Professor William (Bill) Gray (1952-2019)

After a BD and PhD from New College, Dr Gray went on to become Professor of Literary History and Hermeneutics, University of Chichester and Director, Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy.

Bill enjoying the Scottish outdoors
Bill enjoying the Scottish outdoors

After growing up in Parkhead in the East End of Glasgow, Bill's first degree was in Modern Languages at Christ Church, Oxford. There he discovered German Romantic fairy tales while studying with David Luke, who was then working on his Penguin translation of Grimms’ Tales.

Having been existentially challenged by Kleist, Büchner and Sartre, Bill went on to study theology and philosophy at Edinburgh and Princeton, where he took Walter Kaufmann’s course on Nietzsche and a doctoral seminar on Gadamer’s recently translated Truth and Method—a book on which he subsequently wrote his PhD thesis, and which has informed his subsequent teaching and writing.

At Chichester Bill taught Religious Studies before getting increasingly involved in teaching Related Arts (including a multidisciplinary course on different versions of ‘Bluebeard’ from Bartok to Pina Bausch via Angela Carter) as well as English (including his popular elective ‘Other Worlds: Fantasy Literature for Children of All Ages’).

Bill as a student, in his gown
Bill as a student

He published on literature, philosophy and theology, with books on C.S. Lewis and Robert Louis Stevenson. His most recent works included Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth: Tales of Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald and Hoffmann and two volumes of collected essays entitled Death and Fantasy and Fantasy, Art and Life. An edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Fables and Fairy Tales is forthcoming on Edinburgh University Press : The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Stories 4: Fables. Island Nights' Entertainments. Planned publication date, December 2020.

He wrote for newspapers, appeared on radio, TV and other media to discuss his research. He was invited to advise, consult and comment on numerous fairy tale and fantasy productions, including the Snow White and the Huntsman film (for which he served as 'Mythic and Folklore advisor' to Universal Pictures), an adaptation of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess at the National Theatre, and a production of Cendrillon at the Royal Opera House.

Obituaries in the media:

Times Higher Education

University of Chichester


I remember him as an honest, humane man with a young mind, fascinated by some of the mysterious paths of fantasy literature.  I shall miss him from the community of fantasy scholars, but am glad for the work he has left us.

Colin Manlove
formerly Reader in English, University of Edinburgh