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Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien have served as the inspiration to painters, musicians, film-makers and writers, to such an extent that Tolkien is sometimes seen as the "father" of the entire genre of "high fantasy". The production of such derivative works is sometimes of doubtful legality, because Tolkien's published works will remain copyrighted until 2043. The film, stage and merchandise rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are owned by Tolkien Enterprises, a division of the Saul Zaentz Company, while the rights of The Silmarillion and other material remain with The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Ltd., a company owned by Tolkien's heirs.

The earliest illustrations of Tolkien's works were drawn by the author himself. In 1937, the Hobbit was first illustrated by professional draughtsmen for the American edition. Tolkien was very critical of these, and in 1946 he rejected illustrations by Horus Engels for the German edition of the Hobbit as "too Disnified". Milein Cosman illustrated Farmer Giles of Ham in 1948, and Tolkien was not happy with this work, either. In 1949, Cosman was replaced by Pauline Baynes, who became Tolkien's favourite illustrator and who created drawings for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil as well as for Farmer Giles of Ham. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark was inspired to illustrations to the Lord of the Rings in the early 1970s. She sent them to Tolkien, who was struck by the similarity to the style of his own drawings. In 1977, Queen Margrethe's drawings were published in the Danish translation of the book, redrawn by the British artist Eric Fraser.

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