Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Battle for Middle Earth

I am filled with annoyance.

It has recently come to my attention that the SZC (the Saul Zaentz Company, who made the animated Lord of the Rings movies back in the 70s) is attempting to trademark the word 'Shire' and press legal charges against companies which employ the use of the name 'hobbit' in their company titles.


Wait wait wait. No, you can't be serious. A company that owns nothing about the original world of Tolkien and merely made movies based off of the books is trying to do what now?

First objection: the word 'shire' is alive and well in the English language today. You know what it means? It actually has nothing to do with hobbits or Middle Earth at all. A shire, my dear friends, is defined thusly:

  1. A county, esp. in England.
  2. Used in reference to parts of England regarded as strongholds of traditional rural culture, esp. the rural Midlands.

county - earldom - province

Tolkien was integrating the world he lived in and the countryside he envisioned for the hobbit-kind by naming their home THE Shire. It made the land green and lush and homey, everything that people from England would understand and be able to relate to the little plump peoples (which, if you think about it, several connections can be drawn between the English and hobbits). So how in the world can the SZC trademark a word that has been around for decades, probably even centuries?

How about I try and trademark the word 'potato'. You can't use that word unless I say you can. Stop it. My potato.

Boil 'em. Mash 'em. Stick 'em in a stew. Still mine.

Second objection: SZC didn't write The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit or anything else to do with Middle Earth. They do not own the copyright to any of that. They have nothing to do on a primary level with the Tolkien estate. They are a secondary interpretation, and as much as we love Peter Jackson (for example), so are his films (though arguably way better than the 70s cartoons). Neither of them have any claim to the original copyright of Tolkien's works or world.

So how in the world is the SZC pressing charges on companies for using the word 'hobbit' in their name? Did the SZC invent the word hobbit? No, I'm pretty sure Tolkien did when he described In the hole there lived a hobbit. And I ate at a great restaurant in Bruges called "The Hobbit Hole" when I was over there years ago, and I'm pretty sure the SZC has nothing to do with them either. In fact I'm pretty dang sure none of these restaurants or companies are sucking millions of dollars from their revenue fund every year. Huh. And yet,
"The Hungry Hobbit sandwich bar in Birmingham, based alongside historic sites associated with Tolkien, has been targeted by Saul Zaentz Company for using the word 'hobbit' in their name. Despite being established over 6 years, Saul Zaentz Company only wrote to owners Wendy and Rosy a few months ago, demanding she change the name of the business she bought..."

The same website of the above quote (Save the Shire) also posted a protest against this form of literary greed, describing it as:
"trying to buy up anything to do with Tolkien’s work, ahead of the fans, and ahead of the Tolkien family . . . In both cases these are quiet, hard working, everyday, ‘hobbit like’ people, not big business entities stealing millions from the Saul Zaentz Company and their already abundant revenue stream. These are people like all of us who are absorbing Tolkien’s creation into their everyday lives."
Yeah, that sounds pretty accurate to me. So unless the SZC company somehow wants to claim being related to J.R.R. Tolkien and status as members of the Tolkien estate-- those who actually are credited with protecting the Middle Earth realm and all of Tolkien's work-- I think they need to take a massive chill pill. Maybe also a reality check.

Maybe watch out for Midsummer's Eve, because if the fans get annoyed enough, I'm sure some Nazgul will be crossing the river Isen in the form of protest letters.

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