Page 5 - 2012 Lycoming Summer Magazine

Dr. Todd Preston
Associate Professor of English
About Preston
Todd Preston is an associate
professor of English at Lycoming,
where he has taught since 2003. He
is a medievalist with a specialty in
Anglo-Saxon literature (c. 700-
AD) and the Old English
language. Preston, who earned
a Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania
State University, has presented
at numerous conferences both in
the U.S. and overseas, and has
had articles published in
Notes &
Melville Society Extracts
He recently
published a book on the creation
and subsequent uses of Alfred the
Great’s law code.
How did you develop an
interest in medieval British
I can answer that in six words:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
the summer of 1975, my teenaged older
brother was stuck with watching me for
the day and took me to see the film. As
soon as I saw that killer rabbit, I was
Of course, I didn’t really get into
the literature until much later, as an
undergraduate English major at SUNY
Geneseo. It was there that I had my first
real encounters with both the primary
literature and first-class teachers who
were excited about their material. If
Python had me hooked, these professors
reeled me in!
How do you make the subject
relevant for today’s student?
Well, a lot of what motivates us today
motivated people in the medieval period
as well: sex, love, faith, greed, generosity
and so on. So one way of making the
material relevant is to tease out those
similarities. In
why does
Grendel’s mom pop off one of the Danish
warriors’ heads? Because he hurt her
baby! If anyone partially dismembered
one of my kids, I’d consider doing the
On the other hand, the stunning
differences between our world and the
medieval world can be fascinating and
help students see how different others’
worldviews can be. Trying to get our
minds around how people managed to
live day to day in those times, or justify
some of their particularly nasty customs
more dismemberment!), is a great
exercise in critical thinking.
Describe your recently-
published book King Alfred’s
Book of Laws: A Study of the
Domboc and Its Influence
on English Identity, with a
Complete Translation.
King Alfred, who ruled the Anglo-
Saxons (i.e., the people living in roughly
the southern half of modern-day
England) from 871-99, was responsible
for a revival of English written culture
after the depredations of the Viking
invasions. Along with religious and
philosophical texts, Alfred produced
a law code, or “domboc” in Old
English. This code was a combination
of biblical, earlier Anglo-Saxon and
his own new laws. My book performs
a close reading of the text, showing
how Alfred very carefully chose and
manipulated his sources to create
unifying royal and national identities in
the wake of the upheavals of the Viking
onslaught. Further, the book traces the
redeployment of this law code in the 12th
and 16th centuries, continuing the work
of fostering a unifying identity in times
of national danger.
What do you read for fun?
To relax, I love reading about natural
history and our relationship to the
environment. Recently, I’ve been very
interested in the whaling industry, and
have read some excellent books on the
subject, most notably
Philip Hoare, and
In the Heart of the
by Nathaniel Philbrick. For pure
escapism, I love a good horror story, such
Let the Right One In
by John Ajvide