Former Swedish minister speaks on Stieg Larsson phenomenon

Last Thursday, Thomas Bodström, Sweden’s former minister of justice, presented a lecture about world-renowned author Stieg Larsson to a room packed full of people. Although a good number of students were in attendance, many in the audience were curious community members. The audience got what they came for and more, as Bodström’s speech spilled over into questions that ranged far beyond the initial topic.
Magnus Bernhardsson, associate professor of history, introduced Bodström and explained his long connection to Williamstown. In the ’80s, Bodström served as assistant coach to the men’s soccer team at age 22. Since then, he has returned to Sweden and started a prestigious law firm – incidentally, the firm that is representing WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange against rape accusations – and has written numerous books, both non-fiction and fiction.
When it was Bodström’s turn to speak, he began with a brief biography of Larsson’s life, focusing on the extraordinary success Larsson achieved with his books around the world; sadly, however, the author’s success was all posthumous. Nevertheless, Bodström credits Larsson with opening the way for other Swedish writers, as after his success more publishers became willing to take risks on unknown writers. “I heard the king say that these books are not good for Sweden,” since they depict Swedish society as simmering with violence, Bodström said, but he felt on the contrary that the Millennium series has increased interest around the world for the small Scandinavian nation.
Focusing on the story itself, Bodström mentioned the oft-discussed theory that the main character, Mikael Blomkvist, was a stand-in for Larsson himself. “The other hero is Lisbeth Salander,” Bodström said. “She’s the reason for the [the series’] success.” He argued that in contrast to most thrillers, where strong female characters are often sexualized, Salander was portrayed as boyish, almost like a “grown-up Pippi [Longstocking],” the strong-willed female protagonist of Astrid Lindgren’s stories.
As a lawyer, Bodström also had plenty to say about the way both law enforcement and legal proceedings were portrayed in the novels, correcting numerous mistakes Larsson’s books had conveyed. Ultimately, he was quite forgiving about these oversights. “No books get [police and lawyers’ work] correct, not even mine,” he admitted. “The reason is that it’s so boring.”
In particular, Bodström focused on the trial of Lisbeth Salander in the third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Attempting to make sense of Larsson’s puzzling choice to claim that Salander was let off because she was not mentally ill (when, according to Bodström, proving sanity should in reality have made the case against her tougher), Bodström interpreted it as a masterful stroke in the context of the book. Larsson made this unconventional factual decision in order to take the chance to naturally flesh out Salander as a character and show her inner workings.
Towards the end of his speech, Bodström discussed the scandal surrounding the feud between Larsson’s girlfriend at the time of his death, Eva Gabrielsson, and Larsson’s father and brother, who are legally the inheritors of the rights to the Millennium books and their proceeds. He clarified that there is no legal wiggle room for Gabrielsson, contrary to some popular opinion, as she and Larsson were not married.
Following his speech, Bodström took questions. Notably, few of them directly concerned Larsson or his books. The questions ranged from the history of the Swedish police to Sweden’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan to Bodström’s opinion about defending Assange to the use of DNA databases in his country. The audience, though clearly interested in his perspective on Stieg Larsson’s books, also seemed more generally curious to learn about Sweden from its previous minister of justice.

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