THE estate of JRR Tolkien can rely on the support of many British Tolkien fans in its legal battle with the producers of the new film The Hobbit.

The Tolkien estate and the Lord of the Rings publisher Harper Collins claim merchandise and gambling games are harming the legacy of the revered Oxford author.

They have filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court in America against Warner Bros, New Line Cinema and The Saul Zaentz Company.

JRR Tolkien’s 83-year-old daughter, Priscilla Tolkien, who lives in North Oxford, is one of the trustees of the Tolkien Trust, which is a registered charity.

The estate is unhappy about gambling games, both over the Internet and in casinos, featuring some of Tolkien’s best-loved characters.

It is reported to be suing for more than $80m in damages, claiming that devoted Tolkien fans have been “offended and distressed” at the harm being caused to the writer’s reputation.

Shaun Gunner, spokesman for the Tolkien Society, which organises an annual meeting in Oxford, said: “A lot of individual members are not happy with the gambling.

“They will consider it a step too far.

“The film, however, is a fantastic opportunity to introduce the work of Tolkien to new fans.”

Society member Martin Smith, who lives near Bicester, said: “I don’t see a connection between Tolkien’s works and gambling.

“Merchandising seems to take many different forms nowadays so I can understand why the film company has done this.

“I for one, will not be partaking of this film-related ‘opportunity’.”

A statement on behalf of the Tolkien estate, issued through the Oxford law company Maier Blackburn, says: “The lawsuit follows extensive attempts by the Tolkien Estate over a lengthy period to resolve the dispute without the need for litigation.

“The claim concerns the defendants’ unauthorised exploitation of categories of rights that were reserved to the Tolkien estate.

“For example, the estate discovered that the defendants had begun licensing gambling games featuring characters from The Lord of the Rings both over the Internet and in casinos, the online gambling being promoted by way of unsolicited emails. Not only are gambling services outside the rights granted, but this exploitation of Tolkien’s well-loved work has offended and distressed Tolkien’s devoted fans, harming Tolkien’s legacy and reputation.”

Warner Bros has not yet commented.

In 2009 the Tolkien estate claimed that it had not been paid “even one cent” of the millions of pounds owed from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, despite the fact that the films had generated $3bn in box office receipts and another $3bn in DVDs and merchandise sales.

The estate claimed that £130m was owed in compensation for unpaid profits from the trilogy.

The issue was resolved with New Line Cinema, a subsidiary of Time Warner, and filming of The Hobbit was able to continue.

Miss Tolkien is a former probation worker and her brother Christopher, 87, acted as literary editor of the Tolkien estate, which has contributed millions to charity in recent years.

Solicitor Steven Maier said: “Miss Tolkien is involved in the lawsuit solely as a trustee of The Tolkien Trust, which is a UK registered charity, and has no personal claim in the proceedings.”

JRR Tolkien, a professor at Oxford University who died in 1973, was paid £153,000 from United Artists when he signed over the film rights in 1969.