Deus Ex Machina - inherently bad?

Okay, I’m wondering why everyone things Deus Ex Machina is such a horrible and cheap way to end a story. In a lot of ways, I’d rather see a big battle of the titans between the god/powerful wizard/heavenly army and the antagonist than some little 15 year old kid with a death wish killing him through sheer luck…

Why is that so bad?

It just seems like a cop-out to me. Like the author just ran out of ideas. One of the cool things about most stories is watching an author apparantly write themselves into a corner, only to pull themselves out of it with clever I didn’t think of. Using a Deus Ex just cheapens it.

I’ve seen it used successfully and amusingly in comedy. A Simpsons halloween episode comes to mind. To paraphrase James Earl Jones’ voice over “And, oh …, let’s say they lived happily ever after.”

But here moderation is certainly a key idea to keep in mind.

But in comedy they’re mocking the whole concept. It works, because no-one likes it when it’s in a story that’s being played straight.

Because Deus Ex Machina isn’t about a big battle of the Titans. If Zeus comes down and actually has to fight the bad guy in an epic struggle, yeah, that could be an exciting ending. If, on the other hand, the bad guy is just about to kill everyone when a lightning bolt comes down and kills him, and then his minions all turn into chickens, that’s Deus Ex Machina. It’s not a big epic battle, it’s just a cop-out.

It’s bad because it’s a cop-out - you go through, read a whole story with characters and events, then all of a sudden boom for no good reason the problem gets solved. The 15-year-old kid killing the big bad guy through sheer luck is an example of deus ex machina.

Example: In the Iliad, you’ve got gods intervening right and left… But on both sides. Gods are fighting gods, or at least mortals empowered by gods. The Iliad is, therefore, way cool. It’s also therefore not Deus Ex Machina, in the sense in which the term is used in literary criticism.

Sometimes it’s okay, like in the Oresteia, when Athena literally has to come down to sort everything out. But that’s the whole point of that play, to show the intervention of a higher power. So, IMHO, it works well if that’s the point of the story/play/whatever…if gods or “chance” hasn’t shown up before, then it might look hokey.

What’s the difference between “Deus Ex Machina” and “Le Deux Machina”?

“Deus Ex Machina” means “Ghost in the Machine” and was literally the machinery they used to operate props and stuff during plays in ancient Greece.

So what does Le Deux Machina mean? As in the Smashing Pumpkins song?

Looks like “The Two Machine” to me, but I only pretend to speak French.

Wasn’t there a Woody Allen play where the Deus Ex Machina at the end malfunctions, killing the god meant to resolve the conflict?

Actually it means “The god of the machine” or more liberaly the god within the machine. Ghost is a different word. I’ve always been under the impression that this phrase had its origins in Greek. Do we know what the Greeks called it?

More importantly that Deus ex machina being a cop-out, it denies us the proper charcater development arc. The key to a good story is the arc in which the character develops by overcoming the various conflicts put into his/her path. If the Gods solve outr protagonists problem then the chatracter has gained nothing really, or if they do it feels false.

In Greek characters it should look something like this: [symbol]qeoV ek mhcanhV[/symbol]

So all the stories that have the goodguy suddenly discovering some super ability and killing the badguy is really Deus Ex Machina?

If its the first time he discovered he had the power, and nothing that happened before in the story would lead you to believe he has the power (or it doesn’t follow from previous events that he should have the power), then yes, that’s deus ex machina.

Some cases, I don’t know. Does Dorothy being told she had the power all along to return home by clicking her heels three times count? It could be forgiven because a point is trying to be made (“There’s no place like home!”) or because its not the one event that ties up all the crises in the story.

I was asking because a lot of (lower quality) books/stories I’ve read all end with the hero getting angry or something over their friend getting hurt. Then they like get super strong and kill the guy… or a similiar situation.

Yeah. I guess I was pointing out that it depends upon the context of the story how much of a writer’s sin using DEM is. If he’s creativily using it to make a point, or to show irony or whatever, that’s one thing. If its because the writer just can’t think of another way to get the characters out of their predicatament, it just shows a lack of imagination (or talent) on his/her part.

Yes. IIRC, the play was called God (A Play), and it was published in his book, Without Feathers.