The Eucatastrophe of Human History

To come to the end of a time of anxiety and fear!
To feel the cloud that hung over us lift and disperse
— the cloud that dulled the heart and made happiness no more than a memory!
This at least is one joy that must have been known by almost every living creature.

Here is a boy who was waiting to be punished.
But then, unexpectedly, he finds that his fault has been overlooked or forgiven
and at once the world reappears in brilliant colours, full of delightful prospects.

Here is a soldier who was waiting, with a heavy heart, to suffer and die in battle.
But suddenly the luck has changed.  There is news!
The war is over and everyone bursts out singing!  He will go home after all!

The sparrows in the plowland were crouching in terror of the kestrel.
But she has gone; and they fly pell-mell up the hedgerow,
frisking, chattering and perching where they will.

The bitter winter had all the country in its grip.
The hares on the down, stupid and torpid with cold, were resigned to sinking
further and further into the freezing heart of snow and silence.
But now — who would have dreamed it? — the thaw is trickling,
the great tit is ringing his bell from the top of a bare lime tree, the earth is scented;
and the hares bound and skip in the warm wind.

Watership Down, Richard Adams

, or 'the sudden joyous turn', is a term coined by JRR Tolkien to describe the wondrous moment in a story when, in the midst of darkness and despair, everything suddenly goes right; when, all-of-a-sudden, everyone realises: there will be a Happy Ending.

When the eucatastrophe strikes, in story or in nature, Tolkien (like Richard Adams) says it manifests itself in unplanned euphoric responses: 'a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears'.  Why?  Relief, thankfulness, hope.  But also because the eucatastrophe 'reflects a glory backwards' – because of the Happy Ending, all trials and sufferings previously endured receive a posthumous weight of meaning and purpose; where once there was only angst, now we see that none of it was in vain.  In this way, the sickness, pain, and plain inconvenience of pregnancy is overwhelmed by the eucatastrophe of birth.

The Gospels, Tolkien tells us, contain a fairy-story; an account of the greatest and most complete eucatastrophe conceivable: the one that came true.

This story has entered History and the primary world…
the Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history.

In this story, unlike all the others, not only is the 'turn' memorable and the response euphoric and emotional, but also the happy ending is perfect, since it not only involves the characters, but also the reader as well.  We are all invited into the true Happy Ending:  From sorrow and failure to Joy.

Joy beyond the walls of the world



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