Wednesday, January 09, 2013

JRR Tolkien's Son Interview on Exploitation of Father's Work

If a long time reader, you have probably picked up on the occasional comments about how the Tolkien Estate pretty much loathes Peter Jackson's take on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This idea was not made up as an interview with Christopher Tolkien illustrates. The 87 year-old-son of J.R.R. Tolkien broke a 40 year silence last year to speak about his life long role of compiling his father's work and his take on how his father work has been exploited. His efforts over the years includes publishing The Silmarillion and the 12 volume The History of Middle-Earth. Below are a few highlights but its worth reading the entire English translation on World Crunch or the original French version at Le Monde.
In 1969, the writer sold the movie rights, along with the rights for derived products, for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to United Artists for £100,000 sterling, a considerable sum at the time, but paltry when the current value is considered. This amount was meant to allow the writer's children to pay their future inheritance taxes.

Christopher Tolkien's oldest memories were attached to the story of the beginnings, which his father would share with the children. "As strange as it may seem, I grew up in the world he created," he explains. "For me, the cities of The Silmarillion are more real than Babylon."

"In three years, from 2001 to 2003, 25 million copies of Lord of the Rings were sold -- 15 million in English and 10 million in other languages. In the United Kingdom, sales went up by 1000% after the release of the first movie in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring," says David Brawn, Tolkien's publisher at HarperCollins, which retains the English-speaking rights, except for the United States.

... the Tolkien Estate cannot do anything about the way New Line adapts the books. In the new Hobbit movie, for example, the audience will discover characters Tolkien never put in, especially women. The same is true for the merchandise, which ranges from tea towels to boxes of nuggets, with an infinite variety of toys, stationery, t-shirts, games, etc. Not only the titles of the books themselves, but also the names of their characters have been copyrighted.

"I could write a book on the idiotic requests I have received," sighs Christopher Tolkien. He is trying to protect the literary work from the three-ring circus that has developed around it. In general, the Tolkien Estate refuses almost all requests. "Normally, the executors of the estate want to promote a work as much as they can," notes Adam Tolkien, the son of Christopher and Baillie. "But we are just the opposite. We want to put the spotlight on that which is not Lord of the Rings."

Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? "They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25," Christopher says regretfully. "And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film."

"Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time," Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. "The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away."
While I understand why Tolkien is upset over how his father's work is exploited in ways unexpected and in some cases bizarre, I also think his belief that the movie somehow sullies the books creating this "monster" is incorrect. Now I admit I am biased as I love Peter Jackson's movies and found the books to be a difficult read to slog through at best (imaginative but disorganized with lots of stray thoughts and ideas that dragged on with no purpose). I had to force myself to finish The Lord of the Rings books just to be able to say I had actually read them even if the pleasure of the journey had long since faded.

I just simply don't believe all the money in the world or the power of Hollywood can ever take away from the original book and its potential to create love of Midde-Earth in existing and future generations of readers. To suggest otherwise is almost an insult to their intelligence. Believe it or not, but people can hold two (or more) versions of the same story in their head. In this case there can be the Jackson movie version and the version people create in their head while reading JJR Tolkien's books. Great works get exploited, its a simple fact of humanity. The works also survive the exploitation because they are great.

JJR Tolkien is that rare author whose work will survive the test of time and be loved by future generations, without or without the movie trilogies. His legacy is assured. Christopher Tolkien played a huge part in that and maybe he needs to have a Bilbo moment where he steps back and looks back on his own great adventure and appreciates what he has achieved on behalf of his father and his family.


  1. please. spell check your entry before posting it, you made this hard to read. i have read the books (all of them, including Christopher's') at least 50-75 times since i was a child. i found the books to be a great escape and took me to a place that still today i feel middle-earth exists. its just now in new zealand. i am surprised that he is so frustrated at the exploitation, but you are right, great works are exploited. my guess in a hundred years no one will remember any of the other franchises like potter, twilight, etc...but will remember tolkien. it grabs you and takes you into another world and doesn't let you go, not now, not ever. i never get bored of reading the books and the only other author i read is terry brooks. 28 books and counting. tolkien will always be talked about and i feel that jackson did give it his best and the movies are wonderful. seeing the stories i grew up with come to life has been the best gift of all....if it weren't for tolkien, i wouldn't have read anything, but because of him i love to read books in this thanks to Christopher for awesome books explaining his fathers massive world that he created. remember he invented a complete world including language, terrain, back story and if you close your eyes after reading a chapter you are transferred to his world...enough said. thanks.

  2. Definitely need to proof read better as there was a host of grammar and spelling errors. Made the corrections to clarify things. Thanks for reading.