It was, perhaps, inevitable that Homo floresiensis, the 1m tall species of primitive human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores, would come to be widely known as “hobbits.” After all, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation, they were “a little people, about half our height.”
However, a New Zealand scientist planning an event about the species has been banned from describing the ancient people as “hobbits” by representatives of the Tolkien estate.
Brent Alloway, associate professor at Victoria University, is planning a free lecture next month at which two of the archeologists involved in the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, Mike Morwood and Thomas Sutikna, will speak about the species. The talk is planned to coincide with the premiere of The Hobbit film, and Alloway had planned to call the lecture “The Other Hobbit,” as Homo floresiensis is commonly known.
However, when he approached the Saul Zaentz Co/Middle-earth Enterprises, which owns certain rights in The Hobbit, he was told by their lawyer that “it is not possible for our client to allow generic use of the trade mark HOBBIT.”
“I am very disappointed that we’re forbidden by the representatives of the Tolkien Estate to use the word ‘Hobbit’ in the title of our proposed free public event … especially since the word ‘Hobbit’ is apparently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary [and hence apparently part of our English-speaking vocabulary], the word ‘Hobbit’ [in the Tolkien context] is frequently used with apparent impunity in the written press and reference to ‘Hobbit’ in the fossil context is frequently referred to in the scientific literature [and is even mentioned in Wikipedia on Homo floresiensis]. I realize I’m in unfamiliar word proprietry territory [as an earth scientist] … so I’ve gone for the easiest option and simply changed our event title,” Alloway said.
The event is now called “A newly discovered species of Little People — unravelling the legend behind Homo floresiensis.”
“Certainly, this name change won’t diminish the curiosity of the New Zealand public nor our collective enthusiasm for the Hobbit — whichever form you might be interested in knowing more about — the movie/book fantasy version or the fossil version found in Flores,” Alloway said.