Tuesday, September 15, 2015


One characteristic of a modern fairy-story is the notion of the "happy ending." Near the end of "On Fairy-stories," Tolkien discusses this in relation to 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?


Vana said...

Eucatastrophe is usually defined as being favorable. If you Google the word, on of the synonyms is actually "happy ending." In my own mind, however, I tend to think of a happy ending as somewhat cliche. As if a happy ending is exactly what the audience suspects is exactly what should happen for a perfect ending in a perfect world - nobody dies, the couples end up together, and everything is unnaturally ideal. Eucatastrophe, then, is a more natural ending. People die that must die and they stay dead, there is grief but there is also happiness and a sense of things coming together properly, if not altogether satisfyingly.
A modern example of a story that embodies happy endings is Doctor Who or the modern British Sherlock. Steven Moffat refuses to leave anybody dead! However, I believe more modern approaches to fantasy tend to lean towards more natural endings as in eucatastrophe. Except maybe Game of Thrones, which is altogether cruel.

Oromë said...

After reading "On Fairy Stories," my impression is that while eucatastrophe necessarily leads to a happy ending, there are happy endings that do not come about by way of eucatastrophe. Eucatastrophe, by my understanding, is when something unexpected occurs which brings about a happy ending. Tolkien calls it "the sudden, joyous 'turn'" in the essay.

In modern works of fantasy, writers and readers (or viewers) seem to think that the "happy ending" is cliche and overdone. They are disappointed when everything ends well, calling it unrealistic. To such critics I must ask why that is a bad thing? When I read fiction, fantasy in particular, I do not read it in order to see more of the "realistic" world in which I live. I read fantasy specifically because it is not realistic. I want a story with an unrealistic happy ending. I want a eucatastrophe where chance is on the side of good, and everything somehow works out.

Lórien said...

My understanding of this idea of Eucatastrophe is a little bit different than a mere happy ending. To fully grasp the word, its parts must be examined. The word catastrophe is of Greek origin. It is typically used to describe some sort of calamitous event. Although it really means something closer to an ending to something in a disastrous fashion. I suppose that is how the modern came about. Essentially it refers to an event that brings about the ending of a certain way or aspect of life. Perhaps it is an internal changed such as a home robbery affecting a family or it might be a external change like a city destroyed by a hurricane. The suffix Eu- is also of Greek origin and is taken to typically mean good. Actually it is a combination of the suffixes meaning good and well, creating something with a closer definition to "true or truth". Tolkien almost certainly would have known this. Thus I think Eucatastrophe can be taken to mean true end. I think by think Tolkien means that a piece of writing that ends in a catastrophe, is not actually ending. There is thus a sense of ultimate finality about the Eucatastrophe. Additionally, while there is a an undeniable feeling of an upside to this, it is essentially a complete end, a kind of Ragnarok. I suspect that Tolkien linked this idea of Eucatastrophe closely with his own concept of the apocalypse of creation. The only way for continuation after a Eucatastrophe is an act of new creation. Perhaps Tolkien applied the concept of infinite regression to Eucatastrophe, theorizing that it could occur isolated with Sub-creation. Maybe it even can occur within Sub-creation perpetrated within other acts of Sub-creation. I can't really say how far the definition extended for Tolkien, but I think it is fair to say that he certainly ran across a fascinating idea here.