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the Eleventh Doctor and eucatastrophe

I've been grading student essays and papers pretty much non-stop this week, and while some of them are decent, many of them are prompting my best Sherlock imitations (Ummm... no.) As a way of coping, I've also been rewatching the Eleven episodes I had seen before getting diverted by... something. Most likely Sherlock series three (which is growing on me the more I watch and analyze it) and my deep and abiding love of Chris Eccleston's Doctor. Probably also by the Cabin Pressure radio drama, whcih I've been enjoying quite thoroughly latel.

Anyway. Doctor Who. Eleven. Halfway through my third re-rewatching of "The Eleventh Hour," it struck me how thoroughly like faery-story it is. You have the importance of childhood innocence, the belief in the impossible, the sort of almost naive belief that this can possibly be made to work - that is, naive until it actually does work. IN fact, there's one word that's been flowing through my head as I watch it: eucatastrophe.

If you're not familiar, the term is from Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories." Using the version of the quote that showed up at MPTT earlier today:

Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a "consolation" for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, "Is it true?" The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): "If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world." That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the "eucatastrophe" we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.

To my great shame, I've never actually read this essay (I know, I know), but whatever else Tolkien is driving at here, I think I get the bare meaning of the term: that it is the happily-ever-after, and more than that, it's tragedy turned into joy. It's just this once, everybody living. It's Luke's impossible shot down the ventillation shaft blowing up the Death Star. It's that moment of Sherlock being a girl's name on the Tarmac, the moment of joy in the midst of that final scene, and more than that of Sherlock standing by his grave at the tail end of Reichenbach. Which, granted, isn't quite the joy beyond all hope of things turning out well, but it's a glimpse of it, an impossible glimpse in the midst of a story that's not fully told yet. And it's the Eagles swooping in in "Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire" with the wargs bouncing around; or Gwaihir rescuing Gandalf from Orthanc; or perhaps most of all, of Frodo's and Sam's impossible rescue from Mount Doom. You get the idea.

And I'm seeing it time and time again in the latest incarnation of Doctor Who. It's just so impossible that things would turn out as well as they did. I saw this flat-out joy more than once in "The Eleventh Hour," but also in the climax of "The Beast Below" and even more so in River Song's impossible rescue of (spoilers...) (and admit it, you just said that in her voice) in "Flesh and Blood." The sheer horror, the can't-quite-look-away-from-the-screen revulsion and compulsion simultaneously... turned on a dime when you realize what Eleven is driving at with his "Hang on." I quite literally squealed.

And it will be fascinating to see how this turns out. I've got one more episode I've seen and then it's in to new waters. This may be me imposing something that's not there. But really, there's something I can't call anything other than eucatastrophe at work here, and it's helping me to hope like I haven't in over a decade. It makes me feel young and reminds me that sometimes what religious folk are prone to call the miraculous just happens. Sometmes life sucks... but sometimes it's wilder, more wonderful than what we'd expect.


On a slightly less happy note, I read Doyle's "The Greek Interpreter" (free etext here). I won't lie: this was driven by that wonderful scene at the beginning of BBC's Belgravia. I am trying to make my way through the stories once again, as a way of reconnecting with the originals. (Because, you know, I need something to do during the hiatus...) But I must say, I was more than a bit disappointed.

First, the good. There's a rather interesting description of Mycroft Holmes toward the beginning of the story that I quoted over at Tumblr. I found it fascinating, actually - probably the highlight of the story for me. (To be fair, it is a short one.) I also liked the fact that John was able to work out the situation on his own, and a lot of the details did have a nice taste of the exotic about them, or I'm sure they would have at the time.

There also were several parts of it I really didn't like - issues I found more than a bit insulting to my modern sensibilities. The way women were treated in it, for instance, as silly little things when they appeared at all. The fat-shaming and its connection with laziness were even worse, and the thoroughly Anglo-centric nature of it all was just a bit for this proud German-American (southern German; I look a bit like the description we get of Mr. Melas) to bear up under. In a longer piece this wouldn't have been such a hard thing, perhaps, but as I'm also a woman and a bit overweight, this really didn't sit well with me at all.

I think the biggest problem for me, though, was that I simply found the story boring. Watson more or less solved it, but it was using "deductions" absolutely on par with Doyle's Watson. That essentially meant that I'd worked out the answer about halfway through Mr. Melas's recounting of events, and the final piece of the puzzle was supplied through the highly suspenseful method of waiting for someone to reply to a newspaper advertisement. The delay only seemed to exist to make Mycroft look bad (granted, I'm a bit of a Mycroft fangirl with the BBC, so my standards are probably high). It set up what I'm sure was an exciting final scene at the time, but these days I guess we're spoiled for that kind of thing.

Anyway. I do quite like Doyle fiction, and I'm sorry this one didn't quite work for me for a variety of reasons. Any recommendations for which I should read next? I've done Bohemia + Scarlet, but as for the others I'm open to suggestions.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 7th, 2014 08:22 am (UTC)
I am currently re-reading ACD's stories at sherlock60, and - out of reading order - stumbled into "The Yellow Face". It quite unexpectectly moved me to tears.

However, if you want to find fics written at the turn of the last century that don't offend contemporary sensibilities, you will not find them. ACD as all authors needs to be read in his own historical context. I am Southern German, a woman and a bit overweight (and one of my writing kinks are chubby chasers and fat appreciation) but I will never look to the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle to affirm these sides of me. For me, his Sherlock Holmes stories allow me discover their world. I read them for what they tell me about how people thought and felt back then, how an author could imagine an exceptional character like Sherlock Holmes, for how "adventure" and "crime" and most of all the telling of a story was conceived of back in this world.

Do read "On Fairy Tales". It's an awesome meta text for fantasy. :)
Mar. 7th, 2014 08:51 am (UTC)
That's a fair point re: Doyle, and I quite agree with you about not expecting something to satisfy modern sensibilities. I don't actually expect that. I mean, I'm a medievalist - Im used to some pretty antiquated attitudes and still seeing something of value in them. I think what really bothered me was that in this particular story, there didn't seem to be anything else that interested me for some reason - it just felt boring, meaning the only thing that stood out were all those Victorian attitudes I didn't like. If there was something else to excite or move me, I probably wouldn't have noticed nearly as much.

Will have to check out "The Yellow Face." I keep meaning to read "Of Fairy Stories," but somehow never quite getting around to it. Maybe it's time for that, too.
Mar. 7th, 2014 09:14 am (UTC)
I koew that you actually agree with what I was commenting - I just am really sensitive these days to criticisms of historical texts that don't take their historicity into account.

@ The Greek Interpreter: What I found really interesting about the story are the different characterisations of Sherlock and Mycroft. To me (and much literary criticism), Arthur Conan Doyle is one of the voices that redefined masculinity at the turn of the last century. And here he seems to present to the readers two modes of a masculinity based on superior intelligence and the usage of the faculties of logic and reasoning. There is Mycroft who has the same keen insights as Sherlock but lacks the incentive to act on them. Whereas, especially in The Greek Interpreter, Sherlock is presented as a very active character, rushing into buildings, hurrying on his companions etc. I'd make the argument that ACD in this story is negotiating the dangers that a superior intellect may lead to inaction in the character of Mycroft, whereas the active engagement of Sherlock is based on his connection to the world and his interest in consequences as much as in motives.

My jumbled two cents, only, of course.
Mar. 7th, 2014 01:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, I do hope you get to read "On Fairy Stories"--it shows so much of what's behind Tolkien's world! One of my favorite Tolkien quotes is in that essay: "...joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."

(And BTW, your use of "eucatastrophe" to describe those episodes of Who is perfectly accurate!)

It's been a while since I read the original Doyle stories, but I remember that the last time I did so finding some of the stories less interesting than the first time I read them. I think it's that things which were original then have now become common tropes that no longer feel original.

And TBH, Doyle's prose IMO lacks the power that makes such things retain freshness on a re-read and enables a reader to find something new each time.

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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