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Fanfiction (abbreviated fanfic) is a term describing pieces of writing that use characters and settings from the original work of another author, created by fans of that work. Tolkien's legendarium is one of the more popular bases for fanfiction,[1] which is usually published on the internet.

According to Sumner Gary Hunnewell, the oldest published fanfiction was the poem "The Passing of the Elven-kind" by Ted Johnstone, which appeared in the fantasy fanzine All Mimsy, issue 5 (November 1959).[2]

Legality of Tolkien fanfiction

See also: Wikipedia:Legal issues with fan fiction

Most national copyright laws acknowledge the concept of derivative works, meaning works that incorporate elements from an earlier copyrighted work, and gives the copyright holder of the original the right to control the distribution of derivatives. fanfiction is generally thought to constitute a derivative work because, while ideas per se are not copyrightable, specific characters and concepts are considered intellectual property (as unregistered trade marks), and derivative works are not protected by fair use exemptions because they are not parody or criticism.[3][4] Therefore whether or not fanfiction is 'allowed' is at the discretion of individual authors: few will permit derivative work by fans to be published on a commercial basis, but the existence of non-commercial fanfiction on the internet is, generally speaking, tolerated, if nothing else by virtue of inaction. That said, they exist in a legally precarious state, and some authors (such as Anne Rice) have chosen to actively prevent fanfiction based on their work from being distributed.[5]

In an FAQ entry on their website the Tolkien Estate discourage fanfiction based on Tolkien's works:

Can I / someone else write / complete / develop my / their own version of one of these unfinished tales ? (or any others)
The simple answer is NO.
You are of course free to do whatever you like for your own private enjoyment, but there is no question of any commercial exploitation of this form of "fan-fiction".
Also, in these days of the Internet, and privately produced collectors’ items for sale on eBay, we must make it as clear as possible that the Tolkien Estate never has, and never will authorize the commercialisation or distribution of any works of this type.
The Estate exists to defend the integrity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. Christopher Tolkien's work as his father’s literary executor has always been to publish as faithfully and honestly as possible his father's completed and uncompleted works, without adaptation or embellishment.

And in the past they have successfully taken legal action against commercial derivative works that infringed Tolkien's trademarks, e.g. in the case of a children's entertainer operating under the name "Gandalf the Wizard Clown".[4] But as yet the Estate has not sought to halt the distribution of noncommercial fanfiction.

Tolkien himself received at least two requests to allow the publication of two fan-written sequels to The Lord of the Rings, both of which he (somewhat indignantly) refused.[6] He also, on several occasions, expressed the opinion that made-up names and words should have just as strong protection under copyright law as entire works of fiction, on the basis that he put a great deal of effort into their creation.[6][7]

See also

External links

Copyright discussion


  1. For example, as of August 2010 'Lord of the Rings' was the fourth largest category at
  2. Sumner Gary Hunnewell, [ Tolkien Fandom Review from its beginnings to 1964] (accessed 14 January 2014)
  3. Chilling Effects Clearinghouse: Fan Fiction.
  4. 4.0 4.1 FAQ About Fan Fiction - Chilling Effects Clearinghouse. Updated Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  5. Pauli, M. Working the web: Fan fiction. The Guardian 5 December 2002.
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 292, (dated 12 December 1966).
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 258, (dated 2 August 1964)