Tolkien's Eucatastrophe

Tree and Leaf

I was trying to describe to a friend recently why I best love Return of the King out of the Lord Of The Rings books (not technically a trilogy, but I refuse to quibble). It led me to reread an old favourite: an essay of Tolkien's called Tree and Leaf. It's divided into 2 sections: 'On Fairy Stories & a fairy tale, Leaf by Niggle. This is such an excellent essay, and I recommend it if you can find it. My copy was sold together with a few of his epic poems under the title 'The Tolkien Reader', and it originally went for 95 cents..... so that was a while ago.
On Recovery, Escape & Consolation
'On Fairy Stories' recounts what Tolkien considers to be key elements of 'genuine' fairy stories: Recovery, Escape & Consolation. Tolkien refers to the last as the 'Consolation of the Happy Ending'. This is most definitely not 'and they all lived happily ever after'. It is, rather: "the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale)..... a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur;....it denies universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief....In such stories when the 'turn' comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through." He calls this 'turn' a eucatastrophe, the ultimate happy resolution.
The Fields of Cormallen
And that's why I love 'Return of the King' the best of the three, because of it's eucatastrophic ending: all the more ecstatic because of the depths of its sorrow and pain. When I first read it; it was so despairing in Mordor that I couldn't honestly guess if Frodo & Sam would ever succeed on their Quest. I remember lying in our bed, the summer after we got married, listening to B read to me, engrossed in the story, and then-in the midst of all the terrors on Mount Doom, 'The Eagles are coming!" and Sam wakes up in Lothlorien, healed and well. He sees Gandalf beside him and gasps, "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?" I remember the tears slipping out of the corners of my eyes then, the sudden and miraculous grace, the glimpse of Joy, my heart was lifted up, and the wild goodness of this "turn" of events caught in my throat.
The Gospel As Fairy-Story
Actually, my favourite part of 'On Tree and Leaf' is the epilogue; Tolkien ties in all this Consolation business with Christianity.
"The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels-peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving; "mythical" in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfilment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy....But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men-and of elves."


Anonymous said...

This is beautiful stuff. This, in my opinion, is the central point of all life- We are destined for death, but there is a saviour. The turn, as Tolkien calls it. He says it well- beautifully. We are all the literature of God.

Anonymous said...

Wow girl, you amaze me. Are you sure you were not raised by some Oxford scholars while my back was turned?? What a gift for writing.

As to the content....yes! Isn't it one of the biggest deceptions of this portion of our eternal life that we should be enjoying that "happily ever-after" right now. We miss so much. There is a thrill in that feeling of being rescued by God all along the way. He is constantly showing Himself strong on our behalf, but we continue to look for the big payoff right this minute. Even just a glipse of Joy is so amazing and He usually gives us so much more than that. Thanks for the reminder and thank you for introducing me to the concepts of consolation and eucatastrophe.
XO your biggest fan,

Rosa said...

Mum, It is clear where I get the writing thing from!
XO YOUR biggest fan,

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.