Mikael and Lisbeth, Baby Boomers and Millennials

The Relationship Between Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander: A Metaphor for the Relationship Between the Boomer Generation in Their 50s and the Millennials in Their 20s

One of the many subjects addressed in The Tattooed Girl is the character development of the middle aged Blomkvist and the young Lisbeth throughout the Trilogy—and especially the interaction of these two characters, each of whom represents facets of Stieg Larsson’s own personality and biography. The relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth also mirrors the one between the western world’s aging Baby Boom generation—which in Sweden, as in America and elsewhere, was the generation that was committed to changing the world in the 1960s and 70s—and the rising younger generation of Boomer offspring, known in the U.S. and elsewhere as the Millennials.

Stieg Larsson was part of the Swedish 1960s generation that assumed that bringing about huge transformations in society was their role in life. By the turn of the millennium, it’s my guess that Larsson looked back with nostalgia on the great political and social upheavals of those days. The ideals, the comradeship, the energizing sense of meaning that the 1960s and 70s had imbued in him, were now memories more than realities. And he also knew that the world is a different place today, and that increasingly, its future depends on the Lisbeths, not the Blomkvists.

Larsson was passionate about his political causes. He had been an activist in the anti-Vietnam war movement, a Maoist, and a Trotskyist, all while still in his teenage years. Even when his classmates went for a ski weekend, he stayed inside with his typewriter to write a commentary on the French student movement of 1968. In the late 1970s he would go to Eritrea; in the early 80s to Grenada. But by the mid-to-late 1980s, the causes of the political left had hit a low tide in terms of popular support, or even interest. The Berlin Wall would fall, and there would be a rush of people all over the world toward Western-style capitalism. Russia, China, and most other socialist countries, whatever different directions they had evolved in during the 20th century, were almost all shifting gears and heading into various forms of capitalism. It was not a great time to be a leftist intellectual.

But then the waves of anti-immigrant violence hit Sweden and the neo-Nazis began their marginal but frightening ascendancy. By the mid-90s, Stieg Larsson was re-energized around the causes of anti-racism and anti-fascism, and hard at work on Expo magazine. While Expo‘s circulation was limited, its finances troubled, and its existence always threatened by right wing attacks, the magazine was still an important, virtuous, and satisfying commitment for Larsson. Eventually, the neo-Nazi movement peaked and quieted down somewhat. Expo, even after finding its voice and institutionalizing itself as the leading authority on the extreme right wing danger, had trouble remaining self-sufficient.

That he was concerned about his approaching fiftieth birthday well before the actual date in 2004 is obvious from many indicators in the Trilogy. He was in his late 40s when he started writing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With Expo facing constant financial problems, with the neo-Nazis not quite as visible as they had been a few years before, and with decades of evidence confirming that no revolution was going to happen in Sweden (and with so many of the revolutions elsewhere that held such promise for a romantic like Larsson, having demonstrably failed), Stieg turned back the clock of his onrushing half century mark by looking back to his younger years. It was then that he had written all manner of stories and sketches, in his childhood notebooks, and in the fanzines he and his friends dreamed up in the 1970s.

Around this time (2001-2), Stieg started sending a few friends short stories, dialogues, humor pieces and a host of other extracts and commentaries, usually without explanation. These were his warm-up exercises for sitting down to write the Millennium Trilogy, which he believed from the moment he started on would be commercially successful and would lead to a “pension” plan for Eva Gabrielsson and himself.

One can imagine this scene: Laptop on the table, cigarettes and coffee at hand, nostalgic pop music (Elvis, jazz, Debbie Harry, David Bowie) playing, Stieg Larsson sat back and reflected on his life experiences, including all he had lived through intellectually and politically in over 32 years of love and intimacy with Eva. He thought about the sordid news events of our world and the strengths and weaknesses of individual moral codes in an era where there often seems to be no properly understood norms of right and wrong, and where the institutions of society have become severely corrupted. He let his storytelling gifts take over. Soon he realized that writing crime novels was one of the most enjoyable experiences he had ever had. He was in the flow and it was coming to him fast and furiously. He brought his incredible characters to life and set them off down their own roads into his plots, allowing him to burrow into the story and create his layers of meaning and political and social substance beneath the surface. He was no doubt particularly excited to work with the Lisbeth character, who represented aspects of the young and rising generation in the new world moral order.

There was no revolution in sight. But Stieg Larsson had the next best thing as he approached his 50th birthday—a three-book publishing contract that was going to allow him to reach more readers with his ideas than he ever could through Expo or any other means. News that his books had sold in the big German market, and that there was interest in a movie deal as well, also meant he could be his own benefactor. He and Eva were going to build a writer’s cottage of their own design and live together and write. He was done with the three books, but he had started on the fourth and fifth, and he had ideas, notes and plots for many more. In November 2004, he was already writing the next book and thinking about setting Blomkvist and Salander in the arctic north of Canada’s Banks Island.  Just before his death at age 50, he had discovered something even more exciting than the revolutionary movements of his younger years: the unfettered power of his own imagination, which would create his ultimate legacy after his death.

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