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The Great "Eucatastrophe"

The Great "Eucatastrophe"

Principal's Pen - Feburary 2024

J.R.R. Tolkien, the esteemed author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, once wrote about the essence of good storytelling in a notable essay entitled “On Fairy Stories” (1947). In this classic work, he explored the nature of authoring the genres of mythology, fantasy, and classic fairy tales, arguing that these types of narratives, when written well, held value beyond that of entertainment. Tolkien proposed that these genres could illuminate profound truths about the shared human experience, offering glimpses of the redemption and joy we all long for. 

Central to Tolkien's argument was the concept of a "eucatastrophe," a term he coined to capture the development of a story to a pivotal moment where things change dramatically (In Greek, “eu” means “good,” “catastrophe” means “to overturn”). He defined it as “the sudden happy turn in a story, which pierces you with a joy that brings tears…it is a miraculous grace, never to be counted on to recur.” In other words, according to Tolkien, good storytelling must have the element of an unexpected miracle where the scene moves from a place of darkness and hopelessness to what everyone wants: a "happy ending." In these "good catastrophe moments,” characters encounter unexpected grace that ends their distress, adversity, or “lot in life,” causing them to reach a state of happiness, flourishing, and destiny. Traditional examples of a "eucatastrophe" include Cinderella's transformative experience at the ball following the appearance of her Fairy Godmother, the awakening kiss from a prince in classic tales like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, or Belle's confession of true love in Beauty and the Beast. 

Tolkien's concept of a "eucatastrophe," exemplified in these stories, as well as the ones he authored, captured a fundamental aspect of what we all long for in life - someone or something to deliver us from the trials, tribulations, and evil that bring suffering and death into our world. We yearn for real “eucatastrophes,” miraculous transformations, love conquering death, and all kinds of supernatural reversals. Who among us wouldn't yearn for the chance to see a kiss break the curse of death at a loved one's funeral? Who doesn’t desire to be captivated by genuine love that overlooks their physical and moral flaws? Who wouldn’t love to see good triumph over evil once and for all? A "eucatastrophe" is the hope we long for amid despair, a reminder that even in our darkest moments, we long for the possibility of a reversal, of redemption. But will that possibility ever come true? 

In light of Tolkien's insights, we are reminded of the greatest eucatastrophe of all, the one written by God, the gospel, the good news, which likewise centers on a miraculous reversal: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the supernatural turn of the Son of God from death to life, from despair to hope, from sorrow to joy. But the gospel, the moment of divine intervention, is not a fairy story but a historical truth. It really happened! The Son of God rose from the dead! And because it happened, humanity is offered a glimpse of how that story can become our own. Forgiveness, redemption, and the promise of everlasting life can be ours through faith in Christ and the eucatastrophe he went through on our behalf. 

No one said it better than Tolkien himself: “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.” 

May God bless you as you live in light of God’s story!

Nicholas Harris 


Photo Credit: Pamela Chandler

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