Advent Inspiration: J.R.R. Tolkien

One of my very favorite mystical insights – and exactly perfect for Advent!

holy starFrom J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”

Tolkien’s neologism eucatastrophe figures prominently in the essay’s epilogue posted below.  Here is his definition:

[T]he consolation of fairy tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires.  Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending.  Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it.  At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story.  Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite – I will call it Eucatastrophe. . . -the joyous turn; a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

Epilogue

This “joy” which I have selected as the mark of the true fairy-story, or as the seal upon it, merits more consideration.

The peculiar quality of “joy” in a successful Fantasy can . . . be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.  It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and answer to that question, “Is it true?”  The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.”  That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist.)  But in “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater – it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.  The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue.  It is a serious and dangerous matter.  It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.

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, 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 fulfilment 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.

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 pre-eminently (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 Lord, of angels, and of men – and of elves.  Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small.  Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on.  The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.  So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.  All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.