Marine veteran returns copy of ‘The Hobbit’ to library 38 years later

(WSTM/CNN) — A New York state man recently returned a library book 38 years late … but the library director was not angry. She was actually thrilled, because the book’s story is one of rambling around the world and service to the country.

It’s a journey that started 38 years ago in 1978 when Bob James was a teenager.

He was curious about some references to “The Hobbit” in the Led Zeppelin song “Ramble On,” so “I just went over to the library and checked out the book.”

The book immediately connected with James, but much like the characters in the book, the world was changing. He enlisted in the Marines during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and brought the hardbound copy of “The Hobbit” with him.

James soon found that other Marines and sailors were interested in borrowing it. “I had a nice book that there was at times a line. ‘I’m next, I’m next, I’m next.'”

The book went across the world — James believes it was on at least eight different ships in the Western Pacific, but he made sure everyone who borrowed “The Hobbit” treated it well. “Somebody else would say ‘hey, I’m deploying, I’m on the list.'”

Now James and his wife are preparing to sell the bed-and-breakfast they own near Watkins Glen, and on Monday, he returned “The Hobbit” with its original library book plate still intact.

The Tompkins County Library will not charge him any late fees. Director Susan Currie said she appreciated that James had been sharing a good book with men and women serving their country and taking great care of it. “That is the best ambassador for the library we could possibly have,” she said.

The library surprised James with a new bookplate in the copy of “The Hobbit” that he returned that recognizes him. It reads “A man like Gandalf who knows it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keeps the darkness at bay.”

The copy of “The Hobbit” is in such good shape, the library says it just needs to add a digital bar code and it will be back in circulation.

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