Deus ex machina is a plot device in which a seemingly unsolvable problem or conflict is resolved suddenly and unexpectedly by the introduction of a new character, event, or object. This resolution is often contrived, improbable, or artificial and does not arise organically from the story. The term originates from ancient Greek theater, where a god would be lowered onto the stage by a machine to resolve the conflicts of the play. Deus ex machina is often considered a flawed or unsatisfactory form of storytelling because it can undermine the coherence and believability of the narrative.
Examples of deus ex machina:
In “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, the boys are rescued by a passing naval officer who appears unexpectedly and resolves the conflict.
In “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells, the alien invaders are ultimately defeated by a virus that affects them but not humans, providing an unexpected resolution to the conflict.
In “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” by J.K. Rowling, the resolution of the conflict comes through the intervention of a phoenix, which suddenly appears to save the day.
In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo, Quasimodo saves Esmeralda by unexpectedly appearing at the last minute and killing her captor.
In “The Matrix Revolutions” film, the appearance of the character Deus ex Machina, who resolves the conflict between humans and machines, is a literal example of the literary device.
In “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri, the poet Virgil serves as a deus ex machina who guides Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.
In “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, the resolution of the conflict with the dragon Smaug is aided by the sudden appearance of the character Bard the Bowman.
In “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, the sudden appearance of a long-lost character provides an unexpected resolution to the story.