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.

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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.

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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.’”

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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.

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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.

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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.”