Author Stephen Hillard has written a novel entitled “Mirkwood” which appears to be a fantasy epic in which none other than J.R.R. Tolkien appears as a character. The Tolkien estate is not amused and has issued a cease and desist letter.
Hillard has responded by suing the Tolkien estate preemptively.
The novel is described thus at SyFy’s Blastr:
“Enter Mirkwood, the Great Forest of Doubt Bold new author Steve Hillard’s wildly original debut, 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. In 1970, Professor Tolkien makes a little-known visit to America-and sets in motion elvish powers embodied in a cache of archaic documents. Destinies are altered, legends become real, and two heroines must race for their lives in vastly different worlds.”
The Tolkien estate feels that it has exclusive rights to the name and likeness of J.R.R. Tolkien and that the typeface and cover art is similar enough to that of Tolkien’s work to constitute unfair competition. Hillard believes that he is covered by fair use and the First Amendment. As of this writing, both the Kindle and paperback editions of “Mirkwood” are still available for sale on Amazon.
Not being well versed in the matter of law that is being argued, one can only analyze this from a moral and ethical perspective. The idea that the publication of a novel that is apparently an homage to Tolkien and his works has damaged the financial standing of his estate is laughable on its face. With a series of books that have been best sellers for decades and have become iconic pieces of Western literature, not to mention having spawned a series of epic, blockbuster films, the Tolkien estate is plenty rich enough to withstand a minor novel (by comparison at least) that uses Tolkien as a character and plays off of the themes and stories that made him famous the world over.
Indeed, threatening an obscure author who apparently, like most of humanity loves Tolkien and his works, had only made the executors of the Tolkien estate look small and have given Hillard and “Mirkwood” some publicity that will be beneficial to say the least.
The lawyers sending threatening letters should consider ceasing and desisting. Otherwise they will have only achieved a horrible public relations black eye for themselves. One should not appear to be placed in the position of a bully, especially since it is not only Tolkien’s financial legacy, but his personal legacy as well. Some sort of face saving arrangement will likely need to be made, of course. It should be something that keeps “Mirkwood” in publication and allows the Tolkien estate to climb down gracefully.
Sources: Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien, Steve Hillard, Booksurge Publishing, 2011
Tolkien estate tries to kill novel starring fictionalized Tolkien, SyFy Blastr, February 19th, 2011