NORMAN — Janet Croft was 7 the first time she read J.R.R. Tolkien's books, and she's had a hard time putting them down since.
Croft, 51, is head of access services at the University of Oklahoma's Bizzell Memorial Library. She is also an associate professor who has researched Tolkien and his work extensively over the past decade.
When Croft was growing up in Pennsylvania, Tolkien books captured her imagination in part because of the detail in the writing. Tolkien died in 1973, but not before writing books that are as popular now as ever, with the release of the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy and most recently, “The Hobbit.”
“It's a whole world that has a great deal of depth,” Croft said. “The characters may seem very simple on the surface, but as you get to know them, you see more scale. He was a fascinating person. Not just as an author and a scholar, but also his service in World War I, and his family and friendships with other authors of his time.”
Croft edited “Tolkien on Film,” a collection of essays about how his work has been portrayed in film through the years. She also has a credit in “The Hobbit” as a script consultant. She lectures about Tolkien, most recently for the Metropolitan Library System serving Oklahoma County.
But the study of Tolkien's work has not always been taken seriously by her colleagues in the academic world.
“There was a long-standing ambivalence in academia as far as Tolkien as the subject of serious research,” she said. “When ‘Lord of the Rings' came out in the 1960s, it was something that wasn't taken seriously because teenagers read it. Any scholar doing serious research was looked down on. It has become more respectable in recent years.”
And Tolkien's work is as popular as ever, in print and on film. The fantasy genre has become a go-to source of escape for teenagers around the world.
“Fantasy speaks to something inside of us,” Croft said. “There's a quote from one of my favorite fantasy authors that says humans need fantasy to be human. It helps us understand bigger, deeper things more than a straightforward story does.”
Croft said Peter Jackson's films have been visually stunning but don't always capture the true spirit of Tolkien's work.
“Jackson is a horror director,” she said. “He likes to show things before they should be shown. He telegraphs things. In the current movie, the spiders attack Radagast's house, but in the books, we don't see them until what should be the second movie of this trilogy. Now they won't be much of a surprise.”
Croft will present a discussion in Albuquerque about Tolkien's Christmas letters and has explored the idea of helping to teach a Tolkien class at OU. She also has introduced her daughter to the books. It's safe to say reading his work and the works of others is her favorite pastime.
“The research is something I really enjoy,” she said. “That can lead you in so many directions, and you learn so much in the process.”