My mother is Middle English. When I was a child, we spoke it at home all the time.
John Bellairs left for college in 1955, headed to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana where - according to his high school yearbook - he would be hard at work. Studying pre-law. This story surely would have had a different and possibly uninteresting ending had that interest continued.
Perhaps we have the influence of legendary Notre Dame instructor Francis J. O'Malley to thank. O'Malley's classes were something of academic lore, still revered by former students decades after they had moved beyond South Bend, able to stir in students a sense of understanding and appreciation for the written word. Many students enrolled in his classes - such as Bellairs in O'Malley's freshman level Rhetoric and Composition class - would share a certain bond that would remain throughout their four years of undergraduate study and the rest of their lives.
Under O'Malley's spell, Bellairs's interest in English literature and writing blossomed. By his junior year (1957), Bellairs had become a member of the Bookmen, a long-running campus organization dedicated to literary study and critique. As a senior (1958), he continued his membership with the Bookmen and joined the staff of the student magazine, the Scholastic. With the Scholastic came some of Bellairs's earliest published work: a bi-weekly column consisting of humorous stories, witty anecdotes, and interactions with the people and places that make up the Notre Dame campus.
It was also during Bellairs' senior year that the event that would make him a legend among his peers occurred. Five Notre Dame students, including Bellairs, took part in the nationally televised College Quiz Bowl program, sponsored by General Electric, where teams of university students competed against another in varying subjects. The most memorable moment of the March 8, 1959 match-up between Notre Dame and Georgetown University occurred when Bellairs startled the national viewing audience by quoting Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales - in perfect Middle English. Well, not all of it - just the first eighteen lines or so.
Later that spring Bellairs departed Notre Dame with a B.A. in English and went off to pursue graduate studies in Chicago.
Beginning in 1960, Bellairs would return to Indiana as a part time instructor of English at the University of Indiana at Gary, gaining first hand experience in classroom teaching.