Thursday, March 15, 2012

McKellen Comments on Hobbit Pub Controversary

Tuesday news broke that Hollywood based Saul Zaentz Company has decided to exercise some of its movie rights on The Lord of the Rings in other places around the world by siccing lawyers on any place that makes use of the term "Hobbit" or anything related to Middle-Earth. The company tells the BCC it is exercising its "exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, stage and other rights in certain literary works of JRR Tolkien including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit."

One of its victims is a Southampton, UK pub called "The Hobbit" that has been around for more than 20 years, pre-dating the movies. The letter is demanding that the pub remove all references to Tolkien’s work, effectively shutting down the pub as they can't afford the costly rebranding costs. As Stephen Fry comments, "Honestly, sometimes I'm ashamed of the business I'm in. What pointless, self-defeating bullying." Sadly the pub is just one of many places worldwide receiving these notices. Today, Sir Ian McKellen offered his own perspective on the controversy in his blog. It turns out "Gandalf" also sides with the pub.
Gandalf's portrait hangs outside The Hobbit pub in Portswood, Southampton UK and has done for the last 20 years and more. I haven't been there but it's clearly not a place to ill-treat hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, in any way. So what's the problem? There hasn't been one until recently. Nor at Gandalf's Night Club in District Six CapeTown. Nor at The Hungry Hobbit, "a sandwich bar based near the author's childhood home," according to The Guardian.

In the past the Tolkien estate has forbidden any commercialisation of the works. So no Tolkien museums. No Tolkien rides at Universal. No theme park. That doesn't worry New Zealand overmuch. The country itself has become the Middle-earth ride.

But it worries Middle-earth Enterprises of Los Angeles. With no apparent explanation they are insisting that The Hobbit pub stop trading under that name. As if it were possible to control the way Tolkien and his characters have entered the culture. Did anyone try to ban "Gandalf for President" buttons? I wear mine with pride.

I am a part-landlord of a pub called The Grapes. So far no vintners' group has objected. That would be silly of course. As is this unnecessary pettiness. More Alice's Wonderland than Tolkien's Middle-earth. Harrumph.

I haven't yet talked to Stephen Fry about his disapproval of this Hollywood bullying but I'm with him all the way. All the way to The Hobbit pub once filming is over in July.

— Ian McKellen, Wellington NZ, 14 March 2012
There is really very little stopping the Saul Zaentz Company from working out a license arrangement with these various small business that is no different then what they already do with mega corporations for the movies, clothing, toys and more. Of course, chances are they would ask for an arm and a leg for the privilege. Hopefully the bad PR from instances like this might let them recognize that anything, say a pub, that helps cultivate love for the Tolkien's books will benefit them in the end through the movies and related sells from their success. Picking fights for no meaningful reason just hurts that goal.


  1. If anyone had bothered to contact an uninvolved lawyer with experience in the relevant area of intellectual property law to offer commentary (instead of a couple of celebs and a student pub regular), we might have a more balanced picture of this situation.

    But that would be too much like common sense, wouldn't it? And an informed opinion would only get in the way of all this impotent huffing and puffing ...

    1. So stop complaining and contact an uninvolved lawyer.