9 Mar 2011

American novelist's use of J.R.R. Tolkien's name ends up in court

To those that think that the Tolkien Estate has no rights in contesting the unfair and unauthorised use of J.R.R. Tolkien's name and trying to protect the integrity on his literary work, just stop and think for a moment. The Tolkien Estate is currently involved in a bitter legal dispute with an American novel which sees Professor J.R.R.Tolkien as the main character.The Estate is requesting the destruction of all copies of Steve Hillard's Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien. The 450-page work recounts a young woman's quest to find her grandfather after discovering documents given to him by Tolkien. The estate is demanding an immediate halt to further sales, and threatens legal action to obtain damages. At no point the Tolkien Estate was asked for permission to use the name and personality of JRR Tolkien in the novel....maybe because the person that wrote this book knew he was most unlikely to get such permission? Before belonging to the history of literature and fantasy, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and his work belongs to his family, and their feelings should be respected. The Tolkien Estate's argument is that this fictional novel about the Professor is taking "unlawful commercial advantage" and that it "trivialises the name, personality and reputation of the late professor".

Hillard admits to using a quote from a published Tolkien letter, but says that he has produced a respectful portrait. He also claims that Tolkien, who died in 1973, would have been on his side in the argument....a claim I personally strongly disagree with. The case will be heard in a Texan Court , Hillard's argument is that his book is on of "innumerous fictional works that contain fictional accounts involving real people", and that he has not violated any rights of the estate under UK or American law. The book cover's design is also "strikingly similar" to Professor Tolkien's publications. The novel's title "Mirkwood" is the name of a fictional place within Middle-earth and potential buyers and readers might think the book is actually set there. There is nothing wrong with wanting to use a famous person in a novel, but when at all possible ( and it was possible in this case) , the author of such novel should seek official permission from the person in question, or the family and heirs. What I personally find distasteful is trying to make money out of someone's name or work by claiming they are "celebrities" and somehow belongs to all of us. Professor Tolkien was never a 'celebrity', his wonderful work made him famous, a status he always struggled a bit to come to terms with. I shall be following this case with great interest.