Eucatastrophe is “a good catastrophe.” But long before the story turns good, there are tears. Many tears. Tolkien invented this word to explain how good things can come from catastrophes, how unpredictable redemption can be won in the midst of unimaginable loss.
The most poignant and gripping eucatastrophic moment in The Lord of the Rings is found in The Return of the King (of course!). In Chapter 4, “The Field of Cormallen”, Samwise Gamgee wakes up to find what he never expected but what he most certainly had hoped for. The Ring has been destroyed! Gandalf is alive!
Full memory flooded back, and Sam cried aloud: ‘It wasn’t a dream! Then where are we?’
And a voice spoke softly behind: ‘In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you.’ With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. ‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’ he said.
But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world’
‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.
As Sam and Gandalf talk he learns that his master and dearest friend Frodo is alive too and that the King—THE KING!—has taken back the ancient lands. Not only that but the King of Gondor had tended Sam in his wounds and now awaits him. Gandalf will lead him to him. “He will ride soon to his crowning, but he waits for you” Gandalf says.
And there in Gondor as the King was crowned and the Hobbits were praised, there was laughing and singing and weeping “until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”
This scene always brings me to tears of sorrow and joy. Tears of sorrow as I consider how much my life and this world needs redemption. Tears of joy in knowing with great hope that one day my King will truly make everything sad in this old Earth come untrue.