Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairystories must have it. At least I wouldsay that Tragedy is the true form ofDrama, its highest function; but the opposite is true of Fairy- story. Since wedo not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite-I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of the fairy-tale, andits highest function.
The joy which the happy ending of the fairy story gives,says Tolkien, is of the same quality,though not the same degree, as the joywhich we feel at the fact that the great fairy story of the Gospels is true in the Primary World, forthe joy of the fairy tale "has thevery taste of primary truth." This is the justification of the fairy story-and thus of the trilogy-that it gives us in small, in the beat of the heartand the catch of the breath, the joy ofthe infinite good news. For "Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of Angels, and of men-and of elves. Legend and history have met and fused."
However we take Tolkien's remarks, I believe that the genreand meaning of the trilogy are to befound in his essay on fairy stories,published seven years before the first volume of the trilogy, though he has said that the trilogy was some seventeen years in the making. The essay has not beencompletely ignored in discussions ofthe trilogy. Straight, for example, points out briefly that the trilogy accords generally with the specifications that Tolkien laid down for the fairystory. And Lewis' review of the secondand third volumes spends some time defending the work on a basis which is really part of Tolkien'sfairy story thesis, though Lewis doesnot mention this. But the total relevance of the essay to the trilogy, and the nature of the theory set forth in the essay, have not, I think, beensufficiently examined.
Tolkien's essay attempts to determine the nature, origin,and use of fairy stories. As to thenature of them, no definition can be arrivedat on historical grounds; the definition instead must deal with "the nature of Faerie: the PerilousRealm itself, and the air that blows inthat country." But this is exactly what cannot be either defined or accurately described,only perceived. Faerie may be roughlytranslated as Magic, but not the vulgar magic of the magician; it is rather magic "of a particular mood andpower," and it does not have itsend in itself but in its operations. Amongthese operations are "the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires" such as the desire"to survey the depths of space andtime" and the desire "to hold communion with other living things." Travelers' tales are not fairystories, and neither are those storieswhich utilize dream machinery to explain away their marvels. If a writer attaches his tale of marvels to reality by explaining that it was all a dream, as in themedieval tradition, "he cheatsdeliberately the primal desire at the heart of Faerie: the realization, independent of theconceiving mind, of imagined wonder."
11 "On Fairy-Stories" in (London: OxfordUniversity Press, 1947). All of Tolkien's subsequent remarks on the fairy story are quoted from this essay.