We've already discussed the first two of the three characteristics of Faërie--Recovery and Escape--described by J.R.R. Tolkien in his lecture "On Fairy-Stories." In this post we'll talk about Consolation, the third characteristic of enchantment.
For Tolkien it's with Consolation where we reach the very essence of enchantment, the "highest function" of the fairy-story. This is the consolation of the Happy Ending for which Tolkien coins a new word:
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. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite 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 highest function.For Tolkien the eucatastrophe--the good catastrophe--is an experience of "sudden and miraculous grace":
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories 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.Importantly, eucatastrophic grace is not a denial of the sorrows and sufferings of the world. Eucatastrophic grace is, rather, commitment to hope, loyalty to hope, fidelity to hope:
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.Faërie enchants the world through an eschatological commitment to the Happy Ending.
Faërie is a gospel proclamation--glad tidings--hidden in a fleeting glimpse of Joy. The enchantment of Faërie is rooted in a denial of universal final defeat.
Faërie is watchfulness for the eucatastrophe, the sudden unanticipated turn in the story that brings miraculous grace.
“It will not be long now,” thought Bilbo, “before the goblins win the Gate, and we are all slaughtered or driven down and captured. Really it is enough to make one weep, after all one has gone through. I would rather old Smaug had been left with all the wretched treasure, than that these vile creatures should get it, and poor old Bombur, and Balin and Fili and Kili and all the rest come to a bad end; and Bard too, and the Lake-men and the merry elves. Misery me! I have heard songs of many battles, and I have always understood that defeat may be glorious. It seems very uncomfortable, not to say distressing. I wish I was well out of it.”
The clouds were torn by the wind, and a red sunset slashed the West. Seeing the sudden gleam in the gloom Bilbo looked round. He gave a great cry: he had seen a sight that made his heart leap, dark shapes small yet majestic against the distant glow.
“The Eagles! The Eagles!” he shouted. “The Eagles are coming!”