Person of Interest: Janet Brennan Croft, Tolkien scholar

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Growing up in Monroeville, Janet Brennan Croft read her way through the public library and found herself lost in the world of fiction.

"I wanted to write the next great fantasy novel," she said by phone recently.

Instead, her name is blazing across IMAX movie screens, listed in the credits as "Tolkien scholar" for Peter Jackson's blockbuster "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." She continues to be a consultant for the next two films in the movie trilogy.

She has earned the title scholar with a series of essays and books, including "War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien." Ms. Croft worked briefly at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh after graduating from the University of Indiana, Bloomington, before settling in at the University of Oklahoma. She became the head of access services at Bizzell Memorial Library there in 2001 and became an associate professor in 2007.

Her job for "The Hobbit" filmmakers is to make sure that writers are not bringing in outside sources because the rights are for specific Tolkien works. She said has made continuity suggestions as well.

"They have fixed some of the things I have mentioned [in the first film], but I don't know if it was because of what I noted," she said. "They are changing things all the time; the film was different than the last script I saw."

The actors don't get the scripts until they are planted firmly on New Zealand soil for filming, but working through lawyers, they find their way to Ms. Croft, who won't share the secret of how they get to her. She will say that she was surprised to get the call at all because her essays about "The Lord of the Rings" films that preceded "The Hobbit" were not always kind to Mr. Jackson's choices as co-writer-director.

She said he telegraphs things that are coming too often, perhaps owing to his background as a horror filmmaker. "You see [glimpses] of the giant spiders outside of Radagast's house," she said by way of example. "[In the book], Bilbo doesn't see the spiders until he enters Mirkwood."

She also wondered aloud if the wizard Radagast the Brown would become "the Jar Jar Binks of 'The Hobbit.' "

Ms. Croft, who lives in Norman, Okla., doesn't get back to her roots often -- every two or three years, she said. But her parents remain in Monroeville (they emailed the Post-Gazette to point out their daughter's accomplishments) and her brother lives in Hershey, Dauphin County, so ties to the area still bind.

Next up, she is in the final stages of editing a collection of essays on science fiction and fantasy author Lois McMaster Bujold. It is due to be released this spring.


E-reader or paper, which do you prefer? Paper!

Can't live without ... My AeroPress coffee maker.

Someday I'd like to ... Spend a few weeks in Iceland.

When did you first read "The Hobbit" and/or "Narnia" books, and why did they have such an impact on you? I probably read both when I was around 7. They weren't the first fantasies I read -- that would have been Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series -- but they certainly fed my appetite for other worlds.

What about growing up in Monroeville shaped who you are today? Monroeville Public Library was a major influence. I took out huge stacks of books every few weeks. Working there as a teenager cemented my choice of career, and I've never worked anywhere but a library since then.

What's your favorite Pittsburgh place? I love the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning at Christmas time.

What's your favorite movie (other than Peter Jackson's)? Actually, I'm not all that fond of his Middle-earth movies! At this time of year my favorite movie is "Hogfather," an adaptation of Terry Pratchett's fantasy novel of the same name, about the equivalent of Santa Claus in Discworld and what happens when he disappears. Lots of good stuff about the nature of belief and why humans need fantasy. And very funny!

What do you do to relax? I'm a regular Martha Stewart in my spare time -- cooking, crafting, gardening.

My dream job, other than what I'm doing, would be ... I can't see being anything but a librarian, but being a cruise ship librarian would be a fun change of pace!

Accomplishment I'm most proud of? Being the scholar guest of honor at the 2010 Mythcon in Dallas.

The best advice I ever received was ... "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world" (J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit").

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Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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