BOOK: Myths, fantasy – and truth of the man kicked out of Arundel

The influence of German romanticism is at the heart of a new book by University of Chichester English department principal lecturer Bill Gray.

Fantasy, Myth And The Measure Of Truth: Tales Of Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald And Hoffman is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Bill – who writes under the name William Gray – is the university's reader in literary history and hermeneutics.

"I have always been really, really interested in that fantasy literature of Germany romanticism, people like Hoffman, Novalis and Tieck, and the Grimms as well. I have always been fascinated by it.

"It is what CS Lewis would call joy, a particularly strange feeling of disturbance and excitement and anticipation – a mystery which is terrifying but also attractive.

"It's partly about trying to communicate certain religious experiences in a non-conventional way. They are trying to recreate some kind of religious or mystical experience, some kind of spirituality outside conventional religion.

"One of the ways they can do that is to create myths. They are a way of expressing something that can't be expressed any other way.

"Really the centre of the book is George MacDonald who lived for some time in Arundel. He was the minister of Ninevah House in the 1850s in Tarrant Street.

"But he was kicked out of Arundel because of his 'heretical beliefs'. They said in the church he was tainted by German thought and philosophy and literature.

"He had to make his living for the rest of his life by writing, but he was also a huge influence on CS Lewis and Tolkien. He created mythopoeic literature.

"I wanted to find someone who was introducing the German tradition into English literature. MacDonald was consciously mediating into literature this mythical way of writing."

Bill traces the links through to Philip Pullman writing now – a writer curious for the way in which he attacks CS Lewis: "He seems obsessed with being extremely critical of CS Lewis and everything he stands for. But Pullman is actually unthinkable without him.

"I think Pullman is very consciously a fine writer who contrasts in that respect with JK Rowling who just batters them out. And he is a very powerful writer.

"And he is quite explicit in the influence of German romanticism on his writing.

"I have never met Pullman in the flesh, but he has been very helpful in correspondence. He is very willing to talk ideas."

Bill, who studied literature, philosophy and theology at the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and Princeton, teaches a third-year special subject module in fantasy writing for children (of all ages), exploring the writers discussed in Fantasy, Myth And The Measure Of Truth.

He will deliver a keynote address at a conference organised by the Youth and Children's Work department of the diocese of Chichester in collaboration with the University of Chichester and the Children's Society on the theme of Changing Childhood, at the University of Chichester this summer.