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Of course mystery stories must have shadowy characters for the detective or investigator to find or spy stories must have hunted, haunted characters who are on a mission, but most fiction stories and even non-fiction stories have their share of mysterious characters to keep us interested.
In Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician Trilogy, the High Lord of the Magician’s Guild, Arrikin, is extremely mysterious and frightening even to his best friend. The series kept me reading trying to find out what he was doing and why. I cared about the characters that were under his thumb.
If there are no mysterious characters to be revealed then there may be a whole cabal as in C. J. Cherryh’s Heavy Time where it seems that the company may be cheating the miners.
The tension that arises when a hidden character must be found, revealed, accused or excused keeps the suspense high. What is the character planning to do? Will he or she do great harm before they can be stopped? Where are they hiding? Who is helping them? What caused them to choose to do what they are doing? Can they be stopped at all? What will be the cost to other characters that we care about?
If a character is protecting someone against the law and rules what will be his or her fate?
The author who has made us care for the main characters asks us to enter into their minds and follow their paths as we search for the truth.
In the true story, The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, the biography of Lev Nussimbaum, by Tom Reiss, the title says that the author had to solve the mystery of his subject. He searched through books that Lev wrote and talked to people who had known him or lived through the same dangerous times. In the background of the story so far a young boy has lived through several horrifying adventures to escape revolutions and indiscriminate killing. When he arrives in a new city he looks for rioters and machine guns in the streets.
In reading about Petersburg during the Civil War, there is not much mystery because we know how it ended, but I am still learning the thoughts of the participants in letters home and I am learning more about what Lee and Grant did as they faced off in the last days of the war. It is hard to read the fact that if only this or that attack had not foundered, the war would have ended months ahead of when it did with fewer lives lost.
In Elizabeth Moon’s most recent series, the final book has come out. The Crown of Renewal answers many of the questions in the first three books. The mysterious regalia wants to be taken home. Where is home? What are the jewels for? Can Dorrin survive finding the answer to the mystery? Can Kieri defeat the terrible creatures who wish to kill him and his family?
The Crown of Renewal is the best of the four books in my opinion for pulling together all the answers while scaring me as to the outcome of the characters I cared about.
There is never a guarantee that favorite characters will survive in these stories.
Famous mysterious characters or mysterious happenings:
1. The Wizard of Oz in Baum’s stories. Who is he? What powers does he have?
2. In Harry Potter, why does Hagrid disappear for a long time? Who is he hiding in the forest? Who is Sirius Black and how did he escape the prison? Should Harry trust him? Why does Dumbledore trust Snape who seems to know the Death eaters?
3. And always…who is Shane in Schaefer’s story? Where did he come from? Where did he go? Why did he stay to help the farmers?
4. Who are the mysterious men that Captain Ahab hides on the Pequod as they hunt for the great white whale? Why did he bring them aboard? Captain Ahab is mysterious to Ishmael for most of the story.
5. In The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, the mystery is why does Elnora’s mother not allow her to play the violin and why is she so cruel to her daughter? What happened to her father?
Project Gutenberg has the story here:
6. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird the mysterious character is Boo Radley whom the children wonder about. He is the Mockingbird of the story.
7. In Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton, a woman is accused and imprisoned for murder for many years while claiming to have seen a monster do the killings. Is there really a monster? If there is what does it want? How can it be stopped? This large tome is also intriguing because there is a mysterious body that can not be identified.
8. In Terry Pratchett’s books, Lord Vetinari is always a mystery and his black coach intimidates any who might oppose him. Understanding what he wants is the job of Moist von Lipwig in Raising Steam. Is that crooked heart up to it?
9. The question of who is Strider in Lord of the Rings engages us early on as the Hobbits meet him in Bree. Then, the question of who is Aragorn commences.
10. In Burnett’s Secret Garden, Mary hears crying in the great dark house. Who is it and why is he screaming? Why is he hidden away?
11. In the Princess Bride there is the Dread Pirate Roberts.
12. Howl is a mysterious character in Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.
13. Who is the mysterious High One in The Riddle Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip? What do the shapechangers want? Many, many stories hinge around the question of who a High Lord is and what he is doing to those around him.
14. Merlin of the King Arthur stories is always mysterious in his comings and goings and he represents many other wizards in countless stories. Gandalf and Saruman are examples.
15. Who knows what lies in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. Many spies and mysterious strangers are similar to the Shadow of radio fame. Who was that masked man? He rides in and solves a problem and rides away into the sunset. Hi Yo, Silver, Away!
Who are your favorite mysterious characters?
Diaries of the Week:
Write On! Walking scenes.
Robert Fuller says:
The audiobook of The Rowan Tree has been discounted to $1.99 for people who already own the (free) Kindle ebook.DK VA Hospital Support Project: Book Drive! Got Used Books to Give?
Robert's Memoir on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/....
Calvin S. Fuller's memoir (Robert’s father) on Smashwords:
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