Saturday 11 August 2012

Concerning Hobbits

A few months ago, a small pub in Southampton hit the headlines when it found itself embroiled in a fight with Hollywood. The Hobbit, in Bevois Valley, was ordered to rebrand or face legal action for copyright infringement from the people who own the film and merchandising rights for much of J. R. R. Tolkien's work - and, apparently, the rights to everything inspired by the epic fantasy. Now, the Hobbit pub has been trading under this name for the past twenty years. Leaving aside the question of how a pub can be breaching copyright for a film not yet dreamed of, it's a funny thing that Hollywood chose now - with the forthcoming release of the (first of many) Hobbit movies to start its vendetta against the small businesses.

Needless to say, there has been a public outcry against this madness. The Hobbit is a popular watering hole and music venue, especially among students in Southampton, and notable names such as Neil Gaiman and Hobbit actors Sir Ian McKellan and Stephen Fry have pledged their support for the pub in their legal fight.

After all, The Hobbit was a novel for decades before it was adapted for the film, and the wonderful thing about literature is how it inspires other works of art: paintings, poetry, music... and in some cases pubs. Yes, a pub can be a work of art in itself. The Hobbit is more than just a name - it's the pub's identity, its clientele, its cocktail menu and decor - it is, in fact, the perfect pub for the kinds of people who would appreciate a pub called The Hobbit - arts students, goths, literature nerds, fantasy-lovers, etc. etc. People like me.

But it looks as though the only Tolkien-inspired art Hollywood would like to allow would be the official movie merchandise. I think it's a bit of a shame anyway when a well-loved book gets adapted into a well-loved film. Next year, most people's mental Bilbo Bagginses will have Martin Freeman's face. But if Martin Freeman is to be the only Bilbo Baggins allowed - and only then with permission - the world would be the poorer for it (meaning no disrespect to Mr Freeman!)

There is a hotel in London called the Mad Hatter - but Tim Burton did not insist upon its closure, rebranding or official endorsement with Johnny Depp's face. Imagine if the rights to Oliver Twist were bought up by the makers of Oliver! the musical - would no one else be able to make any art inspired by the Dickens classic? The Hobbit is a novel, first and foremost. The Hobbit film, just like the Hobbit pub, is a piece of art inspired by that novel. And it's sickening that the people who say who can or can't make hobbity art, have that right not through making the original hobbity art, but through money changing hands. And it seems these people have no understanding for the work they own the rights to. This bullying of small, peaceful people who are just minding their own business is not in the spirit of Middle-Earth in the slightest. Or rather, this is exactly what is seen at the end of The Lord of the Rings - it bears an uncanny resemblance to what Saruman and his thugs do in the Shire out of sheer spite.
" 'Yes, this is Mordor,' said Frodo. 'Just one of its works. Saruman was doing its work all the time, even when he thought he was working for himself.' "
It was reported after the initial outcry that the pub would be granted a license for a small fee to allow them to keep trading - however, this was inaccurate, and, though details are kept confidential, the battle continues. The Hobbit held a fundraising event today, and I went along for a few hours to show my support. I hadn't visited the Hobbit for perhaps six or seven years, but when my friend used to live in Southampton, it was her local and I fell absolutely in love with it. So how better to spend a hot, sunny day than mooching in the beer garden with a couple of Bilbos (cocktails) listening to music and knowing it was all for a good cause. Plus, though not present in person, none other than Mr Neil Gaiman did a question-and-answer session via Skype with a few lucky competition winners. (Sadly I was not one of these people.) There were live bands, a Caribbean BBQ, a peculiar superhero-sumo game, and an auction of art and books signed by the Hobbit's famous supporters.

So here's to the little Hobbit prevailing in its epic struggle against the Dark Powers that would crush it. We've read the book, and know how this story has to end. We can only hope that life imitates art in this case.

1 comment:

  1. i really loved reading this

    9sorry, delayed comment, only just now getting around to visiting blogs...)


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