Sunday, March 27, 2011


One characteristic of a modern fairy-story we discussed briefly last week has to do with the "happy ending." Near the end of "On Fairy-stories," Tolkien discusses his idea of the eucatastrophe. Write about your thoughts on this idea, and how this idea relates to the concept of the happy ending. Are "eucatastrophe" and "happy ending" synonymous? Do modern fairy-stories and fantasy works of any medium tend to contain this idea of eucatastrophe, or of happy ending, or both? Or neither?


Elwing said...

Tolkien describes eucatastrophe as a sudden change from bad to good (basically the opposite of catastrophe). Eucatastrophe is certainly related to a happy ending, but not necessarily. Eucatastrophe just brings about an even happier and more dramatic ending. Everything seems utterly hopeless, but suddenly some good fortune comes along and lifts everybody up.

One of my favorite examples of eucatastrophe is in "The Return of the King" when Gondor feels that Mordor will overtake Minas Tirith, and the riders of Rohan come with the wind from the sea as well as the dawn and change the tide of the battle. Their help is mostly unlooked for by the people of Gondor and therefore all the more welcome and surprising.

Idril said...

I don't agree that the ideas of eucatastrophe and "happy ending" are synonymous. Eucatastrophe can only exist when hopelessness and despair precede it. In this way eucatastrophe is much more dramatic and fulfilling then the happy ending, but at the same time leaves the reader with a feeling of doubt. Happy endings leave no doubt, therefore both the characters and the reader live "happily ever after."

I also think that eucatastrophe can only exist when the characters and the reader have grown in some way throughout the story (i.e. endured despair and hardship). In contrast, the happy ending merely brings the characters full circle, leaving them where they left off with little to no growth. Because of this I believe that a lot of modern fantasy uses the concept of eucatastrophe rather than the traditional happy ending.