Marlowe's Shade

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Wayfarers to Joy

I'm still mulling over some of the ideas I posted yesterday. I've also been reading Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories" (which I recommend highly to fans of a scholarly bent) and in the epilogue he draws the connection between the happy endings of his favorite tales (be advised that Tolkien has a much more rigorous standard for "fairy stories" than the more recent watered-down versions) and the Gospel. The deeper sense of the genre of "Passion plays" expresses part of this in drama, and Shakespeare was highest development of comedy in a Christian context. But for Tolkien, drama is human, all to human, and comedy isn't big enough a concept for him, so he coins his own term, "eucatastrophe". To inject some of my own perspective at this point, I was always struck by the quote from Tolstoy that all happy families are alike but unhappy ones are unhappy in there own particular way, and from this diverse misery comes the material for novels. This notion that anything other than strife from a literary (and possibly personal) perspective was boring has been pretty persistent. And there is some truth in that so that even Tolkien acknowledges that for this reason the tale usually ends with "...and they lived happily ever after."

However not so with The Lord of the Rings when in The Return of the King instead of ending with the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen as a proper comedy should (and so it was with Peter Jackson's movie version), there is instead what has to be the longest denouement in literary history. It seems as a true Christian, Tolkien won't be content with a mere happy ending (which at one point he states that no one believes anyways) but continues down a path of restoration and healing that aims for a culmination of Joy. The fulfillment of that Joy can only occur after the protagonists have left our sight, but portions of it have been provided throughout the journey.

Heady stuff in a time when most of what passes for Art can barely cobble together a mediocre tragedy.
papijoe 7:53 AM