The Eucatastrophe

By Brent King On February 7, 2015 Under Lessons in Fantasy

Tolkien called it a eucatastrophe and said it was the highest function of fairy stories. It is a glimpse of truth in a world where the whole natural order is a chain of death. It comes upon us when all is sorrow and failure, when hope cannot present a happy ending.

In our dire straights the eucatastrophe, in a sudden happy turn, denies defeat. We catch our breath, for—against all hope—we see “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief” (Tolkien, On Fairy Stories).

Tolkien best describes this joy in The Lord of the Rings:

“And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

Have there been any eucatastrophes in your life?

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