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There And Back Again

The Tolkien Family Refuses to Let An Unauthorized Biography Pass


Guys, it’s been at least a few weeks since the Tolkien estate got into a copyright dispute with someone. The lucky person this time around is Daniel Grotta, author of J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle-earth, the very first biography of the legendary author.

The book was first published in 1976, and now Grotta wants to release an updated e-book edition (for free). But he can’t. Because the Tolkien estate’s lawyers are standing in the wings, slapping rolled-up lawsuits against their palms while backup dancers finger-snap menacingly behind them.

The story behind how the book first came to be published is pretty interesting. Tolkien’s family didn’t want Grotta to write it because J.R.R.’s son Christopher Tolkien had already hired another author for an official biography. So, like some sort of fantasy-leaning mob organization, the Tolkiens shut down all avenues of research to Grotto:

[Christopher] responded to my first request with a curt, nasty letter suggesting that I abandon the project. A follow-up letter that I sent elicited an even nastier, threatening letter that informed me that I would have no success in my research, and I could expect no cooperation from the family. What’s more, he informed me that none of Tolkien’s personal and academic associates would give me even the time of day. Indeed, as I later discovered while in Oxford, most of Tolkien’s close associates had been specifically asked by Christopher Tolkien not to talk to me. Fortunately, enough of his old friends thought that was contrary to their sense of academic freedom and openness, and agreed to be interviewed at length.”

Grotto did a little bit more wriggling and found an American edition of The Lord of the Rings—one that had fallen out of copyright into the public domain—that he could legally quote from. After Grotta’s book was published the Tolkien family threatened legal action, but they couldn’t do anything… until now. 36 years later, Architect of Middle-earth has gone out of print and the copyright has reverted to Grotta, which means he would be able to publish a new version like if wants if that American edition of The Lord of the Rings he used for quotes hadn’t been copyrighted by a retroactive law. The Tolkien estate has The Lord of the Rings on lockdown, basically, and the only way he can republish with the quotes still in is if he gets permission first.

I’m not sure whether he’s asked for that permission, but given the history there I’m assuming they’d refuse.

Says Grotta:

“We simply don’t have the resources that the Tolkien family and their publishers have. Responding to any suit from them, whether sound or not, would involve hiring a lawyer and appearing in whatever court has jurisdiction… Even if we won, the costs could bankrupt us.”

I get that there are a lot of people who want to make a lot of money off of The Lord of the Rings and that the Tolkien estate is justifiably freaked out at the possible impact of that on Tolkien’s legacy. But this might be taking things a bit far, Tolkiens. I think you should do the exact same thing Frodo should’ve done and let it go.

(via: blastr)

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  • Anonymous

    Since the intent is to release the ebook for free he could scrub it of copyrighted quotes and instead make up some sarcastic nonsense in its place with the idea whomever has the ebook will also likely be familiar with the “other” book. I wonder if he could get away with replacing all of the offending quotes with “Christopher is an asshole” or “He who would be nothing if not for his last name”…

  • Anonymous

    Maybe the author could paste links to the quotes in question since it is intended to be an ebook, linking to some free online repository. Or perhaps for people who are reading on wifi only devices or outside of their service area simply put the page number, line number, and sentence number of a specific edition.

  • NarcoSleepy

    Christopher Tolkien is a talentless douchebag. That was redundant.

  • Anonymous

    Before we get floods of “Christopher Tolkien was untalented/wouldn’t be anything without his father/should just let it go,” let’s just remember that CT was the REASON WE EVEN HAVE The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, not to mention why we have his father’s notes and fragments published as-is instead of forming the basis for a swathe of posthumous collaborations like with Brian Herbert. But then, I’m sure there are some fans who would actually want the Middle-earth equivalent of The Butlerian Jihad.

    JRRT hand-picked CT to handle everything related to Middle-earth, to be his successor, because he knew CT had his best interests at heart. And guess what? Despite CT’s apparent stranglehold over Middle-earth, The Lord of the Rings is the bestselling book of the 20th Century, and second-bestselling book IN HISTORY – and that’s before the films came out. You can disagree with CT’s actions and business practises – I certainly disagree in this case, even though Grotta’s dealings are far from innocent – but to downplay or even dismiss his contributions to his father’s continued legacy is to disrespect JRRT himself.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t quoting a novel as part of a biography of the author pretty clearly fair use?

  • Sally Wiener Grotta

    I am saddened that Daniel’s Tolkien biography will never again be published. Not just because it is my husband’s book, but because I believe it has become part of Professor Tolkien’s legacy. The story of his life from a literary point of view, respectful, yet honest, putting his great works within context of his life. But the used copies are still out there, and I’m proud to say, still being gobbled up and appreciated

  • Sally Wiener Grotta

    I am saddened that Daniel’s Tolkien biography will never again be published. Not just because it is my husband’s book, but because I believe it has become part of Professor Tolkien’s legacy. The story of his life from a literary point of view, respectful, yet honest, putting his great works within context of his life. But the used copies are still out there, and I’m proud to say, still being gobbled up and appreciated.

  • Sally Wiener Grotta

    By the way, if you want to read more about Daniel Grotta’s 3 decade-long adventure with his Tolkien biography (which was the first published about J.R.R. Tolkien), please go to http://www.grotta.net/blog.htm?post=899042

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.rooney136 Christopher Carrie

    He (Christopher Tolkien) through lawyers Manches Llp has created a blanket lock down on any publication of opinion regarding his miscreant family. The balloon went up when I through my book Klone’it exposed Tolkien’s eldest son Fr John Francis Reuel Tolkien as a paedophile. I personally have issued four High Court writs against members of the Tolkien family and their lawyers. I have had three of those writs settled in my favour and the fourth go against me due to my own lawyer’s shafting me. If Mr Daniel Grotta or anyone else wishes to
    contact me or just know more about me visit my web site jtolkien.com For the purpose of assessing my credibility ask yourself this question: Why have
    these dreadful Tolkien’s, Christopher included never issued more than a limp
    wristed threat against me.
    Christopher Carrie author of the book Tolkien is Klone’it

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.rooney136 Christopher Carrie

    Tolkien’s have too many skeletons in the cupboard (paedophilia) to let anything out of their control be published. I beat them with my book Klone’it by publishing it on my
    web site http://www.jtolkien.com – Through a court agreement they were forced to
    accept the voracity of my story. Klone’it originally comprised of eleven
    chapters, but I carried on investigating this loathsome family. I discovered
    JRR had indulged himself in the family tradition of molesting young boys.
    Further investigation inspired by a waif and stray adopted by Michael Tolkien
    revealed two more of the clan with predilections for sex with boys. Is it any
    wonder they use their bottomless pockets to supress so called unauthorised
    publications.

    Christopher Carrie

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.rooney136 Christopher Carrie

    Well said ChuckSacramento: When it comes to being nothing without the last name likewise a whole motley bunch of the scumbag members of the Tolkien clan. One calls himself an actor after being exploited by Peter Jackson. A couple call themselves authors after producing drivel. The only honest one is the master cannabis grower. All in al their entire collective speciality is paedophilia see http://www.jtolkien.com which they continue to get away with primarily for the same reasons Jimmy Savile escaped detection for so long.

  • Sararh Beach

    I’m sorry, but the Grotta biography has never had a very good or strong reputation in scholarship circles. No one faulted the enthusiasm of the author but the fact remains that there are better biographies available.

    As fot CT’s talents and abilities, before his father’s death when he became the Executor of the Estate (with the task of protecting the materials), he was an excellent and established scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature in his own right. Indeed, his father had praised him as such after reading one of CT’s academic papers. Hardly “talentless.”

  • jim

    I bought Christopher Carrie’s book and cd from ebay . It was a riveting read and it’s well worth buying to get an insight into this evil, evil family. I cant understand how they are getting away with it and its a travesty why they havent all been arrested and imprisoned or maybe they have but its not been in the press. Its high time they all appeared in the news along with saville and other establishments nonces.

  • jim
  • ViperX83

    It’s a sad commentary on our society that, having been dead for 40 years now, Tolkien’s masterwork is still subject to the whims of his descendants instead of available for all in the public domain.