25

Christopher Tolkien passed away recently. From our in-memoriam meta post:

When [JRR] Tolkien died, he gave Christopher complete control over his unpublished writings, to destroy or publish any of them in whole or part.

Did Christopher have anything similar set up for his own death? Do we yet know who will be given the rights to the Tolkien-verse?


This Q&A has been brought up as a possible duplicate. My question is different from the linked one since it does not want to know how a specific country's copyright law impacts the use of Tolkien's IPs, rather I want to know who is going to be in control of the Tolkien estate as a whole, and if Christopher had any plans for this in the event of his death.

I also don't consider this question to be opinion-based or based-on-future-works as others have claimed. This question can be answered with official documentation from the Tolkien estate, and while we may not have the answer today, the "current events" banner should indicate that we're not waiting for the next movie or book, but possibly the next hour or day to get the answer. If the answer was already available, then there would be no wait at all, which was a part of my original question. The fact that the answer actually isn't readily available shouldn't qualify this particular question being closed.

5
  • 1
    the Estate has the rights, technically speaking, correct?
    – NKCampbell
    Jan 16, 2020 at 19:20
  • @NKCampbell, ibid is the right person to ask because he likes this field of study in his universes of choice but I believe there’s an “heir” to the control.
    – Edlothiad
    Jan 16, 2020 at 19:30
  • The Tolkien Estate
    – Möoz
    Jan 16, 2020 at 21:52
  • Does this answer your question? When will copyright restrictions expire on The Lord of the Rings?
    – Möoz
    Jan 16, 2020 at 21:52
  • 1
    @Möoz No, those don't cover what I'm asking. I want something that says who is now in control of the Tolkien estate/ips, not how each country 's copyright law limits people using it/them. Jan 17, 2020 at 19:55

2 Answers 2

15

The Tolkien Estate still holds the rights to everything aside from the film rights J.R.R. Tolkien sold in the 1969 United Artists deal and the TV rights sold to Amazon in 2017. This is independent of Christopher Tolkien, who actually stepped down as one of its directors in 2017. Among the remaining Directors/Board Members of the Estate are Christopher Tolkien's wife Baillie Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien's daughter Priscilla Tolkien, his grandson Michael George Tolkien, and the Tolkien Estate attorney, Steven Andrew Maier.

In 2014, Peter Jackson said that the Tolkien Estate still retained rights to everything beside the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

But at a press conference Tuesday, the director swiftly put down any hopes that he would be delving further between the lines of J.R.R. Tolkien's works.

"It's a legal thing. The Tolkien estate owns the writings of Professor Tolkien — The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings were sold by Professor Tolkien the late 60s … the film rights," he said.

"But they are the only two works of his that have been sold. So without the cooperation of the Tolkien estate, there can't be more films."
Peter Jackson: Tolkien Estate Rights Prevent More Middle-Earth Films | The Hollywood Reporter

It it unknown who, if anyone, will succeed Christopher Tolkien as Sole Literary Executor, though popular opinion is that Adam Tolkien (Christopher Tolkien's second son) will take over that role.

Given that in the preface of Beren and Luthien Christopher Tolkien suggested it was the last work he would edit (though he did go on to publish The Fall of Gondolin), it is entirely possible that the control of the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien will be assumed by the Tolkien Estate with Christopher Tolkien's passing.

4
  • 2
    it might be worth a note for folks that are unaware - that PJ's comment is now out of date. The Estate did indeed sell / agree to more rights as re: the new show on Amazon coming in 2020+ and that there will be more Tolkien-verse film/tv outside of LotR/Hobbit proper
    – NKCampbell
    Jan 16, 2020 at 19:45
  • True. But as of 2014, that was the state of things, and the amazon deal is the only change since. So it provides a convenient way to communicate the current reality.
    – amflare
    Jan 16, 2020 at 19:46
  • Who runs the estate then? Jan 16, 2020 at 19:52
  • 1
    @DCOPTimDowd - A bunch of the Tolkien family along with a lawyer or two.
    – ibid
    Jan 16, 2020 at 19:55
4

Christopher Tolkien bequeathed the rights to all of his own unpublished writings to his wife Baillie.

In Christopher's will, he gave to his wife

the ownership (tangible and intangible) of all my archives, writings, manuscripts or typed documents, complete and incomplete works of my creation with task of making use of them in a way she judges appropriate in the interests of my work's moral rights,

He also specified that this included the moral rights

  • to take control of my archives (preparatory notes, reading notes, outlines, drawings, plans, drafts, letters or handwritten documents, typescripts, annotated manuscripts, proofs, finalised manuscripts, correspondence, electronic files, on all media ... );
  • to be in charge of managing and controlling everything to do with the authentication, distribution and reproduction of my works;
  • to ensure respect for the integrity of my work and to oppose, as necessary, any modification, deletion or addition which could modify the original work, in both form and substance;
  • to decide on the release and publishing of works which have not been released at the time of my death;
  • to decide on the publication of works existing at the time of my death; to ensure respect for my right to a name and my right to my quality;

This is not necessarily the same as saying that she has the rights towards JRR's writings, but I thought it is still a relevant point to bring up.

3
  • Wow, thanks for this. Where did you find this out? if this would accidentally dox you, I'd be happy with a "can't say". Jun 22, 2021 at 6:06
  • @DavidRoberts - Apparently you can order a copy of anyone's will online for a nominal fee.
    – ibid
    Jun 22, 2021 at 6:12
  • OK, thanks, though presumably this varies country-by-country :-) Glad you thought to check. Jun 22, 2021 at 6:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.