The heart of this project is a focus on the importance of fairy tales as a creative force both in literature and culture. Literary fairy tales can be seen, in terms of genre, to mediate between, on the one hand, folktales, from which they often derive both form and content; and on the other, the more elaborate narratives of full-blown fantasy novels. The Centre will provide a forum where writers and scholars from various disciplines can discuss folk narratives, fairy tales and fantasy works, both as independent ‘genres’ (the literary fantastic, for example, may not always have obvious folk- or fairy-tale motifs), and also in terms of the resonances and dissonances between them, and other cultural forms.
Although the scope of the project is geographically and culturally inclusive, the founding impulse for the Centre is related to the specific locale of Sussex and its surrounding region. This area is rich in examples of all three kinds of narrative, ranging from folk narratives of various kinds, through literary fairy tales written in, as well as about, Sussex (for example, by George MacDonald and Eleanor Farjeon), to major works of fantasy and myth by Sussex residents such as MacDonald (Phantastes), David Lindsay (A Voyage to Arcturus), Mervyn Peake (Gormenghast) and Neil Gaiman (Stardust). There are fantasy and fairytale elements not only in prose works by Kipling, Wilde and Wells, but also in the poetry of Blake, Keats, Shelley and Tennyson, all of whom have connections with Sussex, as do the fantasy illustrators Peake, Rackham, Shepard and Blake himself.
While the project is situated in Sussex, its planned scope is not only national but also international, bringing together writers and scholars, as well as publishing and curating scholarly resources, from around the globe. Best-selling British fantasy fiction (Tolkien, Lewis, Pullman, Rowling) may seem to rule the waves, but—to mix metaphors—its roots are international. The fairy-tale tradition that shapes later fantasy (and not just fantasy) derives not only from the European traditions of Italy, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, but also from sources far beyond Europe. It is this diversity and exuberance of folktales, fairy tales and the fantastic imagination that the Centre seeks to explore, discuss and celebrate in a range of ways.