Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Eucatastrophe

There's this really cool concept that J.R.R. Tolkien came up with. Tolkien, best known for his books The Lord of the Rings, has this theory called the eucatastrophe. 

Eucatastrophe is a neologism coined by Tolkien from Greek ευ- "good"
and καταστροφή "destruction".

“Eu-cata-strophe” as a word: 
(always important to remember that Tolkien was first and foremost a student of languages)
“strophe” = turn
“cata” = down, against, back
“eu” = good

He writes about this in various letters. (If you're interested the MCAD library has the book of Tolkiens letters)

"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a storywhich pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it isthe highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there ledto the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is asudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material causeand effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a majorlimb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if thestory has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this isindeed how things really do work in the Great World for which ournature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection wasthe greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story –and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which producestears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comesfrom those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, asselfishness and altruism are lost in Love."― Letter 89

In his On Fairy-Stories Tolkien describes eucatastrophe further:"But the 'consolation' of fairy-tales has another aspect than theimaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is theConsolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert thatall complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say thatTragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but theopposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess aword that expresses this opposite — I will call it Eucatastrophe. Theeucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highestfunction.The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or morecorrectly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for thereis no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of thethings which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is notessentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale—orotherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to becounted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe,of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to thejoy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if youwill) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving afleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignantas grief.It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more completekind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible theadventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn”comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to(or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form ofliterary art, and having a peculiar quality."― On Fairy-Stories

That's a lot of words but the basic idea is that if you accept that catastrophe can and will happen, we must also accept the inverse - that good things can and will happen out of nowhere. It doesn't mean a happy ending, but it means that good things will happen.

I think it's worth remembering and sharing.
-Eleni Leventopoulos

No comments:

Post a Comment