In our world right now, difficulties abound: a pandemic, a tumultuous political landscape, various disasters, crises, and famines. All around, we see nations and economies in turmoil and experience the impact of these situations in our own lives. So what does that mean for us as writers? It offers us a greater opportunity to shine light into darkness. In seasons like these, our stories can uplift, give meaning, and remind that there’s hope for the present and future alike. Speculative fiction lends itself particularly well to this.
In discussing storytelling, Tolkien coined the term "eucatastrophe" to refer to the sudden joyous turn of events that occurs when all hope seems lost—the undoing of disaster or catastrophe—and he expands upon it in his essay On Fairy Stories:
“The peculiar quality of joy in the successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth….The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the inner consistency of reality….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.”
What does this look like in the pages of fantasy? As Tolkien envisioned, Lord of the Rings portrayed a magnificent moment of eucatastrophe in the destruction of the ring and its master. He extended that redemption into the restoration of the Kingdom of Gondor and the freeing of the Shire from its scourging. Those engaged in battling this evil paid a tremendous price for the victory won—but even in this, we see signs of redemption as the scarred, wounded Frodo finds a place of ultimate rest and respite beyond the world, leaving Middle Earth through the Grey Havens to find a place of peace.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson also succeeds in this regard, portraying a beautiful triumph of hope in its darkest hour. The slave protagonist Kaladin clings fiercely to hope despite having everything of meaning and significance in his life stripped from him in a brutal way. And without giving away spoilers, it’s his determination to cling to hope and humanity that allows him to be a key player in the moment of victorious hope on which the whole story turns.
As storytellers, we’re privileged to imagine and bring to life tales that turn pain, suffering, and loss into hope and redemption. These sudden turnings of joy give a story meaning and impact. As writers, we shouldn’t fear taking our characters into a place of suffering and loss, but I believe our stories will have the greatest impact if we weave threads of hope throughout. It satisfies something innate God placed within us, and it’s an echo of ultimate truth.
Along the way, we can find encouragement during our own seasons of pain and suffering—and even use our stories as a way to process our pain and turn it into something beautiful. This has been true for me…what about you? Does this resonate with you as a writer or storyteller? Or do you see it differently? I’d love to hear your perspective.