Is 'Dragon Tattoo' Really About the Wagner Clan?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 - 12:00 AM

An old, musty family business, deep sibling rivalries, Germanic names: Is the Vanger family in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” based on the family of Richard Wagner and his descendents? An article in the Los Angeles Times details the uncanny similarities between classical music’s most notorious dynasty and that of the movie based on the bestseller by Stieg Larsson.

The Times writer, David Ng, is careful to point out that, because Larsson died in 2004, it’s difficult to know whether the parallels were deliberate but “the similarities are rather too abundant to be pegged to chance alone.”

The Vangers were a high profile European family defined primarily by infighting and estrangement. “Bad blood runs ice cold; siblings and cousins are no longer on speaking terms. To complicate matters, Nazi sympathies run deep in this family, like a defective gene inherited by successive generations.”

“The real-life Wagners,” Ng continues, “are no strangers to internal strife, or to Nazi sympathies for that matter.” Richard Wagner’s daughter-in-law, Winifred Wagner, was a close friend of Adolf Hitler welcomed the dictator to the Bayreuth Festival, which she eventually directed. Yet in both families, there is at least one upstanding member who represents moral rectitude, notably Henrik Vanger (played by Christopher Plummer) and Gottfried Wagner, the composer's great-grandson.

There are even similar names: Gottfried, Richard and Fredrik/Friedrich can be found in both dynasties.

As Olivia Giovetti discussed recently on Operavore, Wagner turns up in two other films this season: David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" and Lars von Trier's "Melancholia,” informing both the characters and adding a musical subtext.

What do you think? Does Ng’s theory hold up?


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Comments [2]

Andrew Brandt from New Jersey

I read the book recently and never even considered the possibility of the Vanger/Wagner connection. Although there are similarities in the dysfunctional family, the Vangers are portrayed as industrialists averse to publicity, not artists who seek it. The sex crimes/murders of certain members of the Vanger family don't seem to have any parallel in the Wagner family that I know of. (I don't want to give away the plot, here, either.)

If Larsson did indeed plan to tweak the nose of the Wagner family, it's superficial and not in any form that gives any insight into the plot.

With his writing talents, Larsson could have done a much better job of portraying a Wagner connection if he had wanted to.

Hitler had millions of followers in Europe in the 1930s. I think you need to make a stronger case than switching a couple of letters to show a relationship between the two dysfunctional families, especially in fiction.

Jan. 04 2012 11:58 PM
Victoria List from New Jersey

I never thought about it, but "Vanger" is "Wagner" with the n and g transposed (and, of course, the German pronounciation). So David Ng (without the N and g transposed...) definitely has something there!

Jan. 04 2012 10:27 AM

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