Rare J.R.R. Tolkien Book Returned to UNT with a Story of its Own

A very rare book lost for 45 years has found its way back to the University of North Texas. It's a first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' that made it home after an adventure of its own.

"We have over 1.4 million books stored on the shelves here," said Morgan Gieringer, Head of Special Collections for the UNT Libraries.

In the endless rows of aging leather and paper, it's easy to lose track of one small book about a little hobbit.

"This is the first American edition and this is what they call the first issue," said Edward Hoyenski, Collector of Rare Materials for the UNT Libraries' Special Collections Department.

Tolkien's 'The Hobbit: or There and Back Again' is the story of a reluctant adventurer who sets out on a quest but can't wait to make it back home. The same could be said of the book itself.

"The book was received in a package anonymously."

It was mailed to the UNT libraries last week, with a typed letter attached.

"The letter actually painted a word picture in your head," said Laurel Crawford, Head of Collection Development for the UNT Libraries. "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."

"Maybe a little bit of bibliomania!" Gieringer added.

Forty-five years later, the book burglar apparently had a change of heart.

"They said I apologize for depriving you of it for all of these years," said Crawford.

Hoyenski added, "He's maybe getting into later life so maybe he decided it was time to send them home where others could appreciate them."

And there is much to appreciate.

"The illustrations in this book were done by Tolkien, these are his drawings," said Hoyenski.

For a modern university campus...

"A lot of students never really have a need to interact hands-on with a physical book," said Gieringer.

It's a chance to share something unique.

"This is going to last a lot longer than an electron," Hoyenski said. "I'm old-fashioned, I like real books."

A real book that now has its own story of a journey there and back again.

The book will now be stored in the University's special collections where anyone can come see it in a reading room, under supervision.

UNT also learned Wednesday afternoon that Oklahoma Baptist University received three more rare Tolkien books, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with a similar letter that appear to be from the same person.

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