This time I will comment on Chapters Six and Seven. In Chapter Six, Bilbo meets up with the company and they flee the goblins and wargs. They get trapped up in trees by the wargs, and helplessly have to wait until the goblins show up to finish them off. In the middle of this narrative, Tolkien suddenly diverts to other characters not previously seen or mentioned and at first have nothing to do with the current story. These are the eagles and they end up saving Bilbo and company in a deus ex machina fashion, with the eagles swooping down from above to solve the problem, much like the gods in Greek plays would descend from above to solve the current narrative. Some weaker writers would not be able to pull this off like Tolkien does here, and I must admit the introduction of the eagles is very abrupt, but what Tolkien is doing here is what he calls a eucatastrophe. In an essay titled “On Faerie Stories he writes:
“But the ‘consolation’ of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. At least I would say that Tragedy is the true form of Drama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite — I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.
The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.
A eucatastrophe is the opposite of a catastrophe. Instead of utter destruction, there is utter hope. At the moment when all seems helpless, all seems lost, hope appears which springs joy. In the circumstance in which Bilbo and company find themselves in amongst the trees, there is no way out until the eagles come and rescue the company. Some may call this bad writing, but as mentioned before, divine providence is laced throughout the entire book, and I believe it’s best to call this moment a sort of divine grace. Without this grace, the adventure would end in tragedy at this moment, and not in happiness. This is far too much darkness in storytelling today, and I believe those stories will fade in the night, a mere few years after they have been told. But the stories that will last are the ones that end happily.
In Chapter Seven, we meet yet another species, a skin-changer named Beorn. Gandalf and the company meet Beorn amidst a funny mixture of the telling of their tale and stumbling into his house two by two. Not much really happens in this chapter, though it is a bit long. We get a lot of mentions about other places and things in middle earth, such as large bees, hobgoblins in the mountains of the north, bear meetings, and of course Mirkwood forest. The company arrives at the edge of the forest and here Gandalf departs from them with “business in the south.” Really, this is just a narrative device to get Gandalf out of the story so that Bilbo and the dwarves will have to solve their problems on their own. And oh, the problems they will have inside Mirkwood.