Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tragedy vs Eucatastrophe

Thinking back to "On Fairy Stories", Tolkien talks about the importance of the eucatastrope or sudden turn that leads to a happy ending.  We all know and love the more famous works like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings the do have eucatastrophes.  Happy endings are important to the genre of fantasy/fairy stories. However, The Children of Húrin has no eucatastrophe.  It's still a fairy story, but also a tragedy.  My question to you all is which do you prefer?  Did you find the tragedy cathartic in any way, or was it too much of a downer?  What are the advantages of tragedy over happy endings?  And since this is the longest of the "tales" of Beleriand, do you think Tolkien placed particular importance/emphasis on it because it was so tragic?


sworland said...

Maybe I'm really morbid and maybe something is wrong with me, but I think The Children of Hurin is my favorite of Tolkien's works thus far.

The characters in this tale are problematic. They're not as clear cut as the characters in the Lord of the Rings. At the end of the book, I'm still not sure if I like Turin - is he a hero? Is he a bad guy? Or do I just feel TERRIBLE for him? I'm really not sure. And I love that. I love that Tolkien doesn't tie the story up with a bow.

Also, this story speaks to Tolkien's prodigious writing skills. He writes an epic tragedy for the ages, and he dreamed up hobbits, the jolliest creatures in imagination. Tolkien could conquer any genre.

Lorin said...

I know this is stretching it quite a bit, but I felt like there actually was a sort of eucatastrophe at the end of the Children of Hurin - Hurin finds Morwen, and they at least get to be with each other again, though for a very short time.

But, really, the story is just tragic and depressing to me, though I still really like it! And though I think a lot of people prefer the more eucatastrophic endings to stories (as I know I usually do - like, I get physically angry when fictional characters I love die), the Children of Hurin in a way has just as much power as those happy ending stories, because it reflects the tragedy that takes place in reality. (But then what does that mean for Tolkien's requirement that fairy-stories be a means of escape from the real world? Hmm...)

I don't know for sure if this has anything to do with it, but I was looking at a book today that discusses the impact of WWI on Tolkien's writings - maybe that has to do with it? Perhaps Tolkien desired to work through his own grief and experience with tragedy by creating this story?

Julie Lautenschleger said...

I prefer the eucatastrophe. I agree with Loren, though, I think that The Children of Hurin definitely has the eucatastrophe at the end. I feel like a note of hope at the end of a story, no matter how small (as in this last tragedy) gives the reader a feeling of peace as they put down the book.

I'm sure many things Tolkien experienced, especially war, was very difficult and hopeless. In the end, though, there must be a tone of human hope. War is heartbreaking and ugly, but there is hope when it is over. This story reflects that note of hope.

Anna Adams said...

I did not think the end to The Children of Hurin had a eucatastrophe, but I understand how it can be seen that way. I did not find the tragedy cathartic. I'm really not the type to enjoy tragedies and I prefer happy endings. I do think tragedy has an advantage over happy endings because it feels less contrived. A lot of the time, I feel like happy endings are forced in fiction. I guess it could be argued that the tragedy in The Children of Hurin was also forced.