From Christ to Presley, we've been here before, says Dorothy Rowe
In the crowds delivering flowers and queuing to sign the books of condolence something more is happening than people grieving for someone they loved and valued. It is more than wanting to be at an historical event. It is people partaking in the enactment of one of the most powerful myths, which has existed throughout history and in all cultures. It is expressed in different trappings of place, time and circumstances, but it's always the same story, the one called "The king must die".

Myths have always been vital because they tell us that, though we are puny people living in a harsh world, we can have hope, that we suffer but survive, that our life has significance. The myth "The king must die" tells us that someone like us but greater than us will come to defend, inspire and save us, that this person will be brought down by dark forces of which we might be part, but that our defender and saviour will rise again in another form. The myth has be told in many ways, from the story of Jesus to that of Elvis Presley.

Now Diana's story fills the myth. Like the king who has to die, she was both a person and an icon. Like him, her beginnings were relatively humble and she appeared to be ordinary, even insignificant, but gradually her true worth was revealed. Like him, she was revered and raised on high, but as she reached her pinnacle she was conspired against and brought down, killed by those who helped to raise her. Her worshippers are shocked and helpless. They weep and suffer, but what will happen is that, even as they mourn, another king/ princess will be found, and they will rejoice.

It's unlikely that the people outside St James's Palace are informed about or interested in myths, but they love stories, especially those they already know. The films and books that give us the most satisfaction are those which tell old stories with new characters and settings.

The most comforting stories tell us we live in a just world where goodness is rewarded and badness punished. In real life, all too often villains live well and the good are punished. So, if we can't have the just world, we'll turn to "The king must die".

According to the myth, though the king dies his spirit lives on. The messages on the flowers and in the books of condolence are addressed to Diana. While the Royal Family shut themselves away, we can imagine how, were she queen and her beautiful daughter-in-law dead, Diana would be among us, comforting us. Thus she is risen in spirit.

Some people are ready to take on the guilt for her death. They bought the papers that bought the paparazzi pictures. Others prefer to point the finger of blame. This finger points at the paparazzi and the moguls who fund and profit from the system. But it also points elsewhere. The public statement "We love Diana" contains the implicit message "We do not love you", "you" being those royals who did not love and protect her.

The myth allows for the salvation of those who kill the king, but only if they repent. Myth or not, we know that if the Royal Family are truly mourning they must feel guilty. Such guilt can be assuaged only by confession and repentance. When the Queen spoke to the nation this is what so many people wanted to hear. But from what she said, was it enough?

The failure to recognise how much Diana is loved could be the most grievous blow the House of Windsor has ever dealt itself. The monarchy will survive only if the last act of the myth can be played out and a new king is born. There is William in Diana's image. Let's hope the only myth he will ever enact is that of Prince Charming who lived happily ever after.

Dorothy Rowe's book 'The Real Meaning of Money' is published by HarperCollins on 15 September

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