What is a Eucatastrophe?

Philologist and renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien created the term by combining the Greek root, eu, meaning good, with the word, catastrophe. In his essay, “On Faerie Stories,” he defines eucatastrophe as, “the consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe…it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted onto recur.” In short, eucatastrophe is the supreme happy ending. It’s the moment when Aragorn returns from the Paths of the Dead and leads Gondor to victory, or when Sleeping Beauty is freed from her slumber, or when Odysseus finally reunites with his beloved wife after twenty long years of bloodshed and wandering. The dawn after the darkest hour, eucatastrophe brings joy and light so powerful they can only be compared with the cataclysmic force of a natural disaster. And in a sense, eucatastrophe is disastrous—at least for dyscatastrophe, Tolkien’s word for devastation, sorrow, and failure. Dyscatastrophe is very real, but it will not get the final word and in the end only makes the triumph of eucatastrophe sweeter. Consequently, Tolkien believes that however dark a fairy tale or myth may get, it ought to extend hope.

 

Although fantasy by definition involves whimsy and imagination, it should also reveal the “inner consistency of reality,” the narrative of God’s redemption as revealed in the Gospel. Tolkien views all of life as part of a grand narrative God is telling. The fall of man, Tolkien says, is the greatest dyscatastrophe in human history, releasing brokenness, evil, and pain into the world. Under the curse, we all experience dyscatastrophe. No matter how comfortable our lives are, each one of us have and will experience pain—be that through mental illness, betrayal, the death of a loved one, or some other tragedy. However, there is a good and loving God working behind the scenes, and His perfect kingdom will triumph over evil.  “The Gospels contain a fairystory, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories,” Tolkien explains. “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.”

 

By calling the Gospel a fairy story, Tolkien does not mean the Gospel is a fictional tale, but rather, that fantasy stories are only valuable insofar as they reflect the truth of the Gospel. For those who believe the Gospel, the hope of eucatastrophe is certain.

 

Indeed, fantasy resonates with the deepest part of our being because it imitates the one true myth, the Gospel. We need fantasy because it points us to the truth. Fantasy is a form of escapism, intended not to insulate us from earthly pain but to raise us above our circumstances so we can see reality from the heavenly perspective. My goal then is to show you a little more of the beauty and light of fantasy, and ultimately, of the Gospel. Whether you’re a Christian or not, I hope my content is informative and edifying. Most importantly, I pray you gain a deeper glimpse into the heart of Christ, the One who truly is the happily ever after to our story.  He is the Greatest Eucatastrophe.

 

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