Sunday, June 20, 2010

Should Someone Finish and Publish Stieg Larsson's Fourth Book?

Millions of people world-wide have now read Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy consisting of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Tragically, of course, Larsson died shortly after delivering the manuscripts of the three books without being able to savor and almost certainly never anticipating the huge success the books would enjoy.

Unhappily Larsson also died without leaving a will, which has generated a nasty dispute pitting Eva Gabrielsson, the woman with whom he lived for over thirty years, against his brother and father. At issue is the division of the royalties from the books and from the recent film based on the books. Gabrielsson's principal bargaining chip in this battle lies in the fact that she is in possession of Larsson's computer, which apparently contains three-quarters of a fourth novel and outlines for several more.

Leaving aside the argument over royalties, the question arises as to whether some other writer should now step in and finish the fourth book and perhaps write others from the outlines that Larsson left behind. Given the potential profits involved, I am not naive enough to think that this might not happen, but I'd really prefer that it didn't.

Like millions of others who have devoured these books, I am hugely disappointed by the fact that Larsson did not live long enough to write others. But I've always felt very uneasy about the idea of one writer appropriating the characters and continuing the series of another who has died, whether prematurely or not. And I'm doubly disturbed when this involves a writer completing and publishing another writer's unfinished work.

For a writer to do so seems astonishingly selfish, arrogant, and inappropriate to me. No matter how detailed an outline the deceased writer might have left behind, there is simply no way of knowing what the original writer might have decided to do with the work.

Perhaps he (or she) would have thought that the work he had done thus far on the book was not remotely ready to be published. Perhaps, in spite of any outline, the writer still might have changed his mind about the shape the book would ultimately take. Perhaps in the end, the writer might have finished the book and then concluded that it wasn't up to his usual standards and that he didn't want it to ever see the light of day. And absent specific instructions about these matters (which would seem to be the case in Larsson's situation), it seems to me that for one writer to appropriate and presume to "finish" the work of another, is an inexcusable violation of the first author's rights and of his memory.

I understand, of course, that all too often in such cases, the heirs are only too anxious to exploit the situation and wring every last dime out of the deceased writer's memory that they possibly can, no matter the effect that this might have on the writer's enduring reputation. And while I wouldn't read the resulting book or books myself, I have no problem with a case in which the deceased writer has left specific instructions authorizing his heirs to loot the remains of his literary estate for whatever they can get. But in a case where the writer has left no instructions at all, I believe that a decent respect to his memory requires that his unfinished works remain unfinished.

As I suggested above, I am under no illusion that this will happen in the case of Stieg Larsson. But as much as I would love to read additional books featuring Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, I won't be doing so, given that Larsson is no longer around to write them himself. I'd be interested to know what you think...


  1. I found "The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo" complicated and a little boring. I could not feel close to any of the characters. I was more interested in "The Girl Who Played With Fire" so on the advice of others I read the first one. I did listen to the audio book and I know that this could account for some of my disinterest.

    Congratulations on your new book!

  2. Thanks Judith. I agree that "Tattoo" got off to a slow start. My own feeling is that each of the books in the series was better than the one before.

  3. Really, the only situation where finishing someone else's book seems OK to me is the Robert Jordan "I'm getting out notes, so if the worst actually happens, someone could finish A Memory of Light and have it end the way I want it to end."

  4. Andy, I'll agree with you on that. If a writer makes specific plans for having someone else finish his book in the event of the writer's death, then I have no problem with it. In that case, it seems to me, the second writer is doing the first a favor as opposed to simply ripping him off.