Eucatastrophe is a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien which refers to the sudden turn of events at the end of a story which ensures that the protagonist does not meet some terrible, impending, and very plausible doom. Tolkien formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically inspired literary criticism to refer to the "unraveling" or conclusion of a drama's plot. For Tolkien, the term appears to have had a thematic meaning that went beyond its literal etymological meaning in terms of form.[how?] In his definition as outlined in his 1947 essay "On Fairy-Stories", eucatastrophe is a fundamental part of his conception of mythopoeia.[how?] Though Tolkien's interest is in myth, it is also connected to the gospels; Tolkien calls the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of "human history" and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.
Eucatastrophe has been labelled as a form of deus ex machina, due to both sharing an impossible problem being suddenly resolved. However, differences between the two have also been noted, such as its inherent connection to an optimistic view on the unfolding of events in the narrative of the world. Eucatastrophe can also occur without the use of a deus ex machina.
Examples in Tolkien's work
It could be said that the climax of The Lord of the Rings is a eucatastrophe. Though victory seems assured for Sauron, the One Ring is permanently destroyed as a result of Gollum's treachery, and with it the Dark Lord and his fortress of Barad-dûr. This occurs despite Frodo, the chief protagonist, giving in to the will of the Ring and claiming it for himself. Essentially, it is an ostensibly dire situation which is nevertheless salvaged through some unforeseeable turn of events.
Another example of eucatastrophe is the recurring role of the eagles as unexpected rescuers throughout Tolkien's writing. Tolkien described Bilbo's "'eucatastrophic' emotion" at the eagles appearance in The Hobbit as one of the key moments of the book.
- Mazur 2011, p. 174
- Tolkien 1990, pp. 109–161
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- Mazur 2011, p. 175
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