Staff Profiles

Professor William Gray

Professor of Literary History and Hermeneutics | +44 (0) 1243 816208

Professor Bill Gray

William Gray is Professor of Literary History and Hermeneutics, Director of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, and Editor of its journal Gramarye.

William studied literature, philosophy and theology at the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and Princeton, with publications in all of these areas.

He has published biographies of C.S. Lewis and Robert Louis Stevenson and three books on fantasy: Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth: Tales of Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald and Hoffmann; Death and Fantasy; and Fantasy, Art and Life, as well as edited collections of essays on C.S. Lewis and Mervyn Peake.

William is currently completing an edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Fables and Fairy Tales for Edinburgh University Press’s New Edinburgh Edition of Stevenson’s Works.

His module 'Other Worlds: Fantasy Literature for Children of All Ages' explores the origins of fantasy literature especially in German Romanticism, and its development into later fantasy writing by George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well by contemporary writers such as J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett.

From January 2016 he will run a new module entitled ‘Fairy Tales: Early Modern to Postmodern’.

Articles and chapters (selection):

1996 'George MacDonald, Julia Kristeva and the Black Sun' in Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
1998 The Angel in the House of Death: Gender and Subjectivity in George MacDonald's Lilith' in Women of Faith in Victorian Culture: reassessing 'The Angel in the House', ed Hogan and Bradstock (Macmillan)
1999 'Spirituality and the Pleasure of the Text: C.S. Lewis and the Act of Reading' in English Literature, Theology and the Curriculum, ed. L. Gearon (Cassell)
'2002 'Stevenson's "Auld Alliance": France, Art Theory and the Breath of Money in The Wrecker', Scottish Studies Review (Autumn 2002)
2005 'The Incomplete Fairy Tales of Robert Louis Stevenson' in the Journal of Stevenson Studies
2005 'A Source for the Trampling Scene in Jekyll And Hyde' in Notes and Queries
2007 'Pullman, Lewis, Macdonald and the anxiety of influence' in Mythlore
2007 ‘Pullman and MacDonald: (Great-great-)grandfather George’ in ‘A Noble Unrest': Contemporary Essays on the Work of George MacDonald (ed. Jean Webb) (CSP)
2007 Entries in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folklore and Fairy Tales (ed. Donald Haase)
2007 ‘Witches’ Time in Pullman, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald’ in Time Everlasting: Representations Of Past, Present And Future In Children’s Literature. (ed. Pat Pinsent) (Pied Piper)
2008 ‘On the Road: R.L. Stevenson’s Views on Nature’ in special eco-criticism edition of new formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics
2009 '"Out of the everywhere into here”: Romanticism, Ecocriticism and Children’s Literature’ in Deep into Nature: Ecology, Environment and Children's Literature (ed. Liz Thiel and Alison Waller) ( (Pied Piper Press)
2009 ‘Crossover fiction and narrative as therapy: George MacDonald's Adela Cathcart ’ in Barnboken (Journal of the Swedish Institute for Children's Books)  
2011 ‘“A New Literary Species, a New Rhetoric, a New Climate of the Imagination”:   C.S. Lewis on E.R. Eddison’ in (Bray and Gray, eds) Persona and Paradox: Issues of Identity for C.S. Lewis, his Friends and Associates (CSP)


C.S. Lewis (Nothcote House/ British Council, 1998)

Robert Louis Stevenson: A Literary Life, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)

'Gray's close reading is meticulous and intelligent so there's a sense that we're engaging with the real texture of Stevenson's life and work.' - The Scotsman

'With admirable economy, Gray delineates Stevenson's engagements with different literary cultures and traditions - he is especially good on the fertilizing effects of French literature on Stevenson's imagination - and then lays out the varied fruits of those engagements: essays, poems, letters, travelogues, plays, and prose fiction' - Stephen Arata, Victorian Studies 48 (Spring 2006)

'A new book mapping the bohemian life of Robert Louis Stevenson looks at the cocaine-fuelled convalescence that produced Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and a whole lot more besides.' - Phil Hewitt - Chichester Observer

Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth: Tales of Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald and Hoffmann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

‘Fantasy, Faith and the Measure of Truth is a valuable book for anyone interested in the literary, philosophical, and theological contexts of contemporary heroic fantasy. It is deeply learned, showing evidence of extensive reading and thought.’ Naomi Wood, Children's Literature, Volume 38, 2010.

‘In the chapter on MacDonald, Gray explores MacDonald’s theological views because “Pullman’s atheism is partly based on a view of God that MacDonald equally detests, a detestation that has been largely occluded due to the influence of Lewis” (46). Such comparisons not only demonstrate the nuance and subtlety of Gray’s analysis but also add richness and depth to the fantasy tradition that Gray is examining.’ Jennifer L. Miller, Marvels & Tales, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2013.

Death and Fantasy: Essays on George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and R.L. Stevenson (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008)

'Death and Fantasy is a concise and welcome gathering of work by William Gray on notable authors of fantasy.. In nine astute and insightful chapters the volume analyses texts ranging from Macdonald’s Phantastes to Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and from Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Examining the ways in which death is both dealt with and used in these fantasies, Gray reveals fascinating interconnections between their authors.' Dr Adrienne Gavin, Reader in English Literature, Canterbury Christ Church University

'This book makes a scholarly and very readable contribution to matters of current critical debate in the area of children’s fantasy.... Gray’s arguments are well-maintained and display knowledge of a very wide range of psychoanalytic, philosophical and theological sources, all brought to bear in a relevant and convincing manner... The book has much to offer to scholars and students alike.' Dr Pat Pinsent, Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Children’s Literature, Roehampton University.

"... this is a valuable book for scholars interested in the relationship of one generation of fantasy writers with the next. ... this study is wonderfully fluent in style, and the comparative theology is magnificent" Stacie L. Hanes, Journal of the Fantastic Arts, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2010

Fantasy, Art and Life: Essays on George MacDonald, Robert Louis Stevenson and Other Fantasy Writers
(Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011)

In part a sequel to his earlier Death and Fantasy, William Gray’s Fantasy, Art and Life: Essays on George MacDonald, Robert Louis Stevenson and Other Fantasy Writers examines the ways in which “Life” in its various senses is affirmed, explored and enhanced through the work of the creative imagination, especially in fantasy literature. The discussion includes a range of fantasy writers, but focuses chiefly on two writers of the Victorian period, George MacDonald and Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Scottish (and particularly Calvinist) backgrounds deeply affected their engagement with what MacDonald called “The Fantastic Imagination.”

‘each of the essays shows a highly intelligent and lucid scholar working easily with literature, theology and theory generally, and often clarifying complex and important differences between writers.’ Douglas Gifford, The Bottle Imp, (Online journal of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies) Issue 13 — Spring 2013.

Lectures and Presentations

William has given many presentations in various academic contexts, most recently a lecture on George MacDonald in the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture's series of public lectures with distinguished speakers (the theme for Trinity Term 2009 was 'Alternative Worlds'); and a keynote address ('"The Child in the Midst": Childhood and Salvation History from George MacDonald to Philiup Pullman') at the Changing Childhood Conference organised by the Diocese of Chichester, the University of Chichester and the Children's Society.

He has also convened (or co-convened) five international conferences and symposia:

  • ‘Mervyn Peake  and the Fantasy Tradition’, the Peake Centenary Conference at the University of Chichester, July 2011 (with accompanying exhibitions of Peake's illustrations at the Pallant House and Otter Galleries, Chichester);
  • ‘Folklore & Fantasy’, a joint Sussex Centre and Folklore Society conference (University of Chichester, April 2012);
  • ‘After Grimm: Fairy Tales and the Art of Story Telling’, the joint Sussex Centre / University of Kingston Grimms Bicentenary Conference (Kingston, September 2012);
  • ‘Old, New, Borrowed and Blue: A Fairy Tale Symposium’, with Jacqueline Simpson, Nicholas Tucker and Jack Zipes  (Chichester, 26 March 2013) (part of Professor Zipes’s 2013 Leverhulme Lecture series, based at Anglia Ruskin University)
  • ‘Grimm Girls: Picturing the “Princess”’, a symposium to accompany the exhibition of fairy-tale illustrations in The Otter Gallery, and featuring Jack Zipes, Maria Nikolajeva, and Terri Windling (Chichester, 25 November 2013).

MPhil/PhD supervision

William welcomes enquiries regarding research projects in the areas of Children’s and Fantasy Literature and the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson.