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Tolkien estate bans reference to 'hobbits'

Date

Alison Flood

An artist's impression of Homo floresiensis, popularly known as hobbits.

An artist's impression of Homo floresiensis, popularly known as hobbits.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that Homo floresiensis, the one-metre-tall species of primitive human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores, would come to be widely known as "hobbits". After all, like JRR Tolkien's creation, they were "a little people, about half our height". But a New Zealand scientist planning an event about the species has been banned from describing the ancient people as "hobbits" by the company which owns the film rights to The Hobbit.

Brent Alloway, associate professor at Victoria University, is planning a free lecture next month at which two of the archaeologists involved in the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, Mike Morwood and Thomas Sutikna, will speak about the species. The talk is planned to coincide with the premiere of The Hobbit film, and Dr Alloway had planned to call the lecture "The Other Hobbit", as Homo floresiensis is commonly known.

But when he approached the Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises, which owns certain rights in The Hobbit, he was told by their lawyer that "it is not possible for our client to allow generic use of the trade mark HOBBIT".

"I am very disappointed that we're forbidden ... to use the word 'Hobbit' in the title of our proposed free public event ... especially since the word 'Hobbit' is apparently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (and hence apparently part of our English-speaking vocabulary), the word 'Hobbit' (in the Tolkien context) is frequently used with apparent impunity in the written press and reference to 'Hobbit' in the fossil context is frequently referred to in the scientific literature (and is even mentioned in Wikipedia on Homo floresiensis). I realise I'm in unfamiliar word proprietry territory (as an earth scientist) . . . so I've gone for the easiest option and simply changed our event title." Dr Alloway said.

The event is now called "A newly discovered species of Little People – unravelling the legend behind Homo floresiensis".

"Certainly, this name change won't diminish the curiosity of the New Zealand public nor our collective enthusiasm for the Hobbit, whichever form you might be interested in knowing more about – the movie/book fantasy version or the fossil version found in Flores," Dr Alloway said.

Guardian News & Media

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to the Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises as "representatives of the Tolkien Estate". In fact, the Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises are not representatives of the Tolkien Estate and the Tolkien Estate was not approached concerning Dr Alloway's lecture.

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