of themes (Swedish Nazism, uncaring bureaucracy, corporate malfeasance, abuse of women, etc.), and—worst of all—author Larsson's penchant for always telling us exactly what we should be feeling."[21]

On the other hand, Dr. Abdallah Daar, writing for Nature, said, "The events surrounding the great-niece's disappearance are meticulously and ingeniously pieced together, with plenty of scientific insight."[22] The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, "It's a big, intricately plotted, darkly humorous work, rich with ironies, quirky but believable characters and a literary playfulness that only a master of the genre and its history could bring off."[23]

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sold more than 30 million copies by 2010.[24] In the United States, it sold more than 3.4 million copies in hardcover or ebook formats, and 15 million total by June 2011.[25]

Book of essays[edit]

Wiley published a collection of essays, edited by Eric Bronson, titled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy (2011).[26]

Film adaptations[edit]

  • The Swedish film production company Yellow Bird created film versions of the first three Millennium books, all three films released in 2009, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev. The protagonists were played by Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace.
  • A Hollywood film adaptation of the book, directed by David Fincher, was released in December 2011. The main characters were portrayed by Daniel Craig[27] and Rooney Mara.[28]
  • Millennium, a Swedish six-part television miniseries based on the film adaptations of Stieg Larsson's series of the same name, was broadcast on SVT1 from 20 March 2010 to 24 April 2010. The series was produced by Yellow Bird in cooperation with several production companies, including SVT, Nordisk Film, Film i Västm, and ZDF Enterprises.
  • Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition is the title of the TV miniseries release on DVD, Blu-ray, and video on demand in the US. This version of the miniseries comprises nine hours of story content, including more than two hours of additional footage not seen in the theatrical versions of the original Swedish films. The four-disc set includes: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Extended Edition, The Girl Who Played with Fire – Extended Edition, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest – Extended Edition, and a bonus disc including two hours of special features.[29]



  1. ^ a b c Dessaix, Robert (22 February 2008). "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  2. ^ Penny, Laurie (5 September 2010). "Girls, tattoos and men who hate women". New Statesman. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  3. ^ PRich, Nathaniel (5 January 2011). "The Mystery of the Dragon Tattoo: Stieg Larsson, the World's Bestselling — and Most Enigmatic — Author". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  4. ^ "The real-life Swedish murder that inspired Stieg Larsson". 30 November 2010. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  5. ^ "Where is Hedestad really located?". The web resource for information about Sweden. Archived from the original on 6 April 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  6. ^ Pettersson, Jan-Erik (11 March 2011). "The other side of Stieg Larsson". Financial Times. ISSN 0307-1766. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  7. ^ McGrath, Charles (23 May 2010). "The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson". The New York Times Magazine.
  8. ^ "Sequel announced to Stieg Larsson's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy". The Guardian. 4 October 2011. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  9. ^ MacDougal, Ian (27 February 2010). "The Man Who Blew Up the Welfare State". n+1. Retrieved 25 September 2012.
  10. ^ a b c Alm, Cecilia Ovesdotter; Stenport, Anna Westerstahl (Summer 2009). "Corporations, Crime, and Gender Construction in Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Exploring Twenty-First Century Neoliberalism in Swedish Culture". Scandinavian Studies. 81 (2): 157.
  11. ^ Corrigan, Maureen (23 September 2008). "Super-Smart Noir With a Feminist Jolt". National Public Radio.
  12. ^ Sampaio, Maria de Lurdes (30 June 2011). "Millennium Trilogy: Eye for Eye and the Utopia of Order in Modern Waste Lands". Cross-Cultural Communication. 7 (2): 73.
  13. ^ "2009 Galaxy British Book Awards. Winners. Shortlists. 1991 to present". Archived from the original on 28 September 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  14. ^ "Bouchercon World Mystery Convention: Anthony Awards and History". Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  15. ^ "The Anthony Awards". Archived from the original on 2 January 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  16. ^ "100 Best Books of the 21st Century". Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  17. ^ Allen, Katie (6 October 2008). "Rankin and P D James pick up ITV3 awards". News. The Bookseller. Archived from the original on 9 April 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  18. ^ Berenson, Alex (11 September 2008). "Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  19. ^ Miller, Marjorie (17 September 2008). "Thawing a cold case in Scandinavia". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  20. ^ Selman, Matt (20 February 2009). "Cold Noir". Time. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  21. ^ Alleva, Richard (7 May 2010). "Off the page: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo & Kick-Ass". Commonweal. New York City: Commonweal Foundation. 137 (9): 26.
  22. ^ Daar, Abdallah (29 July 2010). "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". Nature. 466 (7306): 566. doi:10.1038/466563a.
  23. ^ Helfand, Michael (21 September 2008). "Posthumous Swedish Mystery One of Genre's Best". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. E-6.
  24. ^ Winnipeg Free Press Archived 2010-05-13 at the Wayback Machine on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: "The first book sold 30 million copies and is available in 44 languages." (15 April 2010)
  25. ^ "Stieg Larsson Stats: By the Numbers". In the Bookroom. 3 June 2011. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  26. ^ Bronson, Eric, ed. (2011). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN 978-0470947586.
  27. ^ "James Bond to star in US Dragon Tattoo remake". BBC News. 27 July 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  28. ^ Barrett, Annie (16 August 2010). "'Dragon Tattoo' casts its Lisbeth Salander: Have you seen Rooney Mara in previous roles?". Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  29. ^ Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition. Archived from the original on 21 May 2016. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  30. ^ a b "The Book Title With the 91 Imitators". 26 January 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  31. ^ Maslin, Janet (26 May 2011). "Summer's Beach Books Get a Makeover". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  32. ^ Ephron, Nora (5 July 2010). "The Girl who Fixed the Umlaut". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 November 2011.

Publication details[edit]