English professor Coral Lumbley teaches courses in medieval studies.

Any standout books you’ve read recently?
Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. What’s special about the novel is you don’t really know what genre it is. A first-person narrator shares details about his life and you start wondering, ‘Where is he in time? Where is he in space?’ It’s fantastic. The genre itself is the mystery that plays out, and I won’t spoil it by telling you what it is.

What is one of your all-time favorite reads?
Predictably for a medievalist, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It enchanted me when I was in middle school and it led me to become a medievalist. It’s prosaic, antiquarian, focused on nature, and offers a shameless love for fantasy and imagination and magic. It’s still got a grip on me.

What book is crucial to understanding your area of research?
The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages by Geraldine Heng. I work on the Middle Ages and colonialism and race and gender. I’m interested in how hierarchies of identity start getting entrenched in the culture of medieval Europe. Heng’s book is a magisterial, detailed study of that topic, and it has really revolutionized the field of medieval studies.

What is something you love to read that we might not expect?
I love to read historical sewing manuals and fashion books. Victorian and Renaissance-era sewing guides provide fascinating details of the ways everyday people wanted to style their lives and fashion their identities, just the way people do today. I am designing a fashion history course, so students should watch out for that.

What’s one book you recommend to everyone at Macalester?
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s a fourteenth-century English poem. On the surface, it’s a classic adventure story: this terrifying, giant green knight comes into King Arthur’s Court and poses a really scary challenge. Gawain has to rise to that challenge and go on a quest. But the poem is also holistically beautiful and thematically unified within itself. It’s a masterwork of literature as well as being a beautiful window into medieval English aesthetics. It’s both fun and philosophical at the same time.

November 21 2022

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