Tolkien Gateway

Letter 89

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 89
RecipientChristopher Tolkien
Date7-8 November 1944
Subject(s)Religious matters, eucatastrophe, local news

Letter 89 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Christopher had referred to the care of his guardian angel and Tolkien feared that he was specially needed, which reminded him of a vision he had had in St. Gregory’s before the Blessed Sacrament when the Quarant’ Ore[notes 1] was being held. Tolkien then gave a detailed description of his experience and his meditation upon it, with the comment that it was not recapturable in clumsy language. The vision was a comfort to him.

Tolkien told about a recent visit to St. Gregory's with Prisca[notes 2] when she was not feeling well. He said that they had heard one of the best sermons and described it at length. During the sermon there was a story that seemed to be heading for a sad ending but then there was a sudden unhoped-for happy resolution. Tolkien was deeply moved and had experienced a rare peculiar emotion, "eucatastrophe", a word he had coined in his fairy-story essay. It is the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears, produced by a sudden glimpse of Truth. The Resurrection was the greatest "eucatastrophe" possible in the greatest Fairy Story, producing Christian joy that is so like sorrow since it comes from the place where Joy and Sorrow are at one and reconciled. He did not mean that the Gospels were only a fairy-story; this was the method by which Man the story-teller would be redeemed consonant with his nature. After more expounding upon matters divine, Tolkien then stated that he knew that The Hobbit was a story of worth because of the fairly strong "eucatastrophic" emotion when Bilbo exclaimed, "The Eagles! The Eagles are coming!"[1] Tolkien promised that another such moment existed in the latest chapter he had written in The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien then described a tramp he and his daughter had seen as they left St. Gregory's. The tramp wore rags, sandals tied on with string, and a tin can on his wrist; he also held a rough staff. Bearded yet clean with blue eyes raptly gazing into the distance, the tramp looked to Tolkien more like St. Joseph than the statue in the church, and he could not help giving him a small alms.

The letter had become very peculiar, said Tolkien; he hoped it was not incomprehensible. To finish the "diary" Tolkien then described various mundane things: A hen had died, he had seen friends, and he had spent hours protecting his apple trees from "moth". Tolkien also told about a character that had interrupted John Gielgud in Hamlet to demand that he cut out the swear-words.

[edit] Notes

  1. Also known as the Forty Hours' Devotion
  2. Priscilla Tolkien


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Clouds Burst"