Eucatastrophe

hobbit eagles

Eucatastrophe [yew-kuh-tas-truh-fee] is a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien which refers to the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensure that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible doom. He formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix ‘eu,’ meaning ‘good,’ to ‘catastrophe,’ the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the ‘unraveling’ or conclusion of a drama’s plot.

For Tolkien, the term appears to have had a thematic meaning that went beyond its implied meaning in terms of form. In his definition as outlined in his 1947 essay ‘On Fairy-Stories,’ it is a fundamental part of his conception of mythopoeia (the creation of myths). Though Tolkien’s interest is in myth, it is also connected to the gospels; Tolkien calls the Incarnation (God taking a physical form, as Jesus in Tolkien’s view) the eucatastrophe of ‘human history’ and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.

It could be said that the climax of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a eucatastrophe. Though victory seems assured for Sauron, the One Ring is permanently destroyed through Gollum’s carelessness, and with it the Dark Lord and his fortress of Barad-dûr. This occurs despite Frodo, the chief protagonist, giving in to the will of the Ring and claiming it for himself. Essentially, it is an ostensibly dire situation which is nevertheless salvaged through some unforeseeable turn of events.

‘Eucatastrophe’ is often confused with deus ex machina, in that they both serve to save the protagonist. The key difference is that the eucatastrophe fits within the established framework of the story, whereas the deus ex machina, the ‘God from the machine,’ suddenly and inexplicably introduces a character, force, or event that has no pre-existing narrative reference. In ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ while some of the events may seem unlikely or even impossible, they still remain consistent with the overall story.

One Comment to “Eucatastrophe”

  1. , Not all happy endings are coupots and not all tragic endings are deep. I agree with that wholeheartedly.Also, unless the characters die at the end, their lives go on. Stories just close at certain chapters in their lives.When I was in Jr. High, we watched some tv film about a teenage boy who became a father. At first he tried to do the right thing, then the pressure became too much for him, and finally at the end, he came back to the girl apologising and saying he was ready to fully accept responsibility and wanted to help her raise their baby.It ended there. A student yelled, That’s it? That’s the end? My teacher shot back, How long do you want the movie to be? Do you want it to show their entire lives? I never forgot that, because my teacher made an excellent point. It didn’t matter what happened later in their lives. Maybe their marriage lasted forever. Maybe they divorced two years later or twenty years later. But that was not the point of the film. The film was about a young man coming to terms with the reality of becoming of an unexpected father.That’s how I deal with my endings. I never think, Oh, I want a happy ending. Or a sad ending. Or whatnot. I simply think, when is the best place/time to finish talking about THIS part or problem of their lives?

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