Marina Warner

By Elmhirst, Sophie | New Statesman (1996), December 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Marina Warner


Elmhirst, Sophie, New Statesman (1996)


You describe yourself as being "irresistibly: attracted to myths". Has that always been the case?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It started when I was a child. I was brought up a Catholic and I was quite fervent, because I was sent to a convent school. I don't experience myths as supernatural now in the way that I did when I was a believer-I don't consent to these imaginings but I think the imagination has its own life that one lives in and enjoys.

What drew you to writing about the Arabian Nights specifically?

If you want to learn about a culture, you look at what buildings the people lived in but you also want to know about their cosmos. We orient ourselves by imaginary co-ordinates, as well. I wanted to look at the magical world of enchantment of the Arabian Nights, which seems so absurd and preposterous, and try to posit that it holds one's attention because it reproduces values and the ways that we orient ourselves.

You say storytelling is "the fullest metaphor for love against death". What do you mean?

There's a profound message in the Arabian Nights: when someone is in a rage, a murderous rage [as the sultan is], if you expand his mind by showing him different aspects of human psychology and stretch his experience through stories, you can, in the end, calm him down. That's what the stories were told for and there are many others like them. I've just bought a book called The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco and these are stories told in the marketplace in Marrakech until recently. This supply is inexhaustible and it has its social aim - to broaden and deepen people's minds.

You say that the tales lack inferiority. How?

Fairy tales are very different from Henry James or Virginia Woolf or Proust - they don't have specificity. This literature of enchantment presents the possibility that people are not consistent within themselves and that all kinds of unpredictable events will take place in someone's life that will make them behave out of character. A person who has done a lot with this is Philip Pullman. He shows that the metamorphic animal, the soul, goes through all these shapes and shifts and materialises in the world the vagaries of the person. Since I started work on this theme, philosophers have increasingly been coming round to this view of the discontinuities of personality. …

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