Marina Warner Unmasks the Myths

Marina Warner is a British novelist, mythologist, historian, and culture critic. Her studies of myths and symbols include Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary and From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers. Her novel, The Leto Bundle, will be released in the U.S. in May. Helen Antrobus spoke with Ms. Warner by phone.

conduit: Do you think that the Disney effect on myth limits our ability to deal with something like terrorism in a complex way, because our stories are so denatured that they only bring us to this point of good vs. evil?

marina warner: Yes, I think that’s the dominant problem of global marketing strategies in the entertainment industry. Stories always have responded to local problems. As I’ve argued, you know, it’s not as though there are archetypal scripts in the psyche. It’s a practical thing. People tell stories to get to grips with what is assailing them, what is troubling them. The stories may or may not be effective, but in the act of representing what you fear, then you have some kind of curiously better way of handling it. You can confront it better. Usually the way that’s happened is that transactions and exchanges have kept very close to the ground of what is the problem. So the Cinderella story is different in Italy because of the dowry problem than it is in another country where you don’t have a similar insistence on dowries.

What’s happened now, of course, is they do go for the broad brush conflicts, because they’re selling everywhere, all over the world. And they’re losing some of the complexity and the nuances and the sensitivity. You see, the new Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, are films I could put in the lineage of Star Wars, which also has a very Manichaen plot, a very “good and evil” plot.