True fantasies finish happily, Tolkien argues, thus providing consolation for life’s tragedy and sorrow. Yet their felicitous outcome is not escapist. The ultimate victory is always produced by a disaster, by a sudden and cataclysmic turn of events, which issues in surprising deliverance. Tolkien invents a word to describe this saving cataclysm. He calls it a eucatastrophe: a happy calamity that does not deny the awful reality of dyscatastrophe – of human wreck and ruin.

The miraculous though violent turnabout serves to demonstrate that death and defeat are not final; instead, the ultimate truth is Joy – “Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” For Tolkien, the Resurrection is the ultimately eucatastrophic event, for the world’s salvation is won in and through the worst of evils, the Crucifixion. Hence the link between fairy-story and gospel: “this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men – and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.”

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