Allen and Will Shull grew up playing with toy knights, dragons and monsters. Although they had space men and dinosaurs, the sons of Don and Hope Shull say they preferred the medieval figures. “We played fantasy card games in high school and pen and paper role-playing games in college,” Allen said. Will cites playing Dungeons and Dragons with his brother and their friends as a favorite pastime.
When your dad’s area of expertise is Medieval English, chances are your childhood will be steeped in something other than Care Bears and Power Rangers. “Among the many books I read the boys and they read on their own,” Don said, “were Tommie de Paola’s ‘Knight and Dragon’ picture books of Sir Gawain and of Faerie Queene Book.”
The brothers also remember being read classic literature as children. “I remember being read the various Coloured Fairy books (collections of fairy tales published between 1889 and 1910), especially Blue, Lilac and Brown,” Will said. “I also remember hearing the works of Lewis and Tolkien.”
Small wonder that the boys grew into men whose careers intersect at the Middle Ages. Allen teaches English at University of Tennessee at Martin. Will teaches history at Jackson State Community College. Don, of course, teaches English at Freed-Hardeman.
Last semester, the trio had the rare opportunity to share their professional interests at the Southeastern Medieval Association (SEMA) conference; the association promotes the study and enjoyment of the Middle Ages. Having received the call for papers related to Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy,” Allen and Will planned to submit papers for consideration, but their father ignored the call. After being informed the conference took papers on other topics, he too submitted a paper. All three were accepted. “We worked on our papers last summer and this fall, and here we are,” Don said from the conference in Gulfport, Miss.
Both Allen and Will completed their undergraduate work at Freed-Hardeman and then Masters of Arts at Middle Tennessee State University, followed by Masters of Arts in Education from FHU. The two have also been adjunct teachers at FHU. Don holds a PhD in Medieval English from University of North Carolina. He has taught at FHU for the past 28 years. Hope Shull is FHU’s director of library services.
Although the three share an interest in the Middle Ages, their specific interests vary. “My dad cares an awful lot about Old French literature, which is fine and all, but the Arthurian cycle he studies just isn’t precisely my cup of tea,” Allen said. “Will has focused on the crusades and the politics surrounding how the clergy interacted with those going on the crusades. I like the literature of 100-500 years earlier, the Anglo-Saxon period most famous for ‘Beowulf’…this weird, overlooked period in our consciousness,” he continued.
Now that the conference has come and gone, the three have found that they enjoyed it differently also. Don attended several interesting sessions on Chaucer and discovered while he was there that his Old English professor at Chapel Hill was being honored. According to Will, it is “typically productive academically to meet other historians and bounce ideas off them.” He reported that his presentation at the conference had gone well and he expressed his gratitude to the folks at Jackson State for their help with his paper.
Allen was also pleased with his presentation. “I think I found something nobody else had noticed, which is always the scholar’s dream—or the dream of those who want to consider themselves scholars,” he said. In case you are wondering, he noted a previously unnoticed connection between “Consolation of Philosophy” and Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.”
So—does one become a scholar devoted to the Middle Ages by nature or by nurture? In the Shull family, likely a combination of the two. However it happened, Don describes himself as “popping buttons with pride in them.” “I am delighted and proud that they both love Boethius’ ‘Consolation of Philosophy,’ that I haven’t even read all the way through,” he said. He says he is equally proud that “they know so many things about the Middle Ages that I don’t know. For example, Allen reads Old English far better than I, and Will reads Latin far better than I will ever be able to.”
As for the next generation of Shull scholars, Allen’s two-year old daughter Clara is hearing “Where’s My Sweetie Pie” and a Mary Englebreit book about why kids are great. “I’m just happy that she likes me to read to her and she likes some specific books. I also like that she will sit by herself, slowly turning pages and focusing on them,” Don says. “Later, maybe we’ll get to knights, ladies, castles and dragons.”
What a great article! Don and Hope are great parents who instilled in their sons a passion for reading and learning. They also share their parent's work ethic. I commend you for this article that will inspire others to love this exciting time period
Margaret and I really enjoyed the comments by Donald and his sons, William and Allan, about a subject I really enjoy.
Grandad Shull. Really proud of the family, Margaret.