Tolkien estate frowns at Russian “copyright-violating” fan spin-off

A novel by a Russian author, based on the fantasy epic Lord of the Rings, was eyed with disapproval by the famous work’s copyright owner when a translation in English was made available for download for free.

The book, The Last Ring-Bearer, posits that Tolkien’s classic is a polished history written from the point-of-view of the victors, who did not hesitate to paint their defeated enemy, the nation of Mordor, as bloodthirsty spawns of the ultimate Evil, rightfully ridden from the face of Middle-Earth by the forces of Good.

In reality, according to the newer tome, Mordor was an advanced society going through industrialization and facing food shortages due to its growing population and the hostility of its neighbors, feudal kingdoms manipulated by the magic-wielding elf puppeteers.

The novel, written by Russian paleontologist Kirill Eskov in 1999 as a fan tribute to Tolkien’s work, picks up the story where it ends in the original and continues it as a fantasy spy-thriller. In October last year, one grateful reader published an English translation of the spin-off on the web.

While Eskov’s book found new fans in the English-speaking world, apparently it won no good feelings from the copyright owner. Tolkien’s estate commented that no permission for the publication was given and that Russia has been operating outside copyright for years.

“Online there are lots of infringements which it is extremely difficult to do anything about," David Brawn, estates publisher at HarperCollins told the Guardian newspaper. "When you get something as popular as Tolkien, fans want to create new stories. Most are pretty amateurish. Tolkien himself isn't around so it's the estate's view that it's best to say ‘no’ to everything. If you let one in, you'd open the floodgates."

The British newspaper added that the publication violates copyright even though it is free, citing Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors.

Eskov, who says downloads of the translation have surged since the Guardian article, joked in his blog: “I’m thinking about going to England and turning myself over to the British justice to get in a comfortable jail for a year or two. Then I’ll be able to finish my new book undisturbed and knock through the wall with the WikiLeaks guy. Do you think Tolkien’s estate would meet my plan halfway?”