The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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.

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 


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 socio-political leanings 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]


Every year for the past 36 years, Henrik Vanger receives an anonymous dried flower in a picture frame on November 1, his birthday. He has all of the frames displayed on a wall in his house. Every year, he phones his friend, a retired detective-superintendent, 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 prison, and ordered to pay hefty damages and costs. Soon afterwards, he is invited to meet Henrik Vanger, the retired CEO of the Vanger Corporation, unaware that Vanger has checked into his personal and professional history; the investigation of Blomkvist's circumstances has been carried out by Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant but deeply troubled researcher and computer hacker.

Vanger promises to provide Blomkvist with evidence against Wennerström in return for discovering what happened to Vanger's grandniece, Harriet, who disappeared in 1966 during a family gathering at the Vanger estate on Hedeby Island the same day that a traffic accident on a bridge temporarily cut off the island from the mainland. Blomkvist stays on the island while researching the Vanger family history and Harriet's disappearance. He meets several members of the Vanger clan, including Harriet's brother, Martin, current CEO of the company; Isabella, Martin and Harriet's mother; and Cecilia, a headmistress who was Harriet's younger aunt and friend, who seduces Blomkvist later in the novel.

Meanwhile, Salander's state-appointed legal guardian Holger Palmgren suffers a stroke. He is replaced by Nils Bjurman, who extorts sexual acts from Salander and eventually rapes her. After secretly recording her assault, Salander takes her revenge, torturing Bjurman and threatening to ruin him unless he gives her full control over her life and finances. She then uses a tattoo machine to brand him as a rapist.

On Hedeby Island, Blomkvist pursues new evidence in Harriet's disappearance. A key piece of evidence is a series of photographs taken of Harriet at a parade shortly before she disappeared. These show her reacting with discomfort to something she sees. Blomkvist tracks down a photograph taken by someone who had been standing next to Harriet. He concludes that she was reacting to a young man standing across the street, but the image is too indistinct to identify him. Blomkvist also discovers a set of names and numbers believed to be old telephone numbers in Harriet's journal; however, his daughter Pernilla identifies them as quotes from the Book of Leviticus, which describe rules about violent punishment of women. Blomkvist correlates one of them with the grotesque murder of a Vanger Corporation secretary in 1949, 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 confronts her to ask her for help with the investigation, to which she agrees. The two eventually become casual 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 dismembered on their porch, 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 most of the murders occurred in locations where the corporation did business. She begins to suspect that the murderer was Gottfried Vanger, Martin and Harriet's deceased father, but she finds out that he died prior to the last murder.

While Salander continues to hunt through the archives, Blomkvist identifies the young man in the photograph by matching the shirt he wore to the uniform of boys at Martin Vanger's school. However, before he can do anything, Martin takes Blomkvist prisoner, revealing that Gottfried "initiated" him into the ritual rape and murder of women before his own death, and implies that Gottfried sexually abused both him and Harriet. After Gottfried's death, Martin continued murdering women, but abandoned the religious themes which motivated his father. Martin questions Blomkvist about what he's discovered about Harriet and Blomkvist realizes that Martin did not murder his sister. Martin attempts to kill Blomkvist, but Salander — who had made the connection with Martin independently — arrives and attacks him. Martin flees by car, pursued by Salander, and commits suicide by purposely colliding with an oncoming truck.

Believing that Cecilia's sister Anita, who now lives in London, is the only relative who might know something about Harriet's fate, 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 repeatedly raped her, until she killed him in self-defense. That did not solve the problem however, as Martin took his father's role and continued to rape her. Harriet found some peace when Martin was sent away to preparatory school, but he returned the day of her disappearance. Harriet realized she would never be free of him unless she ran away, so she found a place to hide during the traffic accident, and Anita smuggled her to the mainland the next morning. Blomkvist persuades Harriet to return to Sweden, where she reunites with Henrik. Blomkvist then accompanies Salander to her mother's funeral.

Back in Sweden, Blomkvist learns that the evidence against Wennerström that Vanger promised him is useless. However, Salander hacked Wennerström's computer and discovered that his crimes went far beyond what Blomkvist documented. Using her evidence, Blomkvist prints an exposé and a book which ruin Wennerström and catapult Millennium to national prominence. Salander, using her hacking skills, succeeds in stealing some 2.6 billion kr (about $260 million USD) from Wennerström's secret bank account. Blomkvist and Salander spend Christmas together in his holiday retreat. Shortly after, she goes to Blomkvist's home, intending to declare her love for him and give him a Christmas present, but when she sees him with his long-time lover and business partner Erika Berger, she throws the present in a dumpster and leaves.

As a postscript, Salander continues to monitor Wennerström and after six months, anonymously informs 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.


  • Mikael Blomkvist – journalist, publisher and part-owner of the monthly political magazine, Millennium
  • Lisbeth Salander – freelance surveillance agent and researcher specialising 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 themesEdit

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". (Corrigan's article was "Super-Smart Noir With a Feminist Jolt," National Public Radio, 23 September 2008.)[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 ordered 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.[11]

Locked-room mysteryEdit

Larsson writes within the novel, in Chapter 12, "It's actually a fascinating case. What I believe is known as a locked-room mystery, on an island. And nothing in the investigation seems to follow normal logic. Every question remains unanswered, every clue leads to a dead end." He supplies a family tree delineating the relationships of five generations of the Vanger family.

Reception and awardsEdit

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[12] for Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year, and the prestigious Anthony Award[13][14] 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.[15]

Larsson was awarded the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for International Author of the Year in 2008.[16]

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."[17] 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."[18] 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."[19] Richard Alleva, in 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."[20]

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."[21] 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."[22]

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sold over 30 million copies by 2010.[23] In the United States, it sold over 3.4 million copies in hardcover or ebook formats, and 15 million total by June 2011.[24]

Book of essaysEdit

Wiley published a collection of essays, edited by Eric Bronson, titled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy (2011).[25]

Film adaptationsEdit

  • 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[26] and Rooney Mara.[27]
  • 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 over 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.[28]



  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. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  5. ^ "Where is Hedestad really located?". The web resource for information about Sweden. 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. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "2009 Galaxy British Book Awards. Winners. Shortlists. 1991 to present". Archived from the original on 28 September 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  13. ^ "Bouchercon World Mystery Convention: Anthony Awards and History". Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  14. ^ "The Anthony Awards". Archived from the original on 2 January 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  15. ^ "100 Best Books of the 21st Century". Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Berenson, Alex (11 September 2008). "Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  18. ^ Miller, Marjorie (17 September 2008). "Thawing a cold case in Scandinavia". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  19. ^ Selman, Matt (20 February 2009). "Cold Noir". Time. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Daar, Abdallah (29 July 2010). "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". Nature. 466 (7306): 566. doi:10.1038/466563a.
  22. ^ Helfand, Michael (21 September 2008). "Posthumous Swedish Mystery One of Genre's Best". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. E-6.
  23. ^ 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)
  24. ^ "Stieg Larsson Stats: By the Numbers". In the Bookroom. 3 June 2011. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  25. ^ Bronson, Eric, ed. (2011). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN 978-0470947586.
  26. ^ "James Bond to star in US Dragon Tattoo remake". BBC News. 27 July 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  27. ^ Barrett, Annie (16 August 2010). "'Dragon Tattoo' casts its Lisbeth Salander: Have you seen Rooney Mara in previous roles?". Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  28. ^ Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition. Archived from the original on 21 May 2016. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  29. ^ a b "The Book Title With the 91 Imitators". 26 January 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  30. ^ Maslin, Janet (26 May 2011). "Summer's Beach Books Get a Makeover". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  31. ^ Ephron, Nora (5 July 2010). "The Girl who Fixed the Umlaut". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 November 2011.

Publication detailsEdit