Does Re-Imagining Lord Of The Rings From The Perspective Of Mordor Violate Tolkien's Copyrights?

from the will-we-find-out? dept

Slashdot recently pointed us to a Salon book review of a re-imagining of Lord of the Rings from the perspective of the "losers" in Mordor. The book, entitled The Last Ring-bearer was written by a Russian paleontologist, who has offered up a free download of the English translation.
In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!" He's in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become "masters of the world," and turn Middle-earth into a "bad copy" of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron's citadel, is, by contrast, described as "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic."
Sounds fascinating.

Of course, it also raises some copyright questions. The Tolkien estate is notoriously over-protective of Tolkien's copyrights, and while the Salon review brushes over the copyright issues, it appears that there's some stirring among Tolkien rightsholders to potentially go after this book. If they do so, they may run into trouble. The scenario seems remarkably similar to the case of The Wind Done Gone, a retelling of Gone With The Wind from the perspective of a slave in the original work. That book went through a big legal dispute and was eventually seen as legal, though the case was settled, rather than leading all the way to a full ruling on the topic.

In an era of growing "fan fiction," which can often go quite beyond the bounds of the stereotypical "fan fiction," this issue is going to become more and more important, and it's about time that the courts made it clear that such rewrites are perfectly legal reimaginings that do not violate anyone's copyright.

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  1. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 22 Feb 2011 @ 9:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Put another simple way, the resulting book would not exist and story would not exist without the original book, the original's character, and the original's story line. It's not a very hard thing to figure out."

    Meaningless, in this case. The work is clearly intended as commentary on the original with regard to presumptions of good vs. evil and how point of view determines those views. That's the whole point of the book, to take one of the classic literary examples of pure good vs. pure evil and turn it on its head.

    Parody, for copyright concerns, does not appear to require humor as does the classic definition. Rather, the key element is that the derivative work must make an attempt at commentary upon the original's themes, happenings, setting, etc. That's what the Suntrust case was all about....

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