In 1974, when the LBBs were first printed, they included the word “Hobbit” and “Ent”. Subsequently, TSR received a Cease and Desist order from the Tolkien estate, claiming that those words were protected under copyright law and belonged to them. TSR removed those words in future printings.
But now, some of that may be changing.
While wandering through my G+ feed today, I saw a link to an interesting Wikipedia page. It stated that there seems to be evidence that the word “Hobbit”, in the context of a creature from folklore, was in use long before the writings of JRR Tolkien.
Evidence of earlier use
The only source known today that makes reference to hobbits in any sort of historical context is the Denham Tracts by Michael Aislabie Denham. More specifically, it appears in the Denham Tracts, edited by James Hardy, (London: Folklore Society, 1895), vol. 2, the second part of a two-volume set compiled from Denham’s publications between 1846 and 1859.
The text contains a long list of sprites and bogies, based on an older list, the Discovery of Witchcraft, dated 1584, with many additions and a few repetitions. The term hobbit is listed in the context of “boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies”.
The article goes on to state that JRR Tolkien is quoted as saying that he is not responsible for coining the term “Hobbit”, but that he had no ready recollection of his inspiration for the word.
What Does This Mean For Us?
Personally, I have always wanted to included “Hobbits” as a race in my FRPG games. Halflings are fine and dandy, but they aren’t hobbits. Further, I have always envisioned halflings as having two sources for their name. One, they are half the size of humans. Two, they are the result of a coupling between humans and hobbits. This second definition falls flat without being able to include any mention of hobbits.
I have the utmost respect for JRR Tolkien and his heirs. I do not wish to see anything taken away from them. On the other hand, I see his works as a gift to all of his readers. No one is wishing to make money off the term “Hobbit”, or to take money away from his estate. Instead, those that love Tolkien’s works want to honor them by including hobbits in their own stories and games.
I hope we will soon see a day where that can happen.