The Dallas Morning News
Happy return for ‘Hobbit’
UNT’S precious first edition back home 45 years after it was taken
It took 45 years, but a book that once belonged to the library at the University of North Texas has finally been “there and back again.”
A first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: or There and Back Again, a book that was taken from the library in 1974, has finally been returned, university officials said.
The beloved novel, complete with rare illustrations by the author, was returned by mail, along with an anonymous typed letter.
“Judging by the letter, this seems like a person who’s wellversed in literature and was able to identify the book’s value pretty easily,” said Morgan Gieringer, head of Special Collections for UNT Libraries.
The apologetic letter is wellwritten, in a voice not unlike Tolkien’s.
“It is a desirable book, needless to say. Even though it had been rebound before I took it, it still is rare and a collector’s item, and should
have pride of place in your collection,” the letter says. “Hence, I am returning it to you rather than trying to sell it. Sorry to have deprived you of it for all these years.”
The book, printed in 1938, is missing its original cover, but Tolkien’s drawings still pop with color.
“The letter actually painted a word picture in your head,” Laurel Crawford, head of Collection Development for the UNT Libraries, told KXASTV (Channel 5). “It seems like the person was walking down the stacks, the aisles of books, looking and saw this, what they knew to be rare and obviously a pretty book, and said. ‘I couldn’t resist, and I had to take it for my own.’ ”
The person who checked out the book — or simply stole it — has since been identified. But UNT isn’t naming names.
The reader’s identity was discovered with help from Oklahoma Baptist University. It seems the same patron checked out Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy from that school in 1972. And while this person sanded off all of the markings from UNT’S book that would indicate it came from a library, a nameplate in one of the Rings volumes gave the identity away.
“It was definitely a student who attended Oklahoma Baptist, we know that,” Gieringer said.
The Hobbit was returned to UNT on April 3 or April 4, Gieringer said.
“At first I thought, ‘Is this real? Is this an actual first edition?’” she said. “I did some quick checking into it and realized, yes, it is what they said it was.”
UNT insists it has no hard feelings. “Thank you to the anonymous person who returned this valuable book to us today! Since this is such a ‘popular’ book, we will probably keep it in the vault from now on,” read a post on UNT Special Collections’ Facebook page.
The book is being cataloged and at some point will be available for reading again, Gieringer said.
“I’m told no one will be allowed to check it out, however,” she said.