In his wonderful essay “On Fairy-Stories”, J. R. R. Tolkien states three things fantastical stories bring us: recovery, escape, and consolation. In our shattered world, we need them all. We need to see anew everyday things that we do not notice anymore because they are so familiar to us. We need to look at a sunset with new eyes or smell the air after a spring rain. We need to recover the joy of children playing in the snow and catching flakes on their tongues. We need to escape from the culture of death and despair that surrounds us and enter a world where mayhem surrounds the heroes, but they do not surrender to it. Such gives us the strength to not be overwhelmed ourselves.
The greatest gift from the realm of Faerie may be, as Tolkien calls it, “the Consolation of the Happy Ending” (“OFS,” Tolkien Reader 68). He coined the term eucatastrophe to explain what he meant and calls it “the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function” (ibid.). We need this more than anything if our recovery and escape is going to provide us continuing healing of the wounds we sustain for battling the darkness of our world. We desperately need to know that even if everything is falling apart around us and all seems headed to disaster that we can still experience the “sudden joyous ‘turn’” (ibid.) that saves our lives from utter ruin. Fairy-tales teach us this is possible. Those that scoff and say “That only happens in stories” have not felt the consolation of such eucatastrophic joy themselves. They do not realize it is truly possible in the Primary World.
First published in The Ivy Bush Newsletter May/June 2017.
What consolation do you draw from fairy-stories?