I’ll resist the urge to sing, “I’d hammer in the morning,” since the title of this post reminds me of the song “If I Had a Hammer.”
I’ve been thinking about eagles lately, and not just because my brother claims he saw one as we returned to Illinois after our trip to Houston. I recently watched the extended version of The Hobbit (directed by Peter Jackson) and am currently making my way through the appendices (the behind-the-scenes documentaries). In various forums, I’ve read comments of people complaining about the deus ex machina effect of the eagles in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
According to Wikipedia, deus ex machina is
A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted themself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or as a comedic device.
You probably already knew that, didn’t you? Getting back to the eagles, I love their intervention in these books and the film adaptations. SPOILERS AHEAD. I read The Hobbit when I was a kid, and can readily recall the immense comfort I felt when the eagles arrived to rescue Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves from burning trees, and later when they showed up during the battle of five armies. As I read The Lord of the Rings (and watched the films), I cheered as Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, rescued Gandalf from Isengard (Fellowship of the Ring). I woo-hooed as eagles fortuitously arrived during the battle at the Black Gate (The Return of the King), and cried when they carried Frodo and Sam away from Mount Doom. END SPOILERS.
Their presence provided the assurance that all would be well. Now, I realize everyone does not share that sentiment. But I love the fact that when characters are on the verge of death or at the very least, at the end of their strength, help comes from an unexpected source. I can breathe a sigh of relief until the next crisis. And in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the next crisis is always just around the corner.
Help comes from a surprising source in my novel. I don’t use eagles, however. I won’t say what I use, but I wonder if I might be judged in the same way as Tolkien has been. To prepare for the possibility of a deus ex machina backlash from readers, I used foreshadowing earlier in the book so that what happens toward the end is not a total surprise. At least one of the intervening forces makes an appearance early on, so I’m hoping the later arrival feels inevitable, rather than contrived. Also, the intervening forces don’t actually fight the battle at the end. The main characters still have to do that. But these forces are there to provide help and hope in a story with many bleak moments. I included them, because it is a fairy tale after all. 😀
I don’t know about you, but I read to escape. Life is difficult sometimes. So if an eagle wants to appear and whisk someone away from those who would do that person harm, I’m all for it.
This is not a feather from an eagle, in case you’re wondering. (You probably aren’t.) It kept flopping on my living room floor, so I had to take a photo of it and include it.
What’s your take on the subject? Are you appalled by even the whiff of a deus ex machina ending? Do you employ one in your novel?
Bald eagle from hdwallpapers. Bilbo on the eagle image from The Hobbit.