Marine returns book he borrowed – nearly four decades late

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ITHACA, N.Y. — In 1978, Bob James – on a Led Zeppelin-inspired whim – checked out a copy of “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien from his local library.

He was a big fan of the Zeppelin song “Ramble On”, which contains several references to the classic fantasy novel.

“I just went over to the library and checked it out,” he said.

Earlier this week, James finally got around to returning the book – 38 years late.

But instead of being angry, Tompkins County Library Director Susan Currie said the story of why the book was so late convinced her to waive any late fees.

It turns out that James had joined the Marines shortly after checking out the book and was deployed overseas for years. His trusty copy of the Hobbit traveled the globe with him, and was read by dozens if not more other Marines.

“I had a nice book and there was at times a line (of people wanting to read it) saying ‘I’m next, I’m next,” James recalled.

He believes the book was on at least eight different ships in the Western Pacific over the years.

Finally, decades later, James took it back to the library, with its original library book plate still intact. The copy is in such good shape, library officials said they only needed to add a digital bar code to it before putting it back in circulation.

Currie said the fact James shared the book with so many fellow Marines and sailors means the library did it’s job, even if the method was a bit unorthodox.

“That is the best ambassador for the library we could possibly have,” she said.