THE premiere of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a suitably high-profile occasion.
This is, after all, the long-awaited screen version of what has become a publishing phenomenon almost on a par with the Harry Potter series.
Author Stieg Larsson never knew how successful he would be as he died just before his first best-seller was published.
But his heirs have certainly reaped the benefits. More than 50 million people have bought a Stieg Larsson thriller and they’re still buying in droves. If Larsson’s estate makes one pound from each book sold – a conservative estimate – then his heirs have already made around £50million from the novels alone.
The film rights, which have been sold twice, brought in more. The first film adaptation, made by a Swedish company, has generated more than £70million. Sony bought the English-language rights with American producer Scott Rudin and it is their version, directed by David Fincher, which premiered on Monday and will go on general release on Boxing Day.
The fact they spent $100million on it suggests they are confident it will not only recoup its costs but surpass them by some margin.
Shot largely in Sweden, the film stars Bond actor Daniel Craig – suitably Nordic and gloomy as investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Lisbeth Salander, the deeply disturbed computer whizz anti-heroine is played by Rooney Mara, known so far only for a small role as the girlfriend who dumps Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of The Social Network.
The impressive supporting cast includes Christopher Plummer, Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Stellan Skarsgard and former ER heartthrob Goran Visnjic. With that kind of line-up Larsson’s heirs look set for another mega-payday, which is likely to be repeated when the other two books in the trilogy are filmed.
And that’s before we even consider the spin-offs. A Dragon Tattoo fashion range is already available in Paris and will go on sale this week in H&M in Britain. The collection of boots, grandad T-shirts and leather leggings is the work of Trish Summerville who designed the costumes for the film.
Yesterday it was announced that Larsson’s literary estate has commissioned Glaswegian crime novelist Denise Mina to turn the three Salander books into six graphic novels for DC Comics.
The only fly in this very lucrative ointment is the question of who benefits from all Larsson’s posthumous prosperity. Seven years after the author’s death from a heart attack, the argument rages as bitterly as ever between those who have been declared his heirs and the woman who says that position is rightfully hers.
For 32 years – that is from the age of 18 until his death at 50 – Stieg Larsson lived with Eva Gabrielsson. Though they never married it would be hard to deny that she is effectively his widow.
The trouble is that Larsson died intestate and in Swedish law, unmarried couples cannot inherit from each other. Instead it is Larsson’s father Erland, and his younger brother Joakim who have raked in the millions. And they are not sharing anything.
It took three years of legal wrangling before Eva won the right to Stieg’s half-share in the one-bedroom flat they had in Stockholm.
What rankles most is that she is not allowed to look after her late lover’s literary estate. That too is in the hands of his father and brother – people who she claims neither knew nor cared about his work. On the other hand she who shared his love and, she alleges, helped write the books, has been shut out.
According to Eva, Stieg spent the first nine years of his life with his maternal grandparents. His own parents, Erland and Evianne, were only 19 and unmarried when he was born and felt unable to cope. Stieg’s parents reclaimed him after the death of his adored grandfather, by which time they had married and had another son Joakim.
But Stieg never felt he belonged in the family. He left home when he was 17 and the relationship was never mended.
A year later he met Eva at an anti-Vietnam rally in their home town Umea in northern Sweden. Five years later, in 1977, they moved to Stockholm where Stieg found work as a journalist and Eva as an architectural historian. In 1983, Stieg proposed. The couple bought gold wedding rings and engraved them with each other’s name but before they set a date, Stieg became Scandinavian correspondent for the ant-fascist magazine Searchlight.
In Sweden couples intending to marry have to make public their addresses. Stieg’s job made him a target for Right-wing extremists, a threat that increased when he founded the anti-racist magazine Expo in 1995. Instead of combining their lives Eva says they had to appear not to be a couple. They had separate bank accounts and screened phone calls. The door of their flat bore only her name and they never opened it to anyone they were not expecting. “He was worried for my life,” says Eva.
She claims Stieg’s father was never interested in his work. “It was as if Erland was a distant relative rather than his father. Stieg disliked him to the extent that I had no idea even when his brother got married. None of his colleagues at Expo knew of his brother either.”
It was Eva who urged Stieg to begin writing his Millennium Trilogy in 2002, she claims, telling him to expand a short story he had written five years earlier about a man who receives a bunch of flowers from an anonymous source every year on his birthday. In her memoirs, Stieg And Me, she lists the plot and character details she provided. “I wanted to show that my contribution to his writing was quite great. Nobody would have questioned this creative partnership if we had been married. Now I have to prove that I did have a life with him and we did collaborate. It’s like I didn’t exist after the age of 18 when I met Stieg.”
Larsson, a lifelong heavy smoker who never exercised, had his fatal heart attack just after delivering manuscripts for this three novels to his publisher. In her book, Eva says that 10 months later Erland and Joakim had still not enquired where he was buried.
Then The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was published and suddenly, she claims, they saw an opportunity to get rich.
“You see the same thing in wars,” says Eva. “Some people will go into their neighbour’s house and take their paintings and furniture, and some won’t.” Erland and Joakim broke all contact with Eva in June last year but the war rages on via lawyers over the 200 pages of a fourth novel in Stieg’s laptop.
Eva has turned down £1.7million to give it up but legally she cannot finish the novel – or do anything with it – because Stieg’s literary rights are not hers.
Tragically it could all have been avoided if Stieg had carried out his intention to set up a company in both his and Eva’s names to ensure she could share in any benefits from his writing. But he never got round to it.
“My life is practically the fourth novel now,” says Eva. “Perhaps I’ll make it into a crime novel.”
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is on general release from Boxing Day.
Feud of the Dragon Tattoo
Author Stieg Larsson never knew how successful he would be
December 14, 2011