The Hobbit, or There and Back Again has come back again to a New York public library, 38 years after its original due date. The book went on a bit of an unexpected journey, but has been returned by the Marine veteran who originally checked it out in 1978.
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Bob James checked the book out when he was in his teens. Like a lot of boys his age, James had been listening to Led Zepplin a lot in the late 70’s. The Tolkien references in “Ramble On” had piqued his curiosity. “I just went over to the library and checked out the book,” he said.
James didn’t return it on time. Instead, he joined the Marines. James enlisted in 1979, during the Iranian hostage crisis. When he left home to become a Marine, he took the book with him.
The Hobbit was as popular then as it is now, and James loaned the book to his new friends in the Marines. “I had a nice book that there was at times a line,” he said. “‘I’m next, I’m next, I’m next.’”
Like the hobbit at the center of the narrative, the book traveled. A lot. James even loaned it to sailors who took it out on 8 different cruises in the Pacific. “Somebody else would say ‘hey, I’m deploying, I’m on the list,’” he said.
Yet the book came back. Skip ahead a few years and James is downsizing. He and his wife own a bed-and-breakfast, but he’s retiring from the hospitality industry. And after 38 years, he took the book back to the library where he checked it out.
The librarians at the Tompkins County Library have decided to waive the late fees. At $.25 per day, that would add up to more than $3,500.
Director Susan Currie likes a good story. And she sees James’s care in how well the book was treated. “That is the best ambassador for the library we could possibly have,” she told KHON.
The library honored James’s gesture with a new bookplate inside the cover of the old book that reads: “A man like Gandalf who knows it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keeps the darkness at bay.”