This time of year is one of several during the year sacred to Christianity or Judaism. One thing common to yearly observances of religious "holy days" is the aspect of mystery. The foundations of Christianity are based on events that go beyond miraculous - there is a deep mystery behind each one. How is it that a supernatural being chose to split part of himself off to become incarnate through the birth of a boy to a humble Hebrew virgin? How could the gruesome killing of the man that boy later became serve as a gateway for a renewed relationship between humans and their deity, with a consequent promise of life after death? How could that crucified man, both human and divine at the same time, rise from the dead and visit his disciples before returning to heaven?
Some of the most profound stories in fantasy and science fiction have great mysteries at their core. Who placed a monolith on Earth to influence the evolution of Homo sapiens, and another on the Moon to signal when humans first achieved space travel (2001: A Space Odyssey)? What is the meaning of the "star child" at the end of the movie? How are prophecies revealed? How was a hero's destiny created in time past, and by whom? How were the means by which the prophecies are fulfilled come into being?
In some cases, sufficient research by characters in a story may elucidate these mysteries. Ancient ruins on other planets may be studied to understand the civilizations that left them behind. But in other cases, the mysteries run so deep they can never be understood, for they go well beyond what science can ever explain. They are literally of mythic proportions, and may form the basis of a fictional world's religions.
Have a good example of a fundamental mystery in a fantasy or science fiction story? Leave a comment and share with us!