Postgraduate Research Projects at the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction

Zoe Mitchell: Hag, Mitchell’s debut poetry Collection inspired by witches is accompanied by a critical thesis considering the presentation of witches in women’s poetry. Close study of this topic highlights the patriarchal ideology at the foundation of the symbolic order and the motivation behind the designation of the witch as a villain. The critical study focuses on a close analysis of poems by Margaret Atwood, Louise Glück, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton which use the figure of the witch to reclaim a previously negative image and expose the ideology behind it.

Dominika Nycz: Wise-man to Wizard: Tracking the Literary Development of the Wizard takes a diachronic approach to look at how the wizard has evolved from its linguistic origins as the wise-man into the modern literary figure found today. The project serves to show how the wizard of the contemporary imagination is built upon many reworked representations of the archetype over many historical periods. This includes an exploration of how the various magician, sorcerer and conjurer types that have become amalgamated with the wizard tradition form distinct stages of the wizard’s development. Lastly, the research turns to contemporary depictions of the wizard as hero, rather than its traditional role as advisor, and asks what ramifications this has for the wizard archetype and what it might imply for the next stage of the figure’s development. (Supervisors: Prof Bill Gray, Dr Duncan Salkeld & Dr Amanda Richardson (History) )


Francesca Bihet: Folklore, Fighting and Fairies explores the changes in the treatment of fairies by Folklore Society members and how far these reflect wider academic and folkloric trends. It covers the era from the Society’s foundation in 1878 until the eve of WW2. The Society’s journal Folklore is used as the main mouthpiece to exemplify the declining interest in, and more critical treatment of, the fairy figure during this era. The Cottingley Affair and WW1 are explored as turning points between the great Victorian fairy pre-occupation and the post-war benign nursery fairy. The pages of Folklore mirror this pattern of diminution. (Supervisors: Prof Bill Gray & Prof Sue Morgan; Advisor: Prof Jacqueline Simpson)

Joanna Coleman: Demons, Daemons and Frogs: Animal Transformation in Contemporary Narrative investigates how becoming-animal storytelling locates us in the natural world. The topic will be explored from two perspectives, first an eco-critical analysis of shape-shifting motifs in contemporary young adult literature, and second a pedagogical exploration of the environmental potential of shape-shifting storytelling in a creative writing classroom. Animal transformation tales in folklore will be compared with contemporary re-tellings in writers from Philip Pullman to Ursula le Guin, and both traditional versions and re-tellings will be used as classroom inspiration to explore our changing relationship to the hinge, or boundary, between human and animal. (Supervisors: Prof Bill Gray & Dr Hugh Dunkerley; Advisor: Dr Duncan Reavey)

Victoria Leslie: The erotics of water: folk creatures and femininity in 19th-century Northern Europe seeks to understand the myriad meanings and seductions of the water sprite in 19th-century culture. It will examine how stories about water sprites were told and circulated, both in popular and elite culture, and identify similarities in these stories from across different European traditions. It will also address how these stories responded to and subverted dominant notions of femininity. (Supervisors: Prof. Bill Gray & Dr Hugh Dunkerley; Advisor: Dr Jonathan Little)

Elizabeth Rainey: The Art of Storytelling in Emirati Society features Emirati oral poetry and compares its unique voice with universal themes such as family, tribe, country, love, war, beauty, work and faith, thus enhancing cross-cultural communication. This vibrant tradition expresses vital emotions and teaches ethical conduct during social occasions as a source of communal entertainment and at the same time works to underpin the social hierarchy. This project initiates the preservation of storytelling as a fragile intangible heritage of the Emirates, which has become a bilingual cosmopolitan nation with the result that L1 Gulf Arabic alone is practised only by the oldest members of society. The project will record, transcribe and translate indigenous narratives and poems not yet available in English, gauging to extent to which Bedouins still employ their own version of homo narrans to inform behaviour and enforce cultural norms. It will also outline the challenges faced during the collection of the sources, including negotiating the complex politics of preservation. (Supervisors: Prof Bill Gray & Dr Stavroula Varella; Advisor: Dr. Tanya Al Aghar)

Peter Whittick: Death, Resurrection and the Flesh of the Imagination: A Critical and Creative Exploration of Cultural Dyslexia with regards to Nature develops an eco-critical perspective for the reading of portrayals of nature in literature and applies it to the fiction of David Almond. The creative element explores more empowering ways of representing nature in adolescent fiction and explores the origins of folk tales, developing a new myth for the 21st century. Drawing on the atmosphere of the Hebridean Ceilidh House, it also implements a phenomenological response to the ‘more-than-human’ environment as a major influence within the story, linking to ancient pagan tales and myths that formed in response to a reciprocal interaction with animal entities and the Earth. (Supervisors: Prof Bill Gray & Dr Hugh Dunkerley).

Rose Williamson: A Historical and Literary Analysis of Grain and Bread Motifs in Folk and Fairy Tales seeks to create a greater understanding of folk and fairy tales through the symbolism of food, with a preliminary focus on grains and domestic baking imagery and expanding to a wider focus on multiple food motifs in fairy tale. It will also map food motifs in folk and fairy tales using a historical compass, connecting these symbols to the availability and production of food stuffs in eras where significant changes in variants affect meaning or interpretation, or detailing where food-centric tales emerge in times of famine or plenty, import or export, etc. The project also aims to provide a catalogue or database for folk and fairy tale scholars in relation to food imagery, categorizing which stories include which symbols and motifs, where they change, and possible historical influences on specific stories. (Supervisors: Prof Bill Gray & Dr Andrew Teverson (University of Kingston))

Other projected outputs of the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction include:

Digital Resources

An online, multilingual, multi-authored, annotated bibliographic index consisting of links to primary sources of folktales, fairy tales and fantasy works available in the public domain, as well as to secondary sources for scholarly discussion on these subjects. This bibliographic index, provisionally titled “Chichester Folktales Index” will make original documents available to scholars and researchers worldwide, and will significantly increase access to rare and archival material. For the corpus of secondary sources, we will build on a set of exhaustive bibliographies kindly provided by folklore and fairy tale authority Professor Jack Zipes.

We propose to classify, organise and display the searchable bibliographic index in multiple ways, that is, by theme and content, by region, by country, by chronology, by genre, by media (print, film, digital and other media that take into account the recent visual turn in these genres), and by author (where applicable). For the primary sources, by recording the publication, circulation, canonicity and popularity of original and translated texts of folktales, fairy tales and fantasy, we expect to contribute an accurate reflection, and enable a comparative analysis, of the formation of cultural, social, political, linguistic and artistic identities across various regions, countries and languages. The index will establish the presence (or absence) of imported texts in translated and adapted versions, and their historic and cultural dimensions of their impact.

As well as the bibliographic index, other proposed digital resources hosted by the Centre would include:

  • primary resources on the material culture of folktales, fairy tales and fantasy, including links to archived collections in museums, research libraries and public records offices
  • resources for teaching subject-related courses at university level
  • links to our partner organisations, which currently include:

If you are interested in contributing to our work on the bibliographies, please get in touch.


Proposed regular events include a series of research seminars, public lectures, exhibitions and performances at the University of Chichester on aspects of folklore, fairy tales and fantasy, including visual culture, performing arts, media and music. These events which are aimed at the general public as well as specialist researchers, include:

  • an international conference entitled ‘Mervyn Peake and the Fantasy Tradition’ marking the centenary of author and illustrator Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) in July 2011, exploring the elements of fantasy, the gothic and literary nonsense in relation to his work, with the aim of bringing Peake in from the margins of the literary and artistic canon (Keynote speakers included Joanne Harris, Colin Manlove, Farah Mendlesohn, Sebastian Peake, Brian Sibley, Peter Winnington)
  • an international conference in collaboration with the Folklore Society entitled ‘Folklore and Fantasy’ in July 2012 (Keynote speakers included Kate Forsyth, Jacqueline Simpson)
  • an international conference in collaboration with Kingston University entitled ‘After Grimm: Fairy Tales and the Art of Story Telling’ in 2012, to celebrate the bicentenary of the publication of the Grimm Brothers’ Children’s and Household Tales with contributions from expert practitioners of Literary History, Comparative Literature, Children’s Literature, Creative Writing, Folklore Studies, Language Studies, Social and Cultural History, etc ((Keynote speakers included Donald Haase, Farah Mendlesohn, Neil Philip, Marina Warner, Jack Zipes)
  • exhibitions of artworks by Mervyn Peake in galleries in Chichester
  • exhibitions in other galleries and museums about the fantastic visual imagination (for example, fairy-tale and fantasy illustrations)
  • drama and other performing arts.

The primary focus of the project will be Sussex as a rich source of folklore as well as the home of many creative writers and artists working with fairy-tale and fantasy material.

We are keen to hear from early career researchers, postgraduate students as well as advanced undergraduate students who would be interested in organising, convening and/or publicising these events. They will be designated as “Research Associates” for the Centre in the long term.


Proposed publications include:

  • an online newsletter (which you can receive by signing up for our mailing list),
  • a twice-yearly hard copy journal Gramarye (also expected to be in an online version at a later stage),
  • books of conference proceedings,
  • other edited collections.

We are also interested in increasing access to folktales and fairy tales that are in the public domain.

International Research Network

One of the key purposes of the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction is to strengthen the international network of researchers working on folktales, fairy tales and fantasy. We hope that this will facilitate new collaborations between individual researchers and research institutions.

To this end, the Centre is setting up:

  • the FOLKTALES mailing-list moderated by the Centre administration, for updates on subject-related events and publications for the discussion of folklore, fairy tales and fantasy in academic and specialist contexts
  • a network of partner institutions, which will actively pursue opportunities for collaboration
  • the online bibliographical index, which will allow researchers to collaborate on a comprehensive collection of relevant publications and sources

If you are interested in collaborating with the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction, please contact us!