In an interesting legal twist, it seems that the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien is attempting to sue author Steve Hillard for using Tolkien’s name—not for assuming the author’s name as his own, but for using Tolkien as a character. That’s right, Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien, might be pulled from Amazon.com and pulped for portraying the late fantasy fiction king between its pages.
The chances of this case coming to anything are slim indeed. To begin with, Hillard’s book is self-published, having sold only 900 copies so far. He is hardly making a dent in the Tolkien family coffers with numbers like that. In addition, if this case actually came out in favor of Tolkien’s estate, where would it end? Is the Jackson family going to sue Quantum Leap for insinuating that Sam taught little Michael how to moonwalk? How about Chuck Berry? We know that Marty McFly didn’t actually give him the idea for “Johnny B. Goode” or his new rock’n’roll sound, so he’s clearly got a case there.
And we should definitely stop making films and books about the Founding Fathers. I’m guessing the musical 1776 will be the first one on the stands. How dare they confuse people into thinking that the Declaration of Independence was signed after the whole Continental Congress had finished bursting into song!
That said, it’s unlikely that the Tolkien estate has a leg to stand on; this isn’t an obligatory defense of trademark, as Tolkien’s name is not effectively a brand. To my knowledge, the estate only has copyright on his written material, making this whole fight out to be petty and mean-spirited. Let’s hope they back out of this now and save themselves a bit of embarrassment. We can all calm down and go back to our scheduled programming.
Emmet Asher-Perrin writes for a few websites, and tweets and all the rest of it.