But the ‘consolation’ of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it…The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.
– A Tolkien Miscellany, 135.
Fantasy helps us perceive afresh the Reality which we really know to be true but one, nevertheless, which our present circumstances question and almost altogether deny. Fantasy consoles us in the face of peril and darkness. It reassures us and whispers, “All things will be happily ever after.”
Here is an edited excerpt from a post I wrote a while back.
Essential to Tolkien’s view of true fairy-story is his concept of eucatastrophe. 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). Eucatastrophe is a sudden turn in dark, despairing events to ultimate victory and joy. It is evangelium, good news, of the highest kind. This concept, as Tolkien tells us, does not do away with the reality of evil and pain. It is, however, ultimately hopeful, pushing us into the truth that all pain and evil will one day give way to true restoration 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 light. (From post: Gospel Eucatastrophe)
Eucatastrophe, “the highest function of fantasy,” is derived from one of the most poignant of truths. Tolkien tells us, “Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality. . . The peculiar quality of ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only ‘consolation’ for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?'” (137). This “happy ending” is not a cheap consolation but one that touches the core of who we are as humans. It answers our deepest and fundamental question. We do not essentially long to know “Why?” but “Is it true?” Can it be true that all things will be made right? Do we dare hope in Reality beyond ourselves? Do we take the risk and cast ourselves on the strength of Another? Can we really hope for a happy ending when all seems far gone? For Tolkien, his inclusion of eucatastrophe in story is indicative of the truth of eucatastrophe in Reality, specifically the Reality of Christ. He says, “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,” (137-138). There is no story more captivating, no gospel more desirous, “no tale ever told that men would rather find was true,” (138).
Our bones ache with the longing for something joyous and satisfying, something more than what we have, something cooler and deeper than what we have found here to drink. Indeed, the whole creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now,” (Romans 8:19-22). The trees, oceans, stars, and animals long as we long for final deliverance, for eucatastrophic culmination. All of our experience points to eucatastrophe. For thousands of years the earth has gone through its cycles. Spring always follows winter. Dawn always follow night. This has been the case since the beginning. But these cycles, these moments of turning, are only pointing us to the final Spring and the final Day when Christ will bring His kingdom to earth. His kingdom, yes, has broken in with His first coming. His life, death, and resurrection began the transformation that will come to an end at His second coming. We can be forgiven now. We can be made new now. We are being transformed now (2 Corinthians 3:18). For those who are in Christ, the darkness has lifted, is lifting, and will lift. But the reckoning and consummation has yet to happen. For those in Christ the ending is always “happily ever after.” Eucatastrophe, however, awaits fulfillment, and we wait for it with eager hearts.
For those caught in the in-between, awaiting the final eucatastrophe, Fantasy helps us catch our breath (136) by pointing us to the truth of the greatest story of human history. The story of Christ “is supreme; and it is true.” In the incorporation of Gospel truth into Fantasy, “Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men- and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused,” (138). Fantasy, then, is a way in which we are reminded. It is way in which we are given hope and joy to keep going.
As Fantasy appropriates mundane things, things we have possessed for so long, into its narrative, we recover their wonder and mystery as things truly beautiful and other. In Fantasy’s appropriation of not only things but of truth, we are given the key to get out, and in getting out, we get in. We are allowed to slip into the wardrobe. We are given visions and pictures of timeless truths and deeper realities which help us reorient ourselves around the Truth and the Reality. But all of these things are worthless if they do not give us hope, if they do not give us a measure of joy. In the eucatastrophe of Fantasy, we are reminded of the telos, the ultimate end and aim of all things. There is hope, for, as the creation testifies day after day and year after year, Spring is upon us and “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand,” (Romans 13:11-12). There is joy. There is joy here for those who would turn to Christ, and there is unending, eternal joy to be had when the end comes. So, as we long to know, “Is it true?”, all of creation whispers back to us, “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord,” (Psalm 27:14). Christ himself assures our weary and desperate hearts, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” (Revelation 22:12-13).