Narrative Techniques Series: #17 Eucatastrophe

Narrative Techniques Series: #17 Eucatastrophe

During our Narrative Technique Series, we have explained some well-known techniques and some lesser-known ones.
However, the one in this article you may have heard of a few times or perhaps never even heard of. We are talking about the Narrative Technique of Eucatastrophe.

What is the Narrative Technique of Eucatastrophe?

It is a very particular Narrative Technique invented and used by Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings“. It describes a series of unfortunate events that the protagonist faces, foreshadowing that their destiny is already fulfilled and will not have a positive turn.

Suddenly, however, these events lead to an unexpected end, preventing the protagonist from falling into disgrace.
It has a little to do with the concept of the happy ending, so much used in fairy tales. Tolkien, however, loved fairy tales, and probably, Eucatastrophe is also part of Tolkien’s defense of writing and reading fairy tales.

J.R.R Tolkien invented this word starting from the Greek prefix “-eu” which means “good” and “catastrophe” which reveal a drama.

According to Tolkien, there is something divine about including a sudden and unexpected positive breakthrough in a tale that seems to take an entirely different turn.

The fairy tale form, which implies the use of the Happy Ending, is a literary structure that mainly allows authors to express their personal experiences of Eucatastrophe in fiction.

Eucatastrophe and the Deus Ex Machina Narrative Techniques

We may also compare the Eucatastrophe to the Deus Ex Machina Narrative Technique. This Technique is used in fiction to indicate that unexpected turn during the plot. Usually, it appears at the end, but not always. This surprising event solves one or more problems in a ‘fortuitous’ way without a genuine cause and effect correlation.

There is a slight difference between these two techniques. The Eucatastrophe seems to be the worst thing ever, but, in the end, it reveals to be the element that solves the situation and the main character.

On the opposite, the Deus Ex Machina is something that we assume to have significant importance, and that reveals to be precisely how we think, without any explanation or expectation.

Eucatastrophe and some examples

We can find one first example of Eucatastrophe in The Lord of the Rings, towards the conclusion. The series of events makes the reader think that the supreme catastrophe is imminent: Frodo finally arrived at Sammath Naur, the Pit of Fire where he was supposed to throw the Ring. Frodo claims the evil object for himself by slipping it on his finger. It seems that the venture is over; the Ring-bearer has succumbed to his power.

But immediately, the most unexpected event occurs: Gollum, who has entered by stealth, throws himself at Frodo and fights against him for possession of the Ring. He bites off his finger and takes the Ring from Frodo, but rejoicing at his lucky find, he loses his balance and falls into the Abyss.

Another example from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is when Prince Peter is about to be defeated by the White Witch. She seems to take the power again until, unexpectedly, it appears Aslan, who everyone believed as dead.

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. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality’.

J.R.R Tolkien- Tolkien On Fairy Stories

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J.R.R. Tolkien coined anew narrative term, theEucatastrophe,to define a series of actions that lead to an unexpected ending, a happy ending despite the bad events faced by the characters in the story.

It is a kind of happy ending reminiscent of fairy tale narration.

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