Save the Shire!
“I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama…“
— John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, from a letter written to Milton Waldman, ca. 1951 —
On September 21st, 1937 a book that has become a classic in world literature, and part of the very fabric of our culture, was first published by an Oxford professor by the name of J.R.R. Tolkien. The book, we all know, is ‘The Hobbit’. For nearly 75 years this story has inspired children, and adults reminding us that even the smallest of people, if they remain true will prevail.
Professor Tolkien wrote from his roots and his beliefs about perseverance, courage, and the important things in life, like second breakfasts. He once said, ‘If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.’ Indeed it would.
We praise The Tolkien Estate and the family of the late Professor Tolkien for guarding his legacy, and for the most part in dealing with integrity and understanding regarding his fans. His son Christopher has gone on to publish further works based on his father’s notes, including ‘The Silmarillion’, ‘The Children of Hurin’, and several other volumes, as a labor of love for his father’s genius, and we would dare say a labor of love towards his fans, giving us all a deeper understanding and appreciation for this vast legendarium.
However as of late we have seen another side to this story, more in the vein of Sauron or Mordor than of those, who like us, enjoy food and cheer and song above hoarded gold. I am speaking of Saul Zaentz Company. Fans often confuse the ‘The Tolkien Estate’ owned and managed by the family of Tolkien, and The Saul Zaentz Company who does business as ‘Tolkien Enterprises’, and Middle-earth Enterprises. They are nothing alike, and we personally feel, like many fans, that the Zaentz Company has at times sullied the name of Tolkien.
J.R.R. Tolkien sold the rights to ‘license’ the film and merchandising rights of The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, to United Artists in 1968, for 60,000 British pounds to pay for his grandchildren’s education. 8 years later Saul Zaentz bought these rights from United Artists, and has gone on to make hundreds of millions of dollars based on the media rights to Tolkien’s work.
While we respect the right of Saul Zaentz Company to trademark their investment, and to protect their own interests, it is my opinion that their history of dealing with fans of the late Professors work have been overreaching, intimidating, and in some cases dehumanizing. These are the very things that Professor Tolkien stood against, and wrote against.
The Saul Zaentz Company has shown to us over time, we believe, that they have little respect, other than their ability to buy product, for the fans of Tolkien and their rights. In short they are big business, and they act as most big business does without a vigilant public keeping an eye on their dealings. This is an example of ‘where complacency exists, tyranny can prevail’.
The recent controversy of The Hobbit Pub, in Southhampton, UK has made us aware of the capacity of Saul Zaentz Company to pursue it’s trademark claim against small family businesses and individuals. Their conduct soon ignited a firestorm among fans of Tolkien, causing rebuke from actors Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen who took the courage and initiative to bring this injustice to the public eye. Saul Zaentz Company has seemingly relented to public indignation, offering to resolve the matter amicably.
Unfortunately this is only what we, as the public, are aware of. While acquiescing to public outrage over the Hobbit Pub incident, Saul Zaentz Company continues to privately display it’s corporate strength to other so called offenders. Namely the ‘Hungry Hobbit’ a small café in Moseley, England, which is operated by a mother and daughter team selling sandwiches and beverages in J.R.R. Tolkien’s old stomping grounds. No offer of a similar amicable resolution has been suggested by Zaentz’s company, despite repeated pleas by both the mother and daughter, who own ‘The Hungry Hobbit’.
Last year another casualty in this seeming war on the wee folk was initiated when in September of last year Saul Zaentz Company filed a trademark for Hobbit under the class of ‘non-metal storage sheds’, and then proceeded immediately to send a cease and desist order to a small company making play houses that their customers had lovingly nick named ‘Hobbit Homes’. The company will remain un-named at present (our choice) since they have been allegedly threatened by attorneys representing the Saul Zaentz Company that further action could result if they publicly reveal the details.
In both cases these are quiet, hard working, everyday, ‘hobbit like’ people, not big business entities stealing millions from the Saul Zaentz Company and their already abundant revenue stream. These are people like all of us who are absorbing Tolkien’s creation into their everyday lives. Let’s face it, as a fan we’re not going to buy a board game or an action figure from some cheap knock-off company that is unlicensed, we actually want the official licensed products. But as people, and fans, we enjoy the idea of stopping by a cozy café, or pub and having a pint or a sandwich and enjoying some of the culture that Tolkien’s work has brought to our world. Nor would we mind grabbing a small wooden playhouse that evokes fond memories of Bilbo’s dwelling.
Just 3 months ago Saul Zaentz Company filed a trademark on the term ‘Shire’. We don’t know why. We don’t understand why. But to us it indicates a greed in trying to buy up anything to do with Tolkien’s work, ahead of the fans, and ahead of the Tolkien family.
This is after all not so much a story about Hobbits, but people. So now the story begins.
What can we as people, as fans, do about this?
After long, and soulful, reflection the Founders of Middle-earth Network have decided to take a stand. This is not something we have lightly decided to do because in short, we are afraid. Afraid of the chance that we may become a target, afraid that we too will become a part of what appears to be an onslaught against those who don’t have the millions of dollars to stand up and protect themselves. After personally talking to those who have dealt with the Saul Zaentz Company, we are very concerned about the ramifications. We’re talking about trying to stand up to a company who, after buying
the copyright to his songs, sued John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival for performing songs in the style of John Fogerty. Effectively suing Fogerty for being Fogerty.
Yet, where complacency is present, tyranny can thrive. As mentioned before we have spoken at some length with, Wendy and Rosy, the owners of the ‘Hungry Hobbit’, and with Steve who owns the at present un-named company that makes ‘non-metal storage sheds’ that their customers have nicknamed Hobbit homes. These human stories are heart wrenching. These people are afraid. Very afraid. You would have to be something more like Gollum not to be affected.
As a result we have decided to take a stand on their behalf. Earlier today, with the consent of Wendy, Rosy, and Steve, we have instructed trademark attorney and former lobbyist Aaron Hall to represent Middle-earth Network to intervene on their behalf and to seek an amicable resolution with the Saul Zaentz Company. We have also instructed him to file an opposition to the trademark of the term ‘Shire’. We do this at present with our own personal limited resources. Wendy, Rosy, and Steve will not be charged a cent or pence. We do this seriously and as people who like everyone else, have families, and have visions of a better life with little or no drama or stress. But also as fans who are willing to take a stand and do something more than simply display outrage. We are pledging to see this through to the end, or so much as our own limited finances allow. Our intention is to bring to light the plight of these, and potentially other small business owners, and individuals who have suffered under what we believe are over reaching trademark enforcements, as well as policing what we consider to be frivolous trademark filings.
While we respect the rights of the Saul Zaentz Company to protect, police, and enforce it’s trademark, we want them to do it responsibly. Our part will be to insure that they do.
To the Saul Zaentz Company. This can be a new era of understanding and conciliation with the fans of the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created. We are pleading with you to work with the fans, and not against us. It will be to your benefit as much as ours.
With your offer to resolve things with the Hobbit Pub, we hope, to quote a wise old wizard by the name of Sir Ian McKellen that ‘the battle for Helm’s Deep is over’. However, it’s up to you whether the battle for Middle-earth will now begin.