|Source: Tolkien Library|
My inbox has recently been flooded with the pairing of the name, Tolkien Estate, and the word ‘copyright’. The Texas author, Steve Hillard, has written the self-published book, ‘Mirkwood: A Novel About J. R. R. Tolkien’. In it, Hillard uses Tolkien himself as the main character. Amazon’s product description states, “[Mirkwood] re-invents J.R.R. Tolkien as a man haunted by the very myths he rewove into his famous works. As much literary criticism as boisterous epic, this episodically-driven plot explores the blurred borderlands where ancient tales, lost heroines, and epic journeys are stalked by dim monsters that will not be still.”
The printing of this book, of course, was met with fierce opposition by the Tolkien Estate. According to an article released by The Guardian, The Estate has demanded all copies of Mirkwood be disposed of, and quotes the Estate’s lawyer, Manches stating: “At no time have our clients granted permission to use the name and personality of J.R.R. Tolkien in the novel, nor would they in any foreseeable circumstances.” Manches goes on to say the novel has taken an “unlawful commercial advantage” and “trivialises the name, personality and reputation of the late professor”.
Hillard refutes the Estate’s clams, only admitting to using one quote from a published Tolkien letter, and stands firm that all other material in his novel is fiction and of his own. Further on in the article Hillard goes on to state, “His stories were unearthed from his research… He would be somewhat concerned about attempts to stifle works that borrow from history.”
With tensions high, other stories began popping up on the web, the one to gain the most attention being about a badge with the phrase, “While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion.”. Tempers flared as Tolkien fans learned the Estate demanded Zazzle, the company printing the badge, take it down, insisting the usage of the authors name was infringing copyright law. Scores of articles were posted, accusing the Tolkien Estate of going too far and being “censorious bent”. Questions were raised why other Tolkien-related badges were kept up, while that particular one was taken down.
So who is in the right? It was blog post by Jonathan Crowe, titled “In Defence of the Tolkien Estate” that caught my attention on the matter. In it he writes, “ …I think this is more about publicity rights than trying to trademark Tolkien’s name, or giving the estate a veto over works about Tolkien.” He goes on to explain, “Publicity rights mean the right to control how your name and image are commercialized: it means no one else can make money off your name, your likeness, or your works…” However Tolkien fans have written me with their views, reminding me of all the names and places Tolkien himself used and pulled from to create his own published works- something author Steve Hillard was also quick to point out.
The topic of copyright is a heated debate, and middleEarthnews wants to hear your opinion on the matter. Who do you think is in the right, the Tolkien Estate or the Tolkien enthusiast’s inspired by his works to write their own?
I have written to the Tolkien Estate, regarding the above mentioned issues, and will inform you if they choose to reply.