In what’s shaping up to be the ugliest battle Middle Earth has seen since the fall of Mordor, the heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien are clashing over New Line Cinema‘s upcoming film version of The Lord of the Rings.
According to a report in London’s Independent, one of the late author’s three surviving sons, Christopher Tolkien, has apparently disowned his eldest son, Simon, because the latter supported Peter Jackson’s movie.
“My father has refused to have anything to do with me or my requests to have a meeting,” Simon Tolkien told the Independent. “As long ago as early 1999, it was my view that we should take a much more positive line on the film and that was overruled by my father. Following that, I was excluded from the board of the Tolkien company.”
Christopher Tolkien, 77, is the literary custodian of the Tolkien estate and is known to vehemently protect his father’s legacy. He reportedly rejected producers’ overtures to participate in the project, because he was so dissatisfied with previous attempts to bring his father’s classic saga to the big screen.
But when Simon, a 42-year-old lawyer, opted to help the filmmakers against his dad’s wishes, the elder Tolkien barred him from the family business and has since refused to see or talk to him.
“My father is the one who exercises control over the affairs of the family in relation to my grandfather’s estate,” says Simon. “His only mode of communication with me is by letter. He has written long letters back or instructed his solicitor to write to me, but they are always about business. He has refused repeatedly to see me. He won’t talk to me on the telephone. When I call, he just puts the phone down.”
Dark Lord Sauron would be pleased.
Of course, based on previous efforts to translate the Tolkein epic to the big screen have bombed. Christopher Tolkien–who helped complete his father’s final novel, The Silmarillion, and has been the primary caretaker of the Tolkien legacy–notoriously blasted the 1978 LOTR ‘toon by Ralph Bakshi, and has since swore off other attempts to bring Frodo’s quest to the big screen.
There wasn’t much he could do, however, to stop the filming of the new version, since J.R.R. Tolkien sold the film rights in 1968, apparently to pay an overdue tax bill. Oscar-winning producer Saul Zaentz (The English Patient) picked up the rights and, after a pitstop at Miramax, New Line snapped up the rights and, in an unprecedented deal, signed Jackson to shoot the entire $270 million trilogy concurrently in New Zealand.
Despite the Tolkein family feud, Simon Tolkien appears happy to see his grandfather’s fantasy of hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs and, of course, the one ring that binds them, finally be realized on the silver screen. He’s scheduled to take his wife and 11-year-old son to the world premiere of the first installment, The Fellowship of the Rings, on December 10 in London.
“I am upset that articles are appearing saying the Tolkien family doesn’t approve of the film, because it isn’t true of me. I am looking forward to the premiere,” he tells the Independent. “I love the books. I’ve always enjoyed them, and so has my son. I read them aloud to him.”
The film, which has already garnered rave reviews from exhibitors and critics after some advanced screenings (Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers ranked it his top film of the year and, in a glowing review, Newsweek’s David Ansen writes “it has real passion, real emotion, real terror”), hits theaters in the U.S. on December 19.
We’re guessing Christopher Tolkien, who was unavailable for comment, won’t be waiting in line for tickets.