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Old 07-21-2002, 08:01 PM   #1
mark12_30
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Sting eucatastrophe: piercing joy that brings tears

From letter 89 by Tolkien:
"... I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of truth.... It percieves-- if the story has literary 'truth'...--that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest fairy story-- and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love..."

--Letter 89

A number of things surface in this letter that I should like to open up for discussion.

Working backwards: What do you think of Tolkien's idea that "selfishness and altruism are lost in love"? Do you see evidence of that in LOTR, or Silm, or the Hobbit?

What do you think of Tolkien's idea that Joy and Sorrow can become one and reconciled, and where do you see evidence of that in LOTR, or Silm, or the Hobbit?

And given his definition of eucatastrophe: a sudden happy turn, a sudden glimpse of truth, that peirces you with a joy that brings tears-- what passages in LOTR, or Silm, or the Hobbit effect you that way, and what is the truth that you perceive in the "sudden happy turn"?

--Helen

[ July 22, 2002: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 07-22-2002, 01:01 PM   #2
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Eucatastrophe. What an interesting word.

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...the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy stories to produce).
I agree completely with that letter. In my opinion it was Tolkien's ability to so poignantly breathe life into the effects of joy and sorrow's reconciliation that makes his works great. Might this emotion, or the effects of this "sudden happy turn" be akin to transcendence for both the reader and for the character(s)?

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And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest fairy story-- and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love..."
Perhaps LotR's relation to life as a Christian lies in this. I was surprised to find that when reading LotR I felt that same all-consuming joy/sorrow that I experienced when I was in prayer and communion with my Saviour. In both instances I have found myself in tears of joy that fall purely for the love and truth of it all, and are by far the best kind and the most sincere.

The overwhelming victory of love and ultimate truth shines through every page of LotR. It is humbling to read such powerful words, and I only hope that someday my writings will reach people with the truth as Tolkien's has and still does.

Great topic by the way, and very skillfully addressed.

[ July 22, 2002: Message edited by: The Silver-shod Muse ]
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Old 07-22-2002, 01:36 PM   #3
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Hello Mark12-30,

I'm so glad you have posted this topic! I don't know the Lettersfrom which you quote,but I do know Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories." I hope you don't mind if I quote from that as a second source of the ideas from Tolkien which you have quoted here.

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But the 'consolation' of fairy-stories has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Enidng. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is true form of Drama, its hightest function; but the oppositive is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite--I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its hightest function.

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophphe, the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, wich is one of the things which fairy-tales can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale--or otherworld--setting, it is 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....I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story .... The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. ...There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true....
This is the explanation of Tolkien's thought that I know best. Let me run off now, complete my RL tasks, and get back to this thread after I have contemplated it some more.

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Old 07-23-2002, 03:05 AM   #4
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I just found the word "eucatastrophe" in Shippey's J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century! He uses it to describe the ending of Leaf by Niggleand in doing so (since that story is strongly autobiographical), Tolkien's own life. When Niggle dies, the real world forgets him, a tragedy. But the world after death turns to eucatastrophe:
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Niggle's reward is to find his picture come true at the end of his journey, his 'sub-creation' accepted by the Creator, there in full detail and 'finished' but (exactly the opposite of what happens in the world he has left) not 'finished with', in the sense that there is still enormous scope for development.
What a wonderful parallel to Tolkien's own works, not all finished and certainly not finished with, an inspiration to so many for so many years! This is the eucatastrophe I would wish for in my own life, to be able to look back and see that, no matter how dissatisfied I was with what I've done, something good came of it. One of my favorite Bible verses touches this: "All things work together for good... (Romans 8:28) Thank God the eucatastrophe is not something that is within my power or responsibility!!
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Old 07-23-2002, 10:50 AM   #5
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I agree Estelyn! [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]
I know that this may seem just a bit off-topic, but one of the most moving examples of Tolkien's definition of eucatastrophe can be found in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle. All the good creatures of Narnia are standing in the doorway behind Aslan seeing, horror-struck and overcome with grief, the dissolution of all that was Narnia. But when they turn back after the destruction and look through the doorway, expecting the end of all good times and joy, there is Narnia again, only bigger and better and brighter, a heaven, the true Narnia all along, as it were. All the things that the children thought were terrible and ruinous were really working towards good and the fulfillment of Aslan's plan. It is such a potent and stirring scene, albeit blatantly allegorical, and a very good utilization of the fantasy eucatastropy element.
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Old 07-25-2002, 05:45 PM   #6
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Selfishness and Altruism lost in Love: to me the embodiment of this one is Aragorn. To oversimplify: He (selfishly) wants Arwen badly enough to (altruistically) roam the countryside protecting countries that don't know he's there, chase Gollum across the world because Gandalf wants him to, and fight an entire war to detract attention from two halflings. And in the end, when he finally takes Arwen's hand, probably thinking at long last she is MINE MINE MINE, none of us resent it in the least. (do we?)

Joy and sorrow reconciled and become one: That one seems harder to me, but I think of those moments that Frodo and Sam have on the journey between Emyn Muil and Mt Doom when they look at each other and discover their ever-deepening friendship has gone yet another level deeper, and that is a great joy; yet, they are immersed in sorrow as they realise it.

Pure eucatastrophe: Sam's glimpse of the star beyond the Ephel Duath.

More: Frodo and Sam meeting Bilbo and the elves in the woods of the Shire at the end of the book-- The joy of Frodo and Bilbo's transcendance against the wrenching sorrow of leaving Sam.
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Old 08-11-2002, 08:15 PM   #7
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Selfishness and Altruism uniting in love: In one of my favorite chapters, "A Conspiracy Unmasked". Pippin, Merry, and Sam decide to go with Frodo-- wherever and intro whatever he goes-- because he needs their help, and, they don't want to be without him. Merry says later (I think to Haldir) that if he'd known what the world outside was like he wouldn't have had the heart to leave the Shire. But leave it he did, and Pipin and Sam too, for love of Frodo.
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Old 08-11-2002, 09:24 PM   #8
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An even more pointed example might be Sam's dash to Anduin and flinging of himself into the river to make sure Frodo doesn't leave without him.

Sam's feelings and motivations usually seem more pure and undiluted -- just somehow less complex -- than those of most of the other characters, and his mixed motivations of altruism and selfishness, merging together in love, are right out there on his sleeve in the final scene of FotR.
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Old 08-15-2002, 08:28 PM   #9
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Good point, Mr. Underhill. Sam is a steady eucatastrophe-producer. ("Eucer"?)

I picked up Smith of Wooton Major last night and about got euc'ed to peices in Faery-land. I sure didn't get that much out of it the first time I read it!

A new connection for me also (lately) has been, now that I knew that the eagles are sent by Manwe (and not just a convenient conincidence) I get euc'ed when I read, "The Eagles are coming!" It takes me right to the rescue of Frodo and Sam-- even if I'm in the battle of Five Armies instead.

Speaking of Frodo and Sam at the crack of Doom-- now there's an odd juxtaposition of selfishness (Frodo claiming ring) and self-sacrifice (Frodo's draining himself to get to the cracks of Doom, and Sam spending himself to get him there as well.) Altruism and selfishness made one in love-- does that fit? Hmmm.
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Old 08-15-2002, 09:20 PM   #10
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get euc'ed when I read, "The Eagles are coming!" It takes me right to the rescue of Frodo and Sam-- even if I'm in the battle of Five Armies instead.
But if it happens more than once is it still a eucatastrophe?
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Old 08-15-2002, 09:37 PM   #11
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Sting

I think so. Tolkien said, "never to be counted on to recur". He didn't say that it couldn't recur. And I find that some do recur, for me, several times, sometimes deeper and more piercing every time. Grey Havens, for instance. (Mercy!!)
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Old 08-15-2002, 10:27 PM   #12
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When Treebeard parts with the company, and utters the words now employed in the beginning of the movie. "..the world is changing..."
One gets the sense that ultimately, everything has gone right, but the immensity of the moment is almost too much to bear. Galadriel's answer is as reassuring as it is heartbreaking. For me, this passage brought about one of the most profound moments of clarity throughout the book. The world really is changing, and when the reader (or at least, myself) realises the scale of the change, the mystery of what is to come, and the character's many roles in helping to bring this change about, he/she wants to smile, with tears in their eyes. Well, at least a pathetic crybaby like myself does.
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Old 08-16-2002, 08:28 AM   #13
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And I find that some do recur, for me, several times
But, I meant the event itself, not necessarily the reader's reaction to it.
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Old 08-16-2002, 09:40 AM   #14
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Sting

Perhaps you could expand/ explain your question so that it makes sense to me. I'm a bit thick.

My initial reaction is, that part of eucatastrophe is that it is a glimpse into the eternal, into what is true and pure and good; I think part of that, is the reader's openness to recieving it. If Frodo is revealed as shining with an internal light, is it only allowed to happen once? Why? If that's who he really is, why should we not see it more than once?

But I don't think I'm really connecting with your question, am I? Help me out here.
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Old 08-16-2002, 12:19 PM   #15
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Perhaps you could expand/ explain your question so that it makes sense to me.
Sure, I'll try to form a coherent idea out of my inarticulate jargon.

Speaking strictly in the context of the story, my question is can an event be considered a eucatastrophe if it happens more than once? Meaning that can a extraordinary event take place in a story the same way (or almost the same way) twice or more, and still be considered "never to be counted on to recur?" If something happens a certain way twice or more then it may happen again.

To me that seems to dilute the value of this experience of seeing, in a miraculous and unexpected fashion, the triumph of Good over Evil (to cite an example) if it happens the same way more than once. If the "unexpected" starts happening over and over it ceases to be unexpected. The key is that the eucatastrophe be unrepeatable.

This is not to say that there could not be more than one eucatastrophe in a story, but I don't believe that it should happen the same way twice. It needs to be different circumstances and a different "unexpected."

I hope that clarified. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

[ August 17, 2002: Message edited by: Kuruharan ]
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Old 08-16-2002, 02:22 PM   #16
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Sting

All right, Kuruharan, I see your point, and I agree that formula should be avoided and would lessen the suprise quality of the eucatastrophe.

However, does that mean that one eucatastrophe must therefore not point to another? To me, the more I read the same story, the more the story layers connect together, and I see how things relate. So as I re-read through the story, I encounter more of them, especially as I learn more about relationships.

So when (for instance) Frodo dreams, again, about going over the sea, is it forbidden to be a eucatastrophe, simply because he has dreamed before? Or, do the dreams now mean far more to me-- and connect me with the distant, shining truth-- because now I know that he WILL sail?

All his mentions, references, dreams, and songs about the sea, scattered throughout the tale, now connect me to his final departure. That doesn't lessen his final departure; it deepens it. For me, anyway.

The way that I interpret "never to be counted on to recur" is, for instance, that the Ringbearers only sail once. But I don't interpret that as meaning, I'm only permitted one revelation about it. The revelations are scattered throughout the book. And the more I reread it the more of them I catch, until the big picture begins to form, the tapestry of revelation that was there all along, but I didn't have eyes to see it yet.
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Old 08-16-2002, 03:53 PM   #17
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However, does that mean that one eucatastrophe must therefore not point to another?
Certainly not.

Quote:
So when (for instance) Frodo dreams, again, about going over the sea, is it forbidden to be a eucatastrophe, simply because he has dreamed before?
Certainly not. But he can only actually sail over the Sea once. It's the actual event, not events pointing to it or eucatastrophes preceeding it that I mean.

Quote:
Or, do the dreams now mean far more to me-- and connect me with the distant, shining truth-- because now I know that he WILL sail?
That's hard for me to say, but perhaps. But I personally would not define a dream as a eucatastrophe. It's not a great unexpected event. It's a personal experience for the dreamer. It may lead to a eucatastrophe but I don't think that it is a eucatastrophe in and of itself.

I think that perhaps the difference between us is a different viewpoint on eucatastrophes. I think that what is important to you are glimpses of great future events and then the event. For me, I'm mainly concerned with the event itself, and not so much with the events leading up to it.

Not that one viewpoint is better than another, just different.
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Old 08-17-2002, 07:06 AM   #18
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Sting

Okay, Kuruharan, I can see that. I'm almost more concerned with the stuff that points forwards to the event than the event itself, because dreams, visions, prophesies etc tell us so much about destiny and personality and how they combine. To me it's as important to understand why Frodo sailed, as that he sailed; and every pointer to that decision (did I just say that? what a geek) ... anyway, every pointer to that decision is part of the leaving. Likewise, Aragon and Arwen-- yes, their marriage (and then their parting) is incredibly poignant, and that's the part that gets me on the rfirst read-thru. But on subsequent read-throughs, what gets me more are the pointers-- Arwen sending Aragorn the banner, and the message that goes with it-- either our hope comes, or all hope's end... (zap. Euc'ed.)

So I guess for me, it's backwards-progressive; the first time thru for me the final Event may be the eucatastrophe, but in following readings, as I begin to see the forward-pointing connections, indications, (dreams, visions, prophesies) that lead to the Event, and then THOSE get me, almost as much if not more than the final event.

(Maybe that explains why Isaiah is my favorite book about Jesus... He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, and he shall gather the lambs in his arms... zap.)
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Old 08-18-2002, 03:20 AM   #19
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How is eucatastastrophe different from catharsis?

I mean eucatastrophe. Sorry, I don't normally stutter.

-Maril

[ August 18, 2002: Message edited by: Marileangorifurnimaluim ]
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Old 08-18-2002, 05:59 AM   #20
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Quote:
But if it happens more than once is it still a eucatastrophe?
Since two similar events can be catastrophes, I would say 'yes'. Some eucatastrophic events can be greater and more decisive than others, but that doesn't make the more minor ones any less deserving of the description.

Quote:
How is eucatastastrophe different from catharsis?
I obtained the following definition from dictionary.com:
Quote:
catharsis Pronunciation Key (k-thrss)
n. pl. catharses (-sz)
Medicine. Purgation, especially for the digestive system.
A purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience.
A release of emotional tension, as after an overwhelming experience, that restores or refreshes the spirit.
Psychology.
A technique used to relieve tension and anxiety by bringing repressed feelings and fears to consciousness.
The therapeutic result of this process; abreaction.

[New Latin, from Greek katharsis, from kathairein, to purge, from katharos, pure.]
I would say that a eucatastrophe is an event, whereas a catharsis is an effect. A eucatastrophe may bring about a catharsis, but it doesn't constitute one.
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Old 08-18-2002, 08:57 AM   #21
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* Steps forth, smoking a conversational bowl of Old Toby. *

Hullo, Kuruharan and mark12_30:

* bows a greeting *

I am greatly enjoying your discussion. Here are my own two pieces of mithril:

As for the dream of Frodo sailing over the sea, that sort of dream as a prophetic indicator of a future event does not to my mind qualify as eucatastrophe. Certainly the dream was a consolation ... but I see no evidence that it had a direct cause-and-effect bearing on Frodo's behavior. Thus, the dream was a percursor to eucatastrophe which added depth to the eucatastrophe when it finally did happen.

However, I would say that there are indeed dreams of another nature ... dreams so powerful as to be life-changing. Such dreams qualify as events in and of themselves.

To my mind, a dream qualifies as being a eucatastrophe if it meets the following two criteria as defined in Tolkien's letter # 89:

1) an event causing unexpected joy that brings tears

2) an event bringing a sudden glimpse of truth

I've had such a life-changing dream, about Mirkwood. Before the dream, I hesitantly avoided taking a certain action in my waking life. After the dream, that very day I set about taking that very action with an optimism I had not been gifted with before.

Looking forward to hearing any and all further insight on this fascinating, uplifting, and most worthy topic, [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

Olrin

[ August 18, 2002: Message edited by: Gandalf_theGrey ]
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Old 08-18-2002, 10:03 AM   #22
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I would say that a eucatastrophe-- if earned, that is, if the entire book leads to and compells that stunning reverse (which will happen if a book's well-written) --induces a particular type of catharsis. I think there are other patterns that induce different types of catharsis. An unearned attempt at eucatastrophe is cheap and manipulative. You can see such things in the formulaic reverses in romance novels-- 'The hero loves her after all! It was all a misunderstanding! YAWN!'

I think 'the eagles are coming!' works twice because the eagles serve a different function at the battle of the Black Gates and the Battle of Five Armies.

The eagles don't rush around LotR saving the company at every questing dead end-- they don't come and help on Caradhras or against the wargs in front of Moria. This is plotted into the book-- the Eye is now active and by the end of FotR we know its power is airborne. Thus, in Morder, the eagles can't airdrop canteens and leaf-wrapped lembas (I knew those air-dropped foil-wrapped poptarts reminded me of something!), or give express rides to Sammeth Naur. They'd give Frodo and Sam's purpose and position away, and Sauron woud be on them like the prince of cats on a mouse.

Matters are more serious now, the characters face not the enemies (goblins and wargs) but the Enemy and an organized army. Strategically and thematically, LotR is a progressive development of the Hobbit, so the development of the 'Eagles' eucatastrophe moves us differently.

The eagles in the Hobbit create a eucatastrophe divided between physical help-- goblin slaying, etc, and the seal of the 'higher powers' (of the eyrie or of Valinor) on the alliance-- 'yes, you stubborn idiots, that was the key, form the alliance or the orcs and wolves will get you!' The eagles aren't shown to be influenced by Valinor in The Hobbit, but they enter the alliance only after the thickheaded elves, dwarves and men have begun it themselves.

The eagles in LotR arrive after the battle for both Aragorn's side and Frodo's side has mostly been endured-- they're more of an expression of higher solidarity and, as in the Hobbit, a seal on the choices of each side 'yes, sacrifice all and endure all, with a hope that's not exactly hope, that was the key!' (We may not know of the Manwe connection with the eagles at that point, but we do know that Gandalf was sent back and the eagles retrieved him.)

In LotR the eagles' function as seal and agents of solidarity leads their function as physical preservers. Because it comes at or after Sauron's defeat, the eagles' practical help now serves as an extension of sealing and solidarity. The eagles possibly bring about a slightly earlier end at the gates so Pippin can be found before QUITE suffocated. They certainly allow the retrieval from Mt. Doom so Frodo and Sam need not die in a horribly existentialist manner after saving everyone --'Well, you got what you wanted, and it's a cold, hard, ironic universe after all.' --NO thank you!

This is the development of that eucatastrophe from The Hobbit to LotR: from a saving from the goblin army that overshadows the confirmation: 'Alliance was right!' to a confirmation: 'Endurance, sacrifice --right!' that is then embodied in the saving of Frodo and Sam. (Pippin as well, by helping end the battle early: by Elrond's foresight Pippin's death was a probability. However, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition! -- uh, the eagles!)

[ August 18, 2002: Message edited by: Nar ]
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Old 08-18-2002, 05:41 PM   #23
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Squatter:
Quote:
Some eucatastrophic events can be greater and more decisive than others, but that doesn't make the more minor ones any less deserving of the description.
True. But I still think that a dream can't be a eucatastrophe. I also lay particular stress on "can never be counted on to be repeated." If something happens more than once you start to feel that it can happen the same way again.

Gandalf_theGrey
Quote:
However, I would say that there are indeed dreams of another nature ... dreams so powerful as to be life-changing. Such dreams qualify as events in and of themselves.
In that point I'm afraid our opinions must respectfully follow slightly different paths. I'm not for a minute denying that a dream can change somebody's life so that they sally forth to do great deeds and wreck eucatastrophies wherever they go, but I personally believe that there needs to be some sort of, well, "action" involved. That a eucatastrophe should be the type of thing that reaches beyond one individual. Of course, the effect of a eucatastrophe for individuals can be intensely personal, but I think that a wider range of characters needs to be involved. It increases the inherent improbability and the miraculousness of the "event."

Nar:
Actually it is an interesting point in The Hobbit that the forces of Good were not really able to assure their victory until Beorn came and killed Blog. So maybe the Eagles coming was not such a eucatastrophe after all. Maybe the arrival of Beorn from hundreds and hundreds of miles away, just in time to smash and slash goblins and kill Blog, was the real eucatastrophe.

Quote:
Frodo and Sam need not die in a horribly existentialist manner after saving everyone --'Well, you got what you wanted, and it's a cold, hard, ironic universe after all.'
Ahh, wouldn't that version just warm-over the cold, dead hearts of the literary critics.

Hmm, looking over this thread I get the feeling that my mind is very "event" and "action" oriented.

P.S. I also want to make sure that everyone understands that I am talking about events in the story and in the context of the story (defining story as the whole history of Middle earth, as we know it), not the "outside" reactions of the readers. Just making sure. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 08-18-2002, 06:21 PM   #24
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Hullo, good Kuruharan!

I thank you for your worthy reply, for it forces me to think, and rethink, and refine my views. * bows *

Careful though, for such thought might prove dangerous. * good-natured grin while blowing a mischievous smoke ring or two * [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

At the risk of becoming yet more muddled, if you define the word "event" as "an occurrence, something which happens or happened" ... you could actually define both Frodo's prophetic dream and my dream of Mirkwood as being "events." My reasoning is that a dream must first occur or happen, (that is, be an event) in order for the dream to be remembered, discussed, have its existence recognized.

However, I would not identify Frodo's prophetic dream as being a eucatastrophic event, because Frodo was a passive observer rather than an interactive participant. Thus, I would differentiate between an event and an Event, if you take my meaning. I do recognize your hesitancy, Kuruharan, to assign the word "action" to a dream, because at best we would be dealing with the action of the mind, and that sort of action is hard to gauge or measure.

Perhaps as our debate goes on, you may find that I more overtly come to agree with you. * bows * Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the speculation. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

As for your assertion that a eucatastrophe ought to reach beyond the individual, I would counter that even the smallest actions ... even those actions which are not eucatastrophes, even those actions thought to be private ... can often affect far more people than the individual ever realized. Bilbo's staying his hand out of pity of Gollum, for instance. A eucatastrophe? I would say no. A small action? Again, I would say no.

As for your statement that "If something happens more than once you start to feel that it can happen the same way again." ... well, certainly there is the danger of taking the sublime for granted, as expressed in the adage, "Familiarity breeds contempt." Still, to my mind, the phrase "can never be counted on to be repeated" leaves the door open to the possibility of repetition.

Thank you for our continuing discussion, Kuruharan. I look forward to your further insight, as you wish.

At your Service,

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Old 08-18-2002, 06:45 PM   #25
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Kuruharan, you make an interesting point which I had completely forgotten about:
Quote:
...the forces of Good were not really able to assure their victory until Beorn came and killed Blog. So maybe the Eagles coming was not such a eucatastrophe after all. Maybe the arrival of Beorn from hundreds and hundreds of miles away, just in time to smash and slash goblins and kill Blog, was the real eucatastrophe.
Regardless of the eagles' pre-existing relationship with Manwe, in The Hobbit they don't function any differently from Beorn-- they both appear as wild, intelligent and powerful beings whose help may be available to decent folk if they please and are pleased (by adroit storytelling and Gandalf's wiles or a previous debt to Gandalf). The eagles take on greater significance in retrospect, but I can't find that in The Hobbit itself-- they're Gandalf's friends and Gandalf's a good wizard, but I think that's it within the book. They appear within The Hobbit as much more embodied forces of nature than representatives of justice from some of the higher aspects of creation.

On balance, I still think that the arrival of both (now that you've reminded me of Beorn) is a eucatastrophe. Once the feuding two-leggers sort out their alliance, it is confirmed by the arrival of allies from the air and earth.

However, I find this, as well as Tom Bombadil's rescue of the hobbits, to be happy reverses of a more earthbound type-- we could argue if they qualify as eucatastrophes by Tolkien's definition. If they do, I think it's in a more of a mythic or folktale way: do the right thing, sing the right song, make the right gesture, and the forces of creation will save you, banish your enemies, retrieve all your errors. Magical thinking is a nice fantasy and refuge for the beleagured, but any true code of morals and faith cannot remain there. The eucatastrophe at the end of RotK is much more mature-- get it all done at the price required, and the lords of the air will shift the resulting pattern so that the price is slightly less terrible -- some sacrifice required, but lacking that last bitter taste of irony.
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Old 08-18-2002, 06:45 PM   #26
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I'm finding myself wondering how many definitions of eucatastrophe there are. Here's what i started with at the top of the thread:

Quote:
I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is
a sudden glimpse of truth
.... It percieves-- if the story has literary 'truth'...--that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made.

The main thing I get out of this is the "glimpse of truth". While it produces emotion (catharsis, Maril) it is not essentially emotional; it is the realisation of truth, a deeper, more profound truth than the reader was expecting. My image of it is that the reader is happily reading along enjoying the plot and the interactions, and suddenly, so to speak, the bottom drops out and he sees into the depths, clearly or not, but beyond the bounds of the story into truth.

To me this has little to do with how many of those moments there are in any given book; can there be only a few; do they belong at the end; do they involve many people or few or are they actions or dreams or thoughts or whatever. The point is that it is a window to enduring truth outside the story, which the reader suddenly percieves and is struck by. And the natural-- or sometimes supernatural-- response to the truth is the sudden happiness, the joy that brings tears.

I take it that this is a quite different definition than some of us are working off of?

[ August 18, 2002: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 08-18-2002, 06:56 PM   #27
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mark12_30 states:

Quote:
The point is that it is a window to enduring truth outside the story, which the reader suddenly percieves and is struck by. And the natural-- or sometimes supernatural-- response to the truth is the sudden happiness, the joy that brings tears.
Well of course!

That said, I'm enjoying the extracurricular analysis. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]

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Old 08-18-2002, 08:28 PM   #28
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For the sake of clarity I'm going to have to deal with everyone's points in a scrambled order, so please bear with me.

(Rather ironic that in order to be clear I have to scramble everything.)

Nar:
Quote:
However, I find this, as well as Tom Bombadil's rescue of the hobbits, to be happy reverses of a more earthbound type-- we could argue if they qualify as eucatastrophes by Tolkien's definition.
I'm going to take a positive stand and say...maybe? [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img]

Quote:
If they do, I think it's in a more of a mythic or folktale way: do the right thing, sing the right song, make the right gesture, and the forces of creation will save you, banish your enemies, retrieve all your errors...The eucatastrophe at the end of RotK is much more mature
Well, yes. But I think that the funny dancing, feathered fellow may just be the "dressing" in stating the message in a different, but equally viable, way. The message in both cases is that sometimes your fat will get pulled out of the fire (or the tree) by unexpected, or even unknown (to you), forces. Or stated more clearly, the mythic and the "mature" ways of stating this are the flip sides of the same coin. So maybe the message can remain in it's glossing of "myth" (or "wonderous" if you prefer), and, indeed, perhaps needs to do so.

mark12_30:
Quote:
I'm finding myself wondering how many definitions of eucatastrophe there are.
Two things...

One, incorporating the comments of Gandalf the Grey

Quote:
I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears
-and-

Quote:
if you define the word "event" as "an occurrence, something which happens or happened" ... you could actually define both Frodo's prophetic dream and my dream of Mirkwood as being "events."
An event that is a definite action on the part of a character or characters (including in the context of the story everyone up to Eru) that not only advances the plot of the story but is in fact a hinge (or for that matter THE hinge) on which the story turns. (There, I hope I managed to credibly tie the two seemingly unrelated quotes together. [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img])

To my mind at least, this event should be accomplished in an unexpected way (although Eru, and to a lesser extent the Valar, would be obvious exceptions to this) on the part of the characters. And perhaps the total consequences should be beyond the intent of the characters that perform the act. (Again Eru, and to a lesser extent the Valar, would be exceptions to this.)

Quote:
As for your assertion that a eucatastrophe ought to reach beyond the individual, I would counter that even the smallest actions ... even those actions which are not eucatastrophes, even those actions thought to be private ... can often affect far more people than the individual ever realized...A eucatastrophe? I would say no. A small action? Again, I would say no.
A small action with large ultimate consequences. (Notice the word "ultimate." It's very important.)

The actions of eucatastrophe are also in themselves, small. What makes them seem great is the immediate results. Bard shooting his arrow, Bilbo jumping over Gollum, Sauron leaving Thrain alive in his dungeon for Gandalf to find, Gollum 'nancing about the Crack of Doom and then doing a swan dive right on in. All single actions, and yet some of them had a great immediate impact, and some of them had great ultimate impact.

Perhaps, a better definition for a eucatastrophe is the final culminating event in a great chain of events that (within the context of the story) gives a "glimpse of truth," or a glimpse of the ultimate victory of the Good.

Now, to the Second part of the answer for mark12_30...

Quote:
I'm finding myself wondering how many definitions of eucatastrophe there are.
The trouble may not be that there are so many definitions, it may be that there are so many ways of looking at it. I believe that Tolkien was taking the perspective of the reader in that particular quote. I've been (I think) trying to analyze a eucatastrophe purely in the context of the story. It may be that I've been trying to do something that can't really be done because it's difficult to seperate the story from the person that's reading it in this particular case.

In that case you can only have pity on my brain, for it is weak. It's also consumed with the odious reality that I must return to classes tomorrow (yuck!)

So if poor ole' Kuruharan seems to lurch and stagger from one non-point to another, giving the general impression that he hasn't the least idea of what he is supposed to be talking about, just smile and nod your head and say, "There, there Kuruharan! I'm sure that you won't have to do 2 and a half research papers this semester like you had to last Spring!"

[Edit: For some reason I also seem to be spelling like crap tonight!]

[ August 18, 2002: Message edited by: Kuruharan ]
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Old 08-19-2002, 08:14 AM   #29
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Beautiful discussion nd idea for a thread.

Helen posted: "...when he finally takes Arwen's hand, probably thinking at long last she is MINE MINE MINE, none of us resent it in the least. (do we?)"

lindil: I think that the marriage was probably an incrdibly poignant moment for both, for by marrying his foster father's daughter he was in effect taking his treasure. I imagine that he was incredibly humble , especially w/ Elrond there!

I also imagine that he knew Gandalf was a maia of some sort and was probably awed to be the first man having a Maia at his wedding [not too mention crowning him and pronouncing a blessing of the valar over him].

As for the Eucatastrophe, it amazes me how in the Silm we alternate from Eucatstophe to catastrophe Tuor seeing Gondolin, his cousin living out a nightmare curse of Morgoth. Earendil reaching Valinor west overcoming Morgoth and Maedhros and Maglor steal the Silmarill.

The Light of the 2 trees and the descriptions of valinor and it's rulers and the destruction of the Tree's. The silm is full of so many High's and Low's it is amazing. The LotR has them too of course but they have very different feel to them.

Also Smith of Wooten major and Leaf by Niggle have always been favorites of mine because of their exploring of eucatstrophe, esp Smith.

I find that to be almost the essence of M-E.

thanks for the beautiful thread!

And Helen have you sent the Fairy wife to the Downs ??!?!?!?

don't deprive everyone! [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 08-19-2002, 10:15 AM   #30
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An excellent thread and discussion. Kudos to all on great thoughts and ideas. Confessing that I have only read about halfway through, I humbly add this (possibly redundant) thought: perhaps a distinction is needed between eucatastrophe and, say, wonder (I think, since I've given a lot of thought to that particular concept). I must go now, but I hope to develop this more later. Feel free, any of you, to beat me to it. [img]smilies/smile.gif[/img]
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Old 08-19-2002, 11:04 AM   #31
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Lindil,

Regarding Aragorn's marriage, I agree wholeheartedly with all your points. And I don't mean to imply that he was arrogant, grasping, or ... whatever. But I do think there must have been a loud voice in his mind saying, 'Sixty-plus years... and I really did it. I really earned her hand.' At least, I find myself hoping so. Hercules had nothing on Strider.

Regarding the Silm-- hoo, boy. I read it over 4th of July, and my poor mother in law had to put up with my saying things like, "Fingolfin! NOOOO!!" and "Sorry, Gondolin has just fallen, and I have to go away and cry now." And when Gondolin opened and troops poured out, I stood up and shouted in triumph. (Amazingly, my inlaws love me anyway.)

Regarding The Fairy Wife: thank you so much. No, I haven't sent it in yet, because I am stubbornly waiting for those journals to make sure I haven't abused Osanwe too badly! And also, I am slowly pondering several of your suggested changes, and item by item, I may either take your advice or dodge it more creatively. (I think the dragon stays, but I may explain him a little better.) Regardless, I am deeply in your debt. --Helen

[ August 19, 2002: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 08-19-2002, 02:47 PM   #32
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Helen, I think what Kuruharan was getting at, with which I agree, is that for all the best reasons, you have (imho) misapplied the word "eucatastrophe", and you mean instead, "wonder". Especially since you are most concerned with your own reaction to the 'pointers' to the so-called primary eucatastrophe. I am convinced that Tolkien meant 'eucatastrophe' to be a unique event in a story. It is THE sudden turn, a miraculous grace unlooked for, that proves that in the end, Life will conquer Death. The single poignant eucatastrophe in LotR is that the Ring, against all odds, against all wisdom, against all likelihood, finally was cast into the Crack of Doom. The JOY on the Fields of Cormallen give evidence to this. There were many repercussions to this single eucatastrophe, and they are more evidences of the evangelium. The feeling of JOY that you experience, I venture to say, is the wonder of recovery about which Tolkien writes in On Faerie Stories, where he describes how fairy-stories function in terms of Escape, Recovery (of wonder), and Consolation. The evidences you describe of the wonder you experience in reading LotR are very real, of course. Please don't hear me denying that! My point is that the term 'eucastrophe' has a quite specific definition as created by Tolkien, as does the 'wonder' he describes.

You might want to check out other current threads that discuss very related themes: "Escape" and "The Wrong kind of Detais: the components of wonder".

With best regards, LMP - aka Paul the brooding bard
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Old 08-19-2002, 03:54 PM   #33
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Well, lmp, I guess I'll have to reread On Fairy Stories again, and look at that definition more closely. In terms of the definition above, however:
Quote:
And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of truth.... It percieves-- if the story has literary 'truth'...--that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made.
Personally, I can't imagine that each fairy-story is allowed only one such sudden glimpse of the truth. I do separate wonder from that sudden glimpse of truth(revelation), and revelation is different than wonder, as it is also different than catharsis (although revelation can also produce both wonder and catharsis.)

In the quote from On Faery Stories, in one of the earliest posts, Tolkien says:
Quote:
The Gospels contain a fairy-story .... The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.
By your logic, Tolkien can't have both; he must pick, one or the other, because the story of Jesus' life may only have one eucatastrophe in it. But he says it has (at least) two. So either he's talking about different threads in the story, each thread allowed its own eucatastrophe, or, he's wrong about his own word.

Since there seems to be more than one voice insisting that there can only be one eucatastrophe, one revelation, per book, I'm a bit baffled. I really have a very hard time with that, but, I can't prove or disprove it at the moment, since I'm anchored in the letters and not the essay...

[ August 19, 2002: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 08-19-2002, 06:26 PM   #34
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I have a different dictionary I guess.

Webster's New Collegiate -
Cartharsis: b) a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.

I think there are three parts to this process then...

- the eucatastrophe or event brings about the
- catharsis, which brings about the
- spiritual renewal or recognition

I think we're not clearly delineating the event, the eucatastrophe, from the spiritual renewal, which is why there's a question whether we're confusing eucatastrophe with wonder. We're mixing the event with the response/result: catharsis, spiritual renewal, then wonder.

I think Kuru has a good tool to use to decide whether there can be one or more eucatastrophe's in one book.

From the perspective of the reader, it must be that there can be more than one eucatastrophe, because the reader continues for an entire lifetime (however long). In that lifetime there can be many eucatastrophes.

From the perspective of a book, because you are considering the book as a whole, there can only be one defining eucatastrophe, because the structure of a story is such that there is one pre-eminent defining climax.

Before you jump on this, hear me out.

From the perspective of characters in a book, there can be more than one eucatastrophe because their lives continue beyond that one defining moment.

The answer lies in how you define your 'set' under consideration or examination for eucatastrophes. Something in a smaller set, say considering only one chapter of the LotR in isolation can be considered a eucatastrophe (Sam seeing the Oliphaunt likely die; from the perspective of Sam this is a myth turned real and then suddenly lost - if I saw a unicorn I would have a similar response), but in reference to the larger events of Middle Earth not be considered a eucatastrophe at all. From the perspective of Middle Earth in the War of the Ring, only the destruction of the ring would qualify. And so on.

It's like the difference between considering a person in terms of the experience of their lifetime, or in terms of their specific collection of body parts. From the perspective of a collection of body parts, eucatastrophe can only be experienced by mind, so "Al" the collection of body parts Never experiences eucatastrophe. From the perspective of experience, "Al", the lifetime, may have many experiences of eucatastrophe. Or "Al" the child may have only one. Or none.
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Old 08-19-2002, 07:26 PM   #35
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Eucatastrophe: piercing joy that brings tears.

From an initial perusal of this worthy thread I conclude that I, on a purely personal level, have a far higher threshold for eucatastrophe than others. This is no to denigrate the pleasure of others or to deny them the nomenclature; however I do feel that it is inherently rare.

In fact I would go so far to say that it is very uncommon for such an event (I use the word with thought and knowledge of that which has been said before) to happen more often than once in a novel. Tolkien thus cements his standing by arguably achieving that, although for me not in the Lord of the Rings.

Turin slaying Beleg comes to mind. Maybe another is contained within the Narn I Hin Hurin but I don't wish to dilute the 'rapier-like' thrust of my argument too much...

~ Rimbaud, in loving memory of mixed metaphors.
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Old 08-19-2002, 08:15 PM   #36
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Helen, in the quote from Tolkien regarding the incarnation being the eucatastrophe of the history of man and the resurrection being the eucatastrophe of the life of Christ (I may have that one wrong), he is speaking of two different stories, and for each one, its own catastrophe. Man's his-story, and the gospel story. One eucatastrophe each.

Nevertheless, I find Marelingelaflorum's (sorry I can't remember that) point-of-view of each character an interesting approach, and decidedly something that we moderns would think in terms of. And I still say that it fits into my notion that there is one per story. Our lives are arguably made up of a number of stories, each with its eu - or dys- catastrophe. And our whole life is one story, with its climactic catastrophe of whichever type. So it will be with characters within a story.

I admit that I have more thinking to do on Marel's and others' points before I have a really firm stance on all this.

Excellent thread!
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Old 08-19-2002, 09:02 PM   #37
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Maril, about Catharsis.

First, my primary association with the word is with the sense of release of tension involved. But I'd like to work with your definition for a bit.

(I hope this doesn't get "too religious", but I don't know quite what your threshhold is... here we go.)

Your dictionary definition:
Cartharsis: b) a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension.

I would argue both from my reading and my experience that this is a common mystical and disciplinary outlook, found for instance in many highly respected catholic mystics (Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross.)

However, I would argue that there is also another (and for certain schools, more common, and for certain schools, more highly valued) order, and that is, revelation produces spiritual renewal which produces purification which produces release from tension.

And I also argue that this order is also found in many highly respected mystics-- including St. Teresa, and John of the Cross! They embrace both. And in fact, they say that although one usually starts with the purgations first, that later, the experience that begins with revelation is the more pure work of God. (If so inclined, feel free to refer to Inner Mansions by Teresa, or Dark Night of the Soul by JOTC.)

In my opinion, the purification and spiritual renewal which begins with revelation is (a) at least equally valid and (b) often produces more lasting results. Of course it depends on the reaction of the disciple.

I would also argue that Tolkien would also embrace the second definition, without ruling out the first. I would refer to his letter to Michael (regarding women & friendships) at the end of which he discusses communion. He clearly intends to show Michael that the revelatory experience of taking communion in a community you do not enjoy, will produce a purification in him. The mystical experience of partaking in communion produces the purifying effect of mystic fellowship in the community that one would not otherwise enjoy on a societal level.

Of course, a good catholic would have gone to confession first... purgation. Round and round we go. I do agree that they are intertwined. Point being, I do not agree with the dictionary that the purification always preceeds the spiritual renewal. I think often the revelation, and the renewal, comes first, causing purgation and thence producing the emotional sense of relief.

In the charismatic, pentecostal, and "third wave" movements of the late twentieth century, the experience which begins with revelation and proceeds to purification is valued far more highly than the experience which begins with the purification. The simple reason is that experiences which are held to have originated by God's initiative (revelation) are trusted more, because God's motivations aren't in question, whreas the human's motivations might be.

Why all this isn't off-topic, is because if one believes that a eucatastrophe is a vision of the truth, a glimpse of the truth, then there's the revelation (revealed truth.) So, in the usual order of things, I would expect truth to be revealed (revelation); to be received in the inner being of the perciever (spiritual renewal);
as a result of perceiving and recieving, then follows purification (forsaking doubt and sin) and then follows emotional release.

Quick example of the progression we're all familiar with (whether this qualifies as a eucatastrophe or not, I won't go into here, lets focus on the progression): Sam sees the star above the Ephel Duath. The revelation is that its purity is untouched by the shadow (the beauty of it smote his heart; the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach). Following that revelation was the spiritual renewal (his own fate and even his master's ceased to trouble him (because he sees the bigger picture.)). The purgation is his choice to no longer despair or be discouraged (putting away all fear). And the release is the emotional peace and freedom he feels afterwards (cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep).

Well, Maril, I hope I didn't overdo it. Grace and peace. --Helen

[ August 19, 2002: Message edited by: mark12_30 ]
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Old 08-20-2002, 12:37 PM   #38
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lmp: While I was trying to expound at greater length (no kidding!), that is one of the points that I was working toward.

mark12_30:

Quote:
Since there seems to be more than one voice insisting that there can only be one eucatastrophe, one revelation, per book, I'm a bit baffled.
Who has said that? Certainly not me. As a matter of fact I've said the opposite several times. My thing is not that there can't be more than one eucatastrophe per story, it is that the eucatastrophe should not happen the same way twice. Perhaps even that the multiple eucatastrophies should be directed at different objectives. Maril of the Really Long Name [img]smilies/wink.gif[/img] also has a very good point about the perspective of the characters in the story and the circumstances that are being used to define the eucatastrophe in question.
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Old 08-20-2002, 01:36 PM   #39
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Quote:
Helen: "Since there seems to be more than one voice insisting that there can only be one eucatastrophe, one revelation, per book, I'm a bit baffled."
Kuruharan: "Who has said that?"
Uh, me. But I am modifying my view to take into account Marel-fluim's pov idea. So on one hand there is the thematic eucatastrophe, that being the destruction of the Ring and defeat of the Dark Lord against all odds, and on the other hand there is character eucatastrophe; for Frodo it is arguably Gollum biting off his finger and thus saving Frodo from evil; for Sam, perhaps it is not dying in Mordor after all; and so forth. I would argue that Sam jumping into the water is not eucatastrophe, but characteristic exhibition of his loyalty. Whereas wonderous because Sam's loyalty is wonderful, not eucatastrophic precisely because it's the kind of thing Sam would do.

You know, there is a side of me that dislikes analyzing Tolkien and the LotR into the ground like this, and I only do it so as to keep Tolkien's terms true to their original intent. What I'm trying to say is that Helen is quite right in pointing us to the many beautiful strands in the tapestry that is LotR.
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Old 08-20-2002, 06:34 PM   #40
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Kuruharan, littlemanpoet, Squatter, Marilangesundheitimaluim, and Rimbaud,

This all brings me around to take a harder look at the various definitions of eucatastrophe, and re-promise myself to read On Faery Stories while I'm on vacation next week! But Maril's discussion of character threads makes a great deal of sense to me. I guess my next question is, if eucatastrophes are supposed to be relatively rare in any given story, including in the story-thread of one individual, what is the difference between eucatastrophe and "simple", window-into-the-truth revelation? Frodo, for example, sometimes swims in revelation. Sometimes so does Sam. Does the frequency of it make it not-a-eucatastrophe, even though it's different each time? If so, why?

Taking another favorite story of mine as an example: The Golden Key by George MacDonald. The more one reads the story, the more revelations surface each time. Which of them are eucatastrophes? By the definition given in the letters, many of them could be. By Maril's definition, looking at the whole story as a set of stories, there could be one or more eucatastrophe(s) per chapter. And sometimes I think in MacDonald, that that is so.

Ay, me!! By the way, Maril, thanks for getting me going on that whole revelation/renewal/purgation/release thing. It had been a while since I'd reviewed that, and it was time. (I hope you all survived it.)

--Helen
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