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Thread: "courtesy for living authors"

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Hello, everyone. I appologize for neglecting these fora (plural of "forum"?) for so many months. I wish I could say that I'm back, but it seems, sadly for me, that this behavior of infrequency may continue indefinitely do to the mundane upkeep of my alterego as a physicist here in this (7th, was it?) age of the Sun. I hope that I haven't offended anyone. Anyway ...

I (now vaguely) remember reading, either on the back cover or inside cover of some edition of either the LOTR or Hobbit, a statement, purportedly by the man himself, something along the lines:

Those having a courtesy for living authors (at least), will purchase this edition (of the book) and no other.

I am tempted to say that the publisher was either Ballantine or Houghton Miflin (not sure about the spelling of either of those two), and that the edition was a very old paperback.

Has anyone else read such a statement? Is it genuine? Was he serious? Is this just a gimmick by the publisher, and have other publishers done the same? Which publisher was it?
Yes, I read that statement. It was carried by the Ballantine editions of The Hobbit and LOTR back in the 1970's when I first read Tolkien. I am assuming that Tolkien was trying to head off unauthorized editions of his books. Houghton-Mifflin were his original publishers in Britain, so there had to have been some arrangements made to publish his works over here in America. Ballantine got the rights, but they botched the cover art, which did not please Tolkien at all. But I do not remember any more details offhand.
I am assuming that Tolkien was trying to head off unauthorized editions of his books.

Yup that's exactly right. There actually was an unauthorized edition here in the U.S.:

Tolkien's perfectionist obsession with revisions and corrections meant that the official American paperback of The Lord of the Rings was delayed and delayed ... and meanwhile, naughtily taking advantage of a loophole in US copyright law, Ace Books brought out unauthorized paperbacks. Eventually the authorized edition appeared with Tolkien's stern message: "Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it and no other."

Yes Tolkien was asked to revise The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit due to American copyright concerns, but Ace Books was quick and issued their own paperback edition.

JRRT sent material to HMC, which was incorporated into an authorized paperback edition by Ballantine Books (first published in 1965). The Ace Books claim was later disproved in court, and though the matter arguably helped sales in the US, Tolkien was not amused.

Note JRRT's statement at the end of his revised Foreword too: 'To them, and to all who have been pleased by this book, especially those Across the Water for whom it is specially intended, I dedicate this edition.'
I wonder how many copies of Children of Hurin have been pirated in the Far East; not to mention the rest of the Tolkien books?
Note JRRT's statement at the end of his revised Foreword too: 'To them, and to all who have been pleased by this book, especially those Across the Water for whom it is specially intended, I dedicate this edition.'

When I first read that, I was still a young teen and didn't know that "Across the Water" meant "Across the Atlantic Ocean" (i.e. the U.S.) I thought "the Water" referred to the river that runs through Hobbiton and Bywater, and Tolkien was just being cute and saying "All you people who are not hobbits and/or don't live in the Shire", LOL! But hey I was just a kid, what did I know?! Elf With a Big Grin Smilie
I absolutely have no respect for pirating. If someone came along and took half our pay packet each month and got away with it we would be livid. But because something has to do with writing or art or music people think it is alright. It makes me so very sad.
I had no idea that Tolkien was displeased with the very colorful covers of those early Ballentine editions! Those were what attracted me to the books back when I was eleven or so. I didn't necessarily like them but they got one's attention when they were in the dime-store's book rack with all sorts of other 'stuff'. I may never have read them without those bright covers.
Yes Sian that is the way it goes. But he didn't write it for we younger ones really and it hurt him to have anything of his 'babies' tampered with. Especially the overseas publishers and editors. I think it was the Swedish or somesort group that actually changed the names of his characters and such and it was so harmful to him that he got ill and quite depressed during that time. It was just such an insult. And often a book cover would appear without the person creating it having read much at all of the work. I totally understand his despair and anger.
On the one hand, if anyone is making money off of his stories, it ought to be him (or his inheritors) and those without whom it would only remain among friends and family (i.e. his publishers).

On the other hand, once his sub-creation has been out in the world for a certain amount of time, and, having been quite popular, it is now a part of the public psyche, like Greek myths. Didn't Tolkien elsewhere indicate that he wanted to create a mythology?

I think that the closer his work came to functioning as a mythology, the less he was able to control or receive compensation for its distribution or re-telling. The unauthorized version was, to my mind, one of the first steps his stories took in reaching mythological status in the public mind.

This is not to say that I condone the selling of copies of art which are not yours to sell. Nor is it to say that every piece of pirated art is on its way to mythological status (far from it!). But so long as a great work of art is not yet easily and legally available to a certain population, it will probably be pirated. If I were tolkien, I would want the money due me (I need to eat and support a family!). But if I were tolkien, I would also rather have pirates because I made good works of art than the alternative (not have pirates because my work is not worth the paper it's printed on).
I dont know how I honestly feel about works becoming public domain. It seems so unfair. I think whatever the author, the one from whose mind it came forth from ought to be able to say what happens to it forever. Because it is not a living thing that can have a say , like a grandchild or whatever. I just don't know what to think really.