World-renowned scholar. Published author. Experienced teacher. These are just a few of the titles attributable to English professor Thomas Shippey, Ph. D.
Shippey spent the first several years of his life in India where his father worked as a bridge-builder, until he was sent back to his parents’ native Great Britain to attend boarding school in Scotland.
Shippey’s sense of humor emerged through his Scottish accent as he said, “This was a proper boarding school, not a sissy school like Hogwarts.”
Students at the school attended for lengthy three-year stints, with no breaks, vacations or chances to see family, he said.
Shippey’s first school did not even have a library, and it wasn’t until his father returned from India and Shippey changed schools to King Edward’s Birmingham that he had the opportunity to begin reading.
With hundreds of volumes at his fingertips, he began to read “omnivorously,” since he had never been told what a student “should or shouldn’t” read.
While many books were available to him, it wasn’t until he won prize money from a school contest that he was able to afford a copy of The Lord of the Rings, the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, about which he is now a world-famous scholar.
In addition to literature, Shippey developed a knowledge and affinity for languages that he continued at the university level, studying Old English, Norse, Latin and German in his spare time.
Upon graduating from Cambridge in 1968, during one of Britain’s worst economic recessions, Shippey found a tough job market.
He taught high school out of “dire necessity” until several colleagues encouraged him to take his interests and talents to a higher academic level. Shippey managed to become a Fellow of St. John’s College, Oxford, where he first met Tolkien.
Shippey and Tolkien shared many of the same life experiences: Both spent their childhoods in similar regions of England, both shared an interest and ability for ancient languages and both would hold the chair as Professor of English Language at the University of Leeds.
After 14 years at Leeds and not wanting to accept an administrative position, Shippey came to Saint Louis University to focus on teaching, research and publication.
He said he has since discovered some of his best students, here in what he describes as the Midwest “flyover” part of the country.
Although Shippey has co-written several science fiction novels and authored volumes of literary criticism throughout his career, he still remains at SLU.
One of Shippey’s former students, senior Steve Wissinger, praised his experience in Shippey’s class: “His lectures, a mix of fascinating information and hilarious jokes, were always entertaining.”
With his lifetime of experiences and formidable literary knowledge, it should come as no surprise that students find Shippey’s classes exciting. Shippey said one of his greatest enjoyments from teaching is “coming across people who sometimes don’t know they have a latent curiosity, but getting to see them catching on and just starting to read.”