This gem via the 8/1/2022 edition of Alan Jacob’s newsletter, Snakes & Ladders.
According to Tolkien, a eucatastrophe in a story often happens at the darkest moment. When all seems lost – when the enemy seems to have won – a sudden “joyous turn” for the better can emerge. It delivers a deep emotional reaction in readers: “a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart”, he wrote.
In The Hobbit, it’d be the sudden arrival of the eagles in the Battle of the Five Armies, while in The Lord of the Rings, it’s the moment Gollum unexpectedly falls into the cracks of Mount Doom, destroying the One Ring. But many other stories feature such turning points, whether it is the kiss that revives Snow White, or the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars.
As Tolkien wrote: “The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairytale, and its highest function. The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’… is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well… it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.”Richard Fisher, via BBC, “Eucatastrophe: Tolkien’s word for the ‘anti-doomsday’“
Tolkein wrote a famous essay titled, “On Fair-Stories.” In that essay, Tolkein writes:
I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. 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 fulfillment 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. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. 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. Legend and History have met and fused.
“Legend and History have met and fused.”
Yes, they have.
That’s the view of my desk from today as I’m developing curriculum and studying the Gospel of John.
But, as you might guess, this isn’t all I’ve been reading. I continue to make my way through James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith at a pace of one sermon per day, and I’ve begun Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain (one of the Kindle deals below). With Merton I’m not as measured in my pace–more starts and stops. Merton’s autobiography is beautifully written, and I wish more Christians would write with his level of insight and artistry. In the CSB, I am now two-thirds of the way through Psalms.
Yesterday I began Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation and I will soon begin a book by J. L. Collins, The Simple Path to Wealth. I’ve recently completed Jen Pollock Michel’s Surprised by Paradox, which you should pre-order, for as with all her work thus far, it is excellent. I also finished reading The Federalist Papers, which I am so glad that I read. Why? It boosted my confidence in the ideas undergirding the American experiment. This happens to be a wonderful place to live, which, if we uphold and build upon our founding principles, can be even more wonderful.
Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness was tedious for me, but I turned its final pages knowing I had encounter a tremendous woman of faith. After Day, I’m on to Merton. Another book I enjoyed: Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. A book that has value, but didn’t thrill me: Scott Rieckens’ Playing With Fire: How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom?
As for May Kindle deals, I’ve noticed:
- Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain ($2.99, though I’d encourage you to consider the mass market paperback for a few dollars more)
- Henry Cloud, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality
- Humphrey Carpenter, J. R. R. Tolkein: A Biography
- Martin Luther, Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional
- Faith that Matters: 365 Devotions from Classic Christian Leaders
- Gordon Fee, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour
- Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow
- Robert Benson, In Constant Prayer
- Robert Plummer, Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism
Lastly, here is a boxed set of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories in hardback that is marked down.
Reading anything good? Leave a comment.