Discord of the Rings for Tolkiens

Families at war » On the eve of the fantasy saga's film premiere, rift revealed between author's son and grandson
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The Independent Culture

The family of J R R Tolkien has been split in two by an acrimonious feud over the long-awaited movie version of The Lord of the Rings.

Christopher Tolkien, one of the late author's three surviving children, has severed contact with his eldest son because of a long-standing dispute sparked by the making of the £210m film trilogy.

The 77-year-old, who has long seen himself as the custodian of his father's literary legacy, steadfastly refused to co-operate with the project, and remains opposed to it to this day. Now the eldest of his three children, Simon, has told how he was cut adrift from family affairs and banned from the board set up to protect his grandfather's estate after daring to suggest the movies were a good idea.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday, the 42-year-old criminal barrister from west London said: "My father has refused to have anything to do with me or my son, who is 11, for three years, and he has rejected all requests to have a meeting. 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 over-ruled by my father. Following that, I was excluded from the board of the Tolkien company."

Mr Tolkien, who says his father has ignored his repeated approaches for a reconciliation, added: "My father is the one who exercises control over the affairs of the family in relation to my grandfather's estate. 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."

Despite being deeply hurt by his father's moves to disown him, Mr Tolkien is determined not to allow the rift to destroy his memories of his grandfather, with whom he formed a close bond as a child.

"My grandfather died when I was 13," he said. "I was very close to him, and I often used to stay with him. I obviously regard what has been done to me as very cruel. I find it very hard to accept that I have been excluded from the board of the company which represents my grandfather's estate."

J R R Tolkien signed away the film rights to The Lord of the Rings for just £10,000 in 1968, five years before his death at the age of 81. According to most accounts, he did so to pay an outstanding tax bill. Since then, the loss of what was destined to be a lucrative franchise is said to have been a consistent source of irritation to Christopher, who was always more involved in his father's work than his siblings John, Michael and Priscilla. Christopher, who finished what many regard as Tolkien's most impenetrable work, The Silmarillion, after his death, famously loathed the 1978 cartoon version of the Ring trilogy and has remained opposed to other attempts to film it ever since.

In stark contrast, Simon, who recently finished writing his own novel, a courtroom drama, has actively embraced the making of the new movies. He met their director, Peter Jackson, two years ago, and will be attending next week's London premiere of the first part, The Fellowship of the Ring, with wife Tracy and 11-year-old son Nicholas.

"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 said. "I love the books. I've always enjoyed them, and so has my son. I read them aloud to him."

Other than Mr Tolkien's father, the board of J R R Tolkien Estate Ltd consists of his stepmother Baillie and cousin Michael. Christopher Tolkien was unavailable for comment last night.