“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.“- J.R.R Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, pgs 137-138 in A Tolkien Miscellany.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher.)”- John 20:15-16.
Essential to Tolkien’s view of true fairy-story is his concept of eucatastrophe. Coined by him in his heavy essay On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien defines eucatastrophe as, “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,” (135-136 in a Tokien Miscellany). Eucatastrophe is a sudden and miraculous turn in dark, despairing events to ultimate victory and joy. This concept does not do away with the reality of evil and unbelievable pain, but it is also unbelievably hopeful, pushing us into the truth that all pain and evil will give way one day to true rest and goodness. Tolkien says, “In such stories when the sudden ‘turn’ comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through,” (136). The end of eucatastrophe is alien Joy, a Joy which invades the mundane world we live in, allowing us a vision into a realm of utter Beauty and Joy. In Tolkien’s works, the Eagles usually play a part in such eucatastrophic events. Just in time, in a moment of complete despair, the majestic race of Eagles appears to aid and conquer. In The Silmarillion, during Tuor’s escape from the burning, besieged, elf stronghold of Gondolin the Great Eagles protected and aided the refugees against an ambush and destruction. In the Hobbit, they arrive at precisely the right moment to rescue Thorin’s company from orcs and certain death. In the the Lord of the Rings, they sweep in at the Battle of Morannon to fight off the menacing Nazgul, protecting our heroes from certain annihilation. The Eagles’ appearances are always sudden and change the tide of evil indefinitely. These cameos produce in the reader such a joy and relief that, in the end, is penetrating and at its core, gospel. Tolkien sees the story of Jesus as the highest form of eucatastrophe and indeed its very model. More than four hundred years lapsed between the last prophet and the great Birth in Bethlehem. For four hundred years, silence and darkness characterized the mood of life for God’s people. And then, in a sudden and brilliant moment, the Son of God came to us. His coming changed everything indefinitely, and Joy, heavenly, alien Joy, invaded the world. Hope had come. And then hope was extinguished. Christ was crucified, He was destroyed. All of the hope brought by the arrival of the God-Man was, in the moment of His last breath, diffused by darkness. For three days, the disciples scattered, fear plagued them, and joy was sucked from them. Until the third day. The resurrection, though foretold by Jesus, was sudden and really unexpected. I love the moment between Christ and Mary. She is in one moment frantic and desperate. Emotions are high, and despair plagues her. And yet in a moment of gospel eucatastrophe, the resurrected One speaks her name, and all turns to heavenly Joy. The grave had been defeated, death had been overcome. All insecurity was then dispelled by the Living Christ, and Joy invaded once more. Truly Easter is about eucatatrophe. Truly the story of history and God’s redeeming plan is one of ultimate eucastrophe. And yet, while basking in the Joy of Easter, we must look towards the definite invasion of Joy and the all-consuming eucatatrophic moment of Christ’s Second Coming. For as a thief, Christ will complete what He started. In that moment, unbridled Light and Joy will flood the world of darkness and pain. In destructive fire, sin itself will be destroyed, and God’s people will not simply be given a fleeting taste of joy, but will drink it in deeply, be overcome by it, and rest in it for all eternity. We live between the eucastrophes, the resurrection and the second coming. May our hearts remember, daily, though the pain and torment are real, that all will give way eventually to victory in a moment of sudden arrival, the arrival of our Risen and Reigning King who is not only our ultimate salvation, but also our overwhelming Joy.