Stieg Larsson and other immortal authors who publish beyond the grave

Some fans of the late Stieg Larsson may not be happy that another writer has been hired to write a fourth book in the popular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. But continuing an author’s work after their death has a long history in the literary world.

Continuing the work of deceased authors has a long history in the literary world

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo author Stieg Larsson died in 2004, but his father and brother have commissioned a new book in his Millennium series. (Jan Collsioo/Scanpix Sweden/Associated Press)

News that the fourth novel in Stieg Larsson's Millennium series will be called The Girl in the Spider's Web has given fans of the series another welcome morsel to ponder before the novel's August publishing date.

But along with that enthusiasm are some musings about whether the new work will be of the same quality as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the two other works in the series.

After all, Larsson died more than 10 years ago. This new work will be the writing of David Lagercrantz, who has been commissioned by Larsson's father and brother. The names of Larsson and Lagercrantz will both appear on the cover. 

According to a statement on the site of the U.K. publisher, MacLehose Press, the two Larsson relatives wanted "to keep alive the characters and the world that Stieg Larsson created."

Whether that's a good idea or not — and Larsson's partner of 32 years doesn't think it is — the idea of continuing an author's work after his or her death has a long history in the literary world.

Immortal characters

Ian Fleming, for example, died in 1964, but more than 40 James Bond books have been published in the years after Fleming's death, penned by a variety of writers. At least it's clear that most of these posthumous Bond books are not the work of Fleming, as writers such as William Boyd, John Gardner and Raymond Benson are credited on the front covers as the writers behind Mr. Bond's latest capers.
V.C. Andrews may have died in 1986, but new books bearing her name continue to appear. (Amazon)

The same can't be said for V.C. Andrews, who appears to have kept on writing after her death in 1986. Dozens of her trademark gothic horror novels have appeared under her name in the three decades since her death, thanks to uncredited ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman. Some of Andrews's newest fans appear to have no idea that their favourite author wasn't the actual writer responsible for the book they've just read.

Some authors leave behind unfinished works or plot outlines that get turned into published works after their deaths.  Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had several books appear after his death in 1991 that were based on works in progress.

The American fantasy author Robert Jordan managed to finish 11 books of his Wheel of Time series before his death in 2007. Brandon Sanderson was hired to finish the series, based on Jordan's outlines and notes, and produced three new volumes to complete the series. Jordan and Sanderson are credited as co-authors.

And then there's the case of thriller writer Robert Ludlum. The author of the wildly successful first three Jason Bourne adventure novels passed away in 2001. Many more Jason Bourne books have been published since, written by Eric Van Lustbader.  A few posthumous Ludlum books came from unfinished manuscripts, like The Bancroft Strategy.  

Keeping the brand alive

But other works, like those in the Covert-One series of military thrillers, didn't have a single word in them that was written by Ludlum. It turns out that even before Ludlum's death, the author had arranged to keep his name alive with the help of other writers. 

Ludlum had created the main character and the thematic scenario in which he would operate. But Ludlum's intention all along was to farm out the actual writing to others — something his estate continued to do after his death.  

The Covert-One paperbacks still feature Ludlum's name in the title — such as Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option: a Covert-One Novel — and in a font that is triple the size of the actual writers, whose name (or names) are huddling at the bottom.

"People expect something from a Robert Ludlum book, and if we can publish Ludlum books for the next 50 years and satisfy readers, we will," Ludlum executor Jeffrey Weiner told the New York Times in 2007.   

And then there are the writers who never seem to die at all. Franklin W. Dixon appears to have turned out Hardy Boys adventure books for the better part of 90 years. It turns out he has been helped immeasurably in this seemingly immortal task by never having existed in the first place.

Franklin W. Dixon is a pseudonym invented in the 1920s by a publisher of children's books. The formulaic plot outlines were handed to a series of anonymous ghostwriters, beginning with Canadian Leslie McFarlane, who wrote more than 20 of the books.  

Carolyn Keene, the person credited with writing the Nancy Drew series for girls, was also a pseudonym — a condition that allowed her to continue penning books about her young heroine into the 21st century.   


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