William Gray, 1952-2019

Tributes paid to ‘gentlemanly’ scholar of folklore, fairy tales and fantasy fiction

May 16, 2019

An academic expert on the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson and C. S. Lewis has died.

William Gray was born in Glasgow in 1952, the son of a Congregational minister who later oversaw religious programming on Scottish Television. He won a scholarship to Glasgow Academy and read modern languages at Christ Church, Oxford. He then gained a bachelor’s in divinity at the University of Edinburgh and a master’s at the Princeton Theological Seminary before returning to Edinburgh for a PhD on the theologian Hans-Georg Gadamer.

Having completed his doctorate in 1981, Professor Gray took up a position as a lecturer in the religious studies department at the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education, which would later become the University of Chichester. He would remain there for his whole career but soon shifted his teaching towards dance, theatre, film and literature (and even a class on the colour blue in painting and visual culture). He eventually retired in 2016 as professor of literary history and hermeneutics.

After launching his writing career with God Gives the Growth: An Essay on Theology and Psychological Development (1990), Professor Gray published C. S. Lewis (1998), Robert Louis Stevenson (2004) and a series of books on fantasy literature starting with Fantasy, Myth and the Measure of Truth: Tales of Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald and Hoffmann (2008). He founded the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy in 2009, launched its journal Gramarye in 2012 and compiled The World Treasury of Fairy Tales and Folklore (2016). His forthcoming edited collection of Stevenson’s Fables, he said, would mean that after 120 years, the author’s “wish to have all his fairy tales and fables published together is finally to be granted”.

Widely acknowledged as an expert in the field, Professor Gray was employed as myth and folklore adviser by Universal Pictures on Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman (2012); he played a similar role on a 2011 production of Massenet’s Cendrillon at the Royal Opera House.

Diane Purkiss, professor of English literature at the University of Oxford, praised Professor Gray for “his immense kindness and courtesy”, adding that he was “one of the only academics I have ever known who seemed completely free of the wish to impress…his academic achievement in setting up the [Sussex] centre was very characteristic of him; he made a delicate and subtle art of bringing out the best in people. An old-fashioned phrase sums him up: he was a very great gentleman.”

Professor Gray died on 8 April and is survived by his wife, Lorna, a son, a daughter and a stepdaughter.


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Reader's comments (1)

Bill is remembered here at Chichester with deep gratitude, respect and affection. His contribution to the department was substantial and his legacy remains. Truly a scholar and a gentle man. RIP Bill.