The Value of Mystery

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By M.F. Erler

Over the years, I have repeatedly run into writers who emphasize the need for mystery in our lives. I don’t mean murder mysteries, though I enjoy reading these, and so do many others apparently—for it’s a popular genre across all forms of media.

No, what I mean is something I first ran across in Frank Herbert’s Dune books. His main character, Paul Atreides, is prescient and knows all that is coming in his future.I thought that would be a great gift to have, but instead it becomes more and more of a burden to him. He begins to lose all hope in his life, for he knows exactly what each day will bring—all the way up to his death.

This idea opened a new world of thought for me. The next place I discovered the concept was in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In one scene, the wizard Gandalf tells Frodo that there is no need to despair. “Only those who know the future without a doubt have cause of despair.” At first, this seemed backwards to me. But as I thought more about it, I realized that it’s the mystery, the unknown aspect of the future, that leaves room for hope. For we don’t know everything. Maybe we aren’t meant to.

Even in the Book of Job, an ancient piece of poetic literature we’re told, this idea is prevalent. Job experiences all kinds of heartbreaks and setbacks in his life and begins to ask God why he has allowed this. (I confess that I often find myself asking questions like this, too.) In the end of the book, God at last comes to Job, but he doesn’t answer his questions. Instead he asks him questions such as, “Where were you when I created the world? Can you create anything like I have?”

And Job’s reply?  “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” He is humbled by the mystery.

One of C.S. Lewis’s most misunderstood book is called Till We Have Faces. I read it several years ago, and perhaps need to again. It’s a retelling of the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche, from the viewpoint of the young woman’s sister. She often asks the gods why they have tormented her sister. In the end, however, she realizes that the gods are a mystery for a reason. She says, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer [to my questions]. You are yourself the answer.” This is, according to most, Lewis’s most completely realized character. And to me, she seems to echo Job.

In the end, we must face up to the fact that we humans don’t know everything. Even though our techno-scientific culture pushes us to intensify our search, maybe its failure is what helps us to embrace and value the mystery in our lives.

 

The Mystery of Mystery

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By Karen Wills

My adored one and I have been discussing elements most found in best-loved fiction. We came up with the following: mystery, conflict, suspense, doubt, implied or real sex, implied or real violence, and resolution.

Mystery to me is that haunting element in a character, situation, place, or series of events that eludes easy explanation. It’s the thing that keeps us reading to grasp or comprehend. We don’t want to be hopelessly mystified. We do want to be endlessly intrigued. It’s why we want to talk about the book afterwards with other readers. It’s something that made an internal shift in our thinking and feeling and awareness. My mystery is an element, not a genre centered on crime and murders. The mystery I mean can exist in any genre.

It is to literature what outer space is to the physical world.mystery space

 

For example, how could Lonesome Dove’s Woodrow Call refuse to ever acknowledge Newt as his son? Yes, Call is stiff necked and proud, but this has to do with a paralyzing personal reticence. Where did it come from? And what about the fairy tale element in Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See? Fairy tales always have mystery.

Mystery isn’t magic realism, because the explanation for that is that it’s, you know, plain old magic, and so we don’t have to think and search for explanation. Likewise with reports of religious miracles where the conclusion will always be that God caused them. End of story.

Poetry always has mystery, so perhaps poetic writing, prose with metaphors and similes that reveal amazing connections, has it. A deep connection to nature or any passion may have it.

Mystery is delightfully hard to pin down, but think about your favorite books. mystery intrigue

I’ll bet they have at least a little tantalizing mystery.

Is it a Mystery—or a Romance?

Leslie-WEB-ColorBy Leslie Budewitz

Join Leslie on Facebook for a chance to win a gift box of jam from Eva Gates Homemade Preserves. As Erin Murphy, the protagonist of Death al Dente, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel says, “If it’s made in Montana, it must be good!”

I love a good mystery. And I love a good romance. Actually, to my way of thinking, every novel is a bit of a mystery—or should be. Whether the book is shelved in the mystery section or elsewhere, some deep human question—some deep human mystery—lies at the heart of every novel.

And of course, so does love. Whether it’s romantic love, filial love, or that deep and mysterious form of friendship the Greeks call agape, the longing for love and all the related struggles tug at readers of nearly every kind of fiction.

But when my first mystery, Death al Dente, was published last year, I was surprised to discover that mystery readers have distinct opinions about how much romance is too much. Cross over the line, and your books will be categorized not as mystery but as romantic suspense. That’s not bad—but it does put you in another section of the bookstore, and give you a different set of readers. The audiences overlap, but some readers will never cross that line.

Other readers love a good romantic tug-of-war. The love triangle. Will Heroine choose Guy A—or Guy B? Will the man we suspected of murder in the first installment instead turn out to be Mr. Right? Will the man we were rooting for turn out to carry a torch for the long-lost love, returned from the dead in book five? deathaldent

Lo these many years, I found myself interested in two men at the same time. “You’re old enough,” I told myself. “You can date them both.” And so I did, for about a week, when the second man banished all thoughts of the first. (Except for that oh-so-uncomfortable conversation with the first man. He lived.) ANYway, I’m not the only woman to have such an experience, so when my girl Erin found herself interested in both Rick Bergstrom, aka “farm boy,” and Adam Zimmerman, the nerd-turned-hunky wilderness camp director who carried a torch for her in college, though she barely noticed him—well, it seemed true-to-life.  I was not prepared for the readers who said “oh, not a love triangle.” Others said “don’t let it go on too long.” I suspect that despite its realism, it’s been over-used—one series in particular comes to mind, the one with the NJ lingerie buyer who—well, never mind.

But don’t worry. Erin’s a woman who prides herself on both her decision-making and her intuition. She’ll know her  heart soon. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

How much romance is enough in your mystery? And how much mystery do you like in your romance?