NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
Author Q&A with Erin Morgenstern
This is a lovely and unique story. Why a circus? How did this story first come to you—through a character, a plotline, an emotion?
The story came as a location created out of desperation. I was working on a different story altogether, one that was becoming progressively more and more boring because nothing was happening. I needed something exciting to happen and I couldn't figure out how to do it with the locations I had so I sent the characters to the circus. That circus was immediately much more interesting and eventually I abandoned that other story and its characters entirely and focused on the circus instead. What eventually became The Night Circus started from exploring that spontaneously-created location, figuring out who created it and who performed in it and what its story was.
What was your inspiration for some of the amazing acts in this circus?
Some of them were traditional circus acts or attractions made a bit more unique, like the acrobats performing directly overhead or the carousel that doesn't simply go in circles. The Cloud Maze is a play on a climbing maze I hazily recall from childhood visits to the Boston Children's Museum. Other tents were created based on color, or lack thereof. I had a lot of dark tents and wanted something lighter and white, the Ice Garden developed from that relatively simple starting point.
Do you have a favorite character?
It's impossible to pick a true favorite, though Poppet & Widget are very dear to my heart as they're the first of the characters to turn up in my imagination. They're also just plain fun, both individually and as a pair.
What was the most challenging aspect of developing this story?
It didn't have a plot for a very long time. Really, my biggest challenge was finding the actual story within all the atmosphere. I had the place and the characters and the feel of the book long before it had a proper story structure to tie everything together. The novel went through a great many revisions before it figured out what it wanted to be, I tried things that didn't work and then things that sort of worked and replaced old ideas with new ones until I got it right.
Is there an emotion that you had to spend a lot of time with that made you uncomfortable?
I'm an emotional sort of person in general and I have a vivid imagination, so I feel the whole spectrum of emotion strongly when I write. It's something I'm used to, though, so nothing in particular made me uncomfortable. There is a lot of frustration felt by various characters, which is not the nicest emotion to be spending a lot of time with, but it helps to drive characters to actions which bring different emotions along.
Tell me about your writing life. Do you have any rituals?
I binge write. I think it's because I started seriously writing by participating in National Novel Writing Month, an online-based challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I don't have as tight a time limit anymore but I still write in long marathon sessions and then I won't write for a while, I'm not a write-every-day writer. I go back and forth between input phases where I'm reading a lot or trying to get out and explore the world a bit and soak up inspirations and then I'll get back into output mode and write and write and write.
I don't have any particular rituals, I sometimes like to write in longhand when I'm searching for ideas but I do the vast majority by typing, I can't always keep up with my thoughts longhand. I'm not a coffeeshop writer because I feel obliged to order more coffee and then I end up over-caffeinated.
What’s the one true thing you learned from your characters in this novel?
I think it's something that I knew already but explored more with these characters, that nothing is as simple as black or white, good or evil. There are all those shades of grey and everyone acts from a place that they see as right and true. (Though they are allowed to change their minds.)
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.
But it is not open for business. Not just yet.
Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impressive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.
And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads: Opens at NightfallCloses at Dawn
“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.
You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.
The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred. The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind. The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock.
The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.
The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of someplace warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.
First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light.
All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. The waiting crowd quiets as it watches this display of illumination. Someone near you gasps. A small child claps his hands with glee at the sight.
When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more firefly-like lights flicker to life. They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke. The people nearest to the gates take a few steps back.
At first, it is only a random pattern of lights. But as more of them ignite, it becomes clear that they are aligned in scripted letters. First a C
is distinguishable, followed by more letters. A q
, oddly, and several e
’s. When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads: Le Cirque des Rêves
Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while others frown and look questioningly at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on her mother’s sleeve, begging to know what it says.
“The Circus of Dreams,” comes the reply. The girl smiles delightedly.
Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter. PART I: Primordium
"The Whole of Le Cirque des Rêves is formed by a series of circles. Perhaps it is a tribute to the origin of the word 'circus,' deriving from the Greek kirkos
meaning circle, or ring. There are many such nods to the phenomenon of the circus in a historical sense, though it is hardly a traditional circus. Rather than a single tent with rings enclosed within, this circus contains clusters of tents like pyramids, some large and others quite small. They are set within circular paths, contained within a circular fence. Looping and continuous."
--Friedrick Thiessen, 1892
"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moon-light, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."
--Oscar Wilde, 1888UNEXPECTED POST
New York, February 1873
The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl.
The lawyer who escorts her to the theater refuses to explain despite the manager’s protestations, abandoning her as quickly as he can with no more than a shrug and the tip of a hat.
The theater manager does not need to read the envelope to know who the girl is for. The bright eyes peering out from under a cloud of unruly brown curls are smaller, wider versions of the magician’s own.
He takes her by the hand, her small fingers hanging limp within his. She refuses to remove her coat despite the warmth of the theater, giving only an adamant shake of her head when he asks her why.
The manager takes the girl to his office, not knowing what else to do with her. She sits quietly on an uncomfortable chair beneath a line of framed posters advertising past productions, surrounded by boxes of tickets and receipts. The manager brings her a cup of tea with an extra lump of sugar, but it remains on the desk, untouched, and grows cold.
The girl does not move, does not fidget in her seat. She stays perfectly still with her hands folded in her lap. Her gaze is fixed downward, focused on her boots that do not quite touch the floor. There is a small scuff on one toe, but the laces are knotted in perfect bows.
The sealed envelope hangs from the second topmost button of her coat, until Prospero arrives.
She hears him before the door opens, his footsteps heavy and echoing in the hall, unlike the measured pace of the manager who has come and gone several times, quiet as a cat.
“There is also a . . . package for you, sir,” the manager says as he opens the door, ushering the magician into the cramped office before slipping off to attend to other theater matters, having no desire to witness what might become of this encounter.
The magician scans the office, a stack of letters in one hand, a black velvet cape lined with shockingly white silk cascading behind him, expecting a paper-wrapped box or crate. Only when the girl looks up at him with his own eyes does he realize what the theater manager was referring to.
Prospero the Enchanter’s immediate reaction upon meeting his daughter is a simple declaration of: “Well, fuck.”
The girl returns her attention to her boots.
The magician closes the door behind him, dropping the stack of letters on the desk next to the teacup as he looks at the girl.
He rips the envelope from her coat, leaving the pin clinging steadfastly to its button.
While the writing on the front bears his stage name and the theater address, the letter inside greets him with his given name, Hector Bowen.
He skims over the contents, any emotional impact desired by the author failing miserably and finally. He pauses at the only fact he deems relevant: that this girl now left in his custody is, obviously, his own daughter and that her name is Celia.
“She should have named you Miranda,” the man called Prospero the Enchanter says to the girl with a chuckle. “I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.”
The girl looks up at him again. Dark eyes narrow beneath her curls.
The teacup on the desk begins to shake. Ripples disrupt the calm surface as cracks tremble across the glaze, and then it collapses in shards of flowered porcelain. Cold tea pools in the saucer and drips onto the floor, leaving sticky trails along the polished wood.
The magician’s smile vanishes. He glances back at the desk with a frown, and the spilled tea begins seeping back up from the floor. The cracked and broken pieces stand and re-form themselves around the liquid until the cup sits complete once more, soft swirls of steam rising into the air.
The girl stares at the teacup, her eyes wide.
Hector Bowen takes his daughter’s face in his gloved hand, scrutinizing her expression for a moment before releasing her, his fingers leaving long red marks across her cheeks.
“You might be interesting,” he says.
The girl does not reply.
He makes several attempts to rename her in the following weeks, but she refuses to respond to anything but Celia.
Several months later, once he decides she is ready, the magician writes a letter of his own. He includes no address, but it reaches its destination across the ocean nonetheless.
Excerpted from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Copyright © 2011 by Erin Morgenstern. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
“Simply put, you couldn't possibly not want to visit The Night Circus. I was utterly besotted by this book. It twists. It turns. It demands attention be paid to the timeline. I felt aggrieved at having to close The Night Circus and periodically return to my everyday world. It is now the top title on my gift-giving list.” --Margaret Drown Rasmussen
“I find myself staring into space remembering parts of this wonderful book and not wanting to come back—I am far from young but I have never been to a circus, for one reason or another but have always been fascinated by all aspects—smells sights, sounds performers and audience—this book certainly whetted my desire to physically go. Ahhhh but is this about a circus—I think not—The Night Circus is just the wonderful vehicle provided for this splendid ride to a dimension not all can see. This is a wonderful read—beautifully written with just the right amount of childlike wonder and adult emotion to keep the reader wanting more—Miss Morgenstern is truly a gifted author—as the Mad Hatter would say "Never lose your Muchness." Looking forward to the audio and movie version but even more so her future books.” --Arleen Larzelere
“I predict that this book will be a smash hit. I was hooked from the first chapter and kept trying to find excuses to run away from other duties so I could snuggle up and drift away into this magic dream world. It is outstandingly visual and will translate wonderfully into film. Fans of Harry Potter should really adore the incredible cast of characters on a more sophisticated plane. The only downside is that I had to keep referring back to the previous chapters for dates as each chapter often skipped around in time.” --Lani Strom
“This is one of the best books I have read in a long time! I wanted to read something different from my usual since I don't read much fantasy. I wasn't sure if this would hold my interest. This book was beyond fantasy—it was more like a surreal dream that draws one deeper into its world with each chapter. Highly recommended!” --Loren Baxtrom
“I absolutely adored this book! The Night Circus is an enchanting, magical fairy tale. From the beginning you are transported to another time and place, and you will not want to leave. This is a story about love, destiny, and magic and it is so beautifully written that I had to force myself to slow down and enjoy the writing instead of rushing ahead so that more of the story was revealed. All of the characters are wonderfully written, including the character of the circus itself. This is a story that you will not soon forget. An absolute pleasure to read.” --Ilyse Bass
“I loved this book! It drew me into its world from the beginning and has not let me go, even though I am finished. I feel like starting again at the beginning, just to remain in the world of the circus. Morgenstern has created a feast for the senses in her characters and their story. The two ongoing plotlines are not parallel and cause the reader to have to make jumps back and forth in time. (Keep track of the dates at the beginning of each chapter!) But even though it is confusing at first, it makes perfect sense overall. The insertion of descriptions of individual circus tents and acts told from the point of view of the reader help to make you feel as if you are visiting The Night Circus as well. --Stephanie White
“I loved this book!!! It is mystical, magical and illusionary. The characters are well-defined. The plot keeps us guessing and is a real page-turner. This is a first book for Erin Morgenstern and hopefully a bestseller!” --Darlene Mour
“This is a very intriguing book! I am excitedly turning pages and enjoying the magical (no pun implied) language that prefaces each movement of the characters.....What a joy it would be to see this book adopted for a movie....there is enough suspense that accompanies the personality quirks of each character...a nightly joy to read!!! Thank you.” --Paulette George
“And I thought that Flaubert could write sensual prose as a counterpoint to his journalistic style. I found the book a great read. The book is a major achievement for nothing else than the cinematic, descriptive evocations of places, characters, etc. Loved it.” --William Estill
“This is the most incredible book that I have read in years! It is in a league of its own and I predict that it will be a huge success. This is THE book that I plan to buy for family and friends.” --Kathleen Welhouse
“I did not want the story to end! Celia and Marco are sympathetic characters manipulated by two men to compete in a show of magic. From the tents of the performers to the smell of caramel, Morgenstern brings the Circus alive as a separate, unique character. Wound through the story is a feeling of subtle menace that kept me reading. I was reminded of Peter Straub’s novel Shadowland, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the magical realism of Latin American literature. Older teens and adults will find this a fascinating read. A possible book club selection, too.” --Maureen Connelly
“Wow! Just finished The Night Circus and want to return immediately. This is a first novel that reveals an extremely talented and imaginative author, along with a mystical, magical world of love, conflict, and courage. I will carry this story and these characters with me for some time, and intend to highly recommend it to my book club. Oh, and I'm going to rush out and get a marmalade kitten to teach.” --Patricia Schulze
“The Night Circus brought me completely back to long-gone childhood days: settling in the big chair with a pile of books borrowed from the library, picking up one, curling up and completely losing myself into a wondrous faraway place populated with intense and captivating characters—ones that I might want to hang around with forever, and a story that leaves the everyday reality lost in dense fog. And continuing to read on and on, ignoring those annoying "come to the dinner" call outs or that mandatory "lights out, go to bed" order. An amazing first novel—and it better not be the last one from Erin Morgenstern!”
“I hated for this book to end. It was one of those delicious stories that you hate to put down to eat or sleep and look unhappily at how few pages are left as you near the end. This is an excellent first effort, which hopefully, will be the beginning of a wonderful career for Erin Morgenstern. The themes of love, conflict, and the ability to rise above challenges are well-developed and interestingly presented. I’m sure this is one book in which I will need to inscribe my name to assure that it is returned to me after it is repeatedly lent out.” --Erica Minchella
“After reading The Night Circus, I too would like to be a member of the rêveurs, the society of ardent followers, tracking the circus on its unscheduled itinerary. Entering the circus is like falling asleep into someone else’s dream, a dream full of wonders but sustained at great cost. All of the old verities are here—coming of age, the cost of winning, love growing on sterile soil. But when art transcends craft, old is new. Morgenstern’s circus is a new place, one of the “100 imaginary places you must visit before you die.” --Mark Oswood
“The Night Circus is full of wonderment and intrigue. It was quite difficult to put this book down, but when I did the magic still lingered in my head. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of curiosity and magic. Beautifully written...I absolutely adored this novel.” --Sara Summarell
"Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars (p.143). This quote from Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus captures my reaction to this unusual novel. Coming from a reader who does not list fantasy as a genre of choice, these words of praise may be more compelling. A tender love story, a dark and devious competition, and a stage for myriad actors and characters, this circular novel pulls the reader into its thrall and captures the imagination. As Morgenstern slips from the third person point of view into the second throughout the book, so I invite you to don a red scarf, join the line to slip into Le Cirque des Reves, seek out the fortune teller and have her cast the stars to read the future—one that is never set in stone.” --Carole Calhoun
“Fantastical journey!! Ms. Morgenstern has done an outstanding job of creating a truly magical world—sharing each and every incredible detail with the reader until we too are transported along with its wonderful characters. I did not want the book to end and it has stayed with me long after I read (and reread) the last line...Thank you to Ms. Morgenstern for reminding me of why I am a reader!” --Debbie Viggiano
Advance Bookseller Praise for: THE NIGHT CIRCUS
Sheryl Cotleur at Book Passage:
“Reading a novel like this is like being asked to come out and play—exhilarating!! [The Night Circus] is smart, inventive, creative, thoughtful, wise, pleasurable, and imaginative beyond measure. This is a fantastic story.”
Mark at Politics & Prose:
“I read [The Night Circus] greedily in just a couple of days…what a great story, really a marvel.”
Geoff Jennings at Rainy Day Books:
“Loved The Night Circus. LOVED IT.”
Adrian Newell at Warwick’s:
“Wow! I've been late to work twice this week because I simply can't put [The Night Circus] down. This is going to be huge!! Breathtaking, magical, who knew that the circus could be so interesting?”
Lindsey McGuirk at Village Books in Bellingham:
“Reading this book made my heart flutter. It feels like the first time you see the night sky completely void of light pollution. Reading it is like being surrounded by lightning bugs. I felt like a child seeing an amusement park for the first time. I adore this book.”
Jamie Fiocco at Flyleaf Books:
“A reader's trifecta! I don't know what to love the most; the captivating story, the richly detailed lives and trappings of the players, or the thoughts I'm left with now that the reading is done. I'm so impressed with Erin Morgenstern's powers of imagination and her storytelling. What a treat!”
Stefanie Kiper at Water Street Bookstore:
“I loved [The Night Circus]. Morgenstern has created such a compelling, complete world with this book. From the cover, to the lovely, intricate graphics inside, to the interspersed circus attraction descriptions—reading this book was like parting the curtains of a tent at the circus and entering. Every detail of the clothing, food, and attractions are perfectly described and the love story between the magicians is simply mythic. The plot is unspooled from two points in the story decades apart and as the dates get closer together, the feeling that something explosive is going to happen is truly palpable. Cinematic, unique, memorable.”
Annie Philbrick at Bank Square Books, Inc.:
“The Night Circus or Le Cirque des Reves as it is called, is a captivating and an illuminating debut novel. [Erin] Morgenstern has written a debut novel that will thrill you to the last page. It made me want to go back to the tablets of history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to see if such a night circus existed because Morgenstern's writing certainly makes you think it did. From her first line ‘The circus arrives without warning,’ to the last ‘You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream,’ Morgenstern draws you into her world and does not let you go.”
Michele Filgate at RiverRun Bookstore:
“Fans of Neil Gaiman and Harry Potter will find much to love in Erin Morgenstern's imaginative and atmospheric debut novel. Reading The Night Circus is like viewing your own dreams through another person's mind. There's a familiarity but you never know quite what to expect.”
Elizabeth Jordan at BookPeople Bookstore:
“Erin Morgenstern's debut is cinematic and intoxicating. Taking place in a magical circus open only at night, it appeals to all five senses so that you can see the black and white circus tents, the intricate and fantastical exhibits, smell and taste the caramel apples, hear the ticking of clocks and the hushed admiration of the circus-goers, and feel the heat of the bonfire at the center of it all. I don't remember the last time I was so thoroughly immersed in the world of a book. I didn't want it to end!”
Cathy Langer at Tattered Cover:
"Wow! I really loved [The Night Circus]. Magical, wonderful, brilliant,
mysterious, and sensual. Erin Morgenstern created a world that I was happily lost in and want to go back to.”
Calvin Crosby at Books Inc.:
“Both the characters and the setting are so deeply imagined [in The Night Circus] that the images that Erin Morgenstern has given to us will cling to whatever artist inclination you might have.”
Susan McAnally at Browseabout Books:
“I love, love, loved The Night Circus! I was so sad to see it end...I can't wait to sell it!!!”
Jenn Northington at WORD:
“The Night Circus is an exquisite pleasure to read. Tightly written,
beautifully told—I predict that readers of both literary and
speculative fiction will find themselves just as entranced as I was.”
Jamil Zaidi at The Elliott Bay Book Company:
“I [am] amazed [by The Night Circus]. The story is captivating and engrossing, the characters rich and delightful, and the descriptions of that remarkable world of enchantment and wonder are absolutely breathtaking. I think you guys may have the next Water For Elephants on your hands here. This unique book pushes the envelope of what is possible in a story in such a way that it will titillate both the adventurous and those more cautious of imagination…I cannot think of anyone who likes to read who will not be absolutely smitten with this tremendous journey of the imagination.”
BJ Bloebaum at Powell’s:
“I found myself quite enchanted [with The Night Circus]. It has all the elements that I love—magic, mystery, True Love, clockwork devices, great sacrifice—all in a setting that is so very well described that I could see it clearly in my mind. It ended up sucking me in so deeply that I lost track of time.”
Stephanie Crowe at Page & Palette
“Wow!!!!!!! What a magical, mesmerizing ride! Morgenstern seduces you from page one and takes you on a wonderful journey that entices you with a new experience every time you turn the page or go into another tent. This is a great story and I think it will be a YA crossover for sure. I finished it at 4am this morning; I couldn't put it down. The story really sucks you in and you feel [a] part of it. I will start promoting and can't wait to sell it. I loved it!!”
Eric Sample at Barnes & Noble:
“I finished The Night Circus and absolutely loved it. You have a truly special book on your hands. I was wondering how I could aptly describe how much I enjoyed reading this book and one word kept coming to mind: Exquisite! Everything about this book is exquisite...the story, the setting, the characters, the suspense, and the descriptions of the circus are all just about perfect. Erin has such a talent; I can't wait to read many more books from her. The Night Circus is one of the best books I've read in a very long time. I've been in the book selling business for almost 20 years and there have been a handful of books that I've immediately started re-reading as soon as I finished the book. I started The Night Circus again because I didn't want to leave the friendly confines of the story. And what a story!!!! How many different ways can I say I LOVE THIS BOOK!”
Erik C. Barnum at Northshire Bookstore:
“This first novel is a dazzling and beguiling literary debut, and should not
be ignored. The suspenseful plot is an intriguing backdrop to an exquisitely written fable and love story that I found to be completely irresistible.”
Caitlin Harrison at The Book Bin
“What a beautiful, beautiful book! Each chapter is like discovering a new tent in Le Cirque des Reves—mysterious and full of living magic. Celia and Marco’s love, their entanglement with one another and with the circus, pull you in immediately and lure you along through the entire perfect story. I finished it in one go, well after midnight, and couldn’t help feeling as I put it down that I was wandering away, dazzled, from the circus gates themselves.”
Bill Cusumano at Nicola’s Books
“It appears without notice, starts at dusk, ends at dawn, and is unlike anything people have encountered before. Thus is the circus itself and so is this mesmerizing novel. [The Night Circus] is as magical as its subject and defies easy description. If forced to use just one word, call it phantasmagorical.”
Cheryl Johnson at That Bookstore
“I actually liked [The Night Circus] so much that I read it very slowly so that I could keep it in my head for a few days. I loved the magical atmosphere; the venue for the challenge was great! It immediately put me in mind of the movie Big Fish, like it was just a tall tale, but a wonderful story. It's engaging and you feel like part of the story. From the first page I was totally caught up in the magic and wonder of the circus. It's a great book for adult and young readers: captivating, magical, and just fun in general…the best way to describe it is just magical!”
Nona Camuel at Coffeetree Books
“Erin paints a dream with her words in the The Night Circus. Meandering through the tents of Le Cirque, I wished that this truly existed, and did not want my visit to end! Superb! Many thanks, Erin!”
Emily Adams at Third Place Books
“I fell in love with the mysterious and magical world of The Night Circus. When I finished the book, I just sat on the couch and stared at the cover, holding it in both hands, unwilling to let go, wanting the story to continue. Throughout the book I felt wide-eyed, dazzled, transported by vivid imagery to a world where anything is possible and not everything is as it seems.”
Laura Miller at Peerless Books
“BEST BOOK EVER. The reader is thrown straightaway into a story unlike any on the market today. I wholeheartedly recommend this book; not only is it brilliantly written, each character personalized and described so they came alive in my head, but it also made me feel—I wanted to visit this circus of dreams, to walk the pathways, see myself reflected in the hall of mirrors and let go of my past regrets and sadness at the Pool of Tears. Erin Morgenstern masterfully concocted a world both realistic and magical, half fairy tale, half reality. The Night Circus is Morgenstern’s first book; if this is what we can expect from her, I look forward to the many other pieces of literary art that are certain to come...”
Elizabeth Anker at Alamosa Books LLC
“The Night Circus joins a short list of fantastic locales that I want to experience in the flesh. With a red scarf knotted at my throat. The story is a perfect meld of the natural and supernatural—believable and compelling. It could be true. I want it to be true. Descriptions are so vivid they elicit visceral response—ghost scents of popcorn and browned sugar, faint calliope melodies, haunting imagery that, like the after-image of the sun, stays burned into your mind to become the stuff of dreams. Possibly the most satisfactory ending ever written, because while the book closes, the story could continue on in infinite ways. A book that will become an obsession. You will want to read it again as soon as you
turn the last page…and then again.”
Anderson McKean at Page and Palette
"What a magnificent, mesmerizing novel. This enchanting debut by author Erin Morgenstern is a delight for the senses and the soul."
Jessica Stockton Bagnulo at Greenlight Bookstore
“I adored The Night Circus. It is my favorite kind of fiction—the kind that is just a little larger and more wonderful than life. The best comparison I can think of is to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, with its sense of magic as a difficult craft, fraught with politics and craggy personalities, but also as something that makes the world stranger and more beautiful and less predictable. But the deep, fiery romance of Erin Morgenstern's story, and the glorious carnival of the circus itself—the circus of the best and most haunting dreams—set it apart. It is destined to attract readers of all kinds and persuasions, and then to enchant them.”
Emily Crowe at The Odyssey Bookshop
“It's rare that a book haunts me in a way that Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus did…There are some books that capture the imagination; this novel seems rather to set the reader's imagination free with all that's best of dark and bright. The Night Circus is precisely poised in that netherworld between reality and imagination, between wakefulness and sleep, casting the dreamer into the light of the dark black night. If you believe that The Shire is worth saving, if you believe somewhere in your heart that your Hogwarts letter will still find you, if you believe in tesseracts and kything, this is the book for you. More than anything else, this is a book that rewards those readers who know that true magic lies in the believing, not in the object of belief.
If you are one of those readers, I think you will find, like me, that once you pick up this book, every moment spent not reading it feels like a moment wasted. It is an intoxicating blend of reality and imagination. It is one of the best books I have read this year. I think this book is poised to make it big.”
Sarah Knight at Northshire Bookstore
“What a wonderful imagination and original voice Erin Morgenstern has. I was mesmerized by the story, her characters, and her writing. I could see the characters in their exquisite clothing; picture the delights/amusements offered at each tent. What a magical novel. I was totally captivated by it. I have a long drive to work and am keeping my eye peeled for the arrival of the circus in one of the many fields I pass by twice a day. I so would like to be a reveur!”
Emily Gaitlin at Reed's GumTree
"The only thing I didn’t like about THE NIGHT CIRCUS was that I finished it! I wanted more! I felt like I was actually a part of the most whimsical and wonderful circus ever created."
Kathy Petray at Lake Forest Book Store
“I read [The Night Circus] and I loved it. I'm going to sell it to everyone who comes into the store.”
Holly Frakes at Schuler Books
“[One] of the best books I have read in recent memory… "The Night Circus" awakened my imagination and was so intriguing and unique. Wow. Please tell me someone picked up the movie rights, because I am ready to buy a ticket!!
Lanora Haradon at Next Chapter Books (from PW coverage of BEA)
“This novel is going to be bigger than The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s going to be bigger than The Secret Life of Bees!”
Betsy Burton at King's English (from Shelf Awareness coverage of BEA)
"I opened it up, and all of a sudden it's morning."
Lincoln Eddy at Schuler Books
“[The Night Circus] is by far the best book I've read in a long time…I loved it and I will be rereading it many times.”
Whitney Spotts at Schuler Books
“This much hyped debut lives boldy up to all the buzz as a striking example of an elegant, nostalgic yet modern fairy tale. I adored diving into Morgenstern's world and mourned when I reached the end. An excellent debut.
Nancy Simpson-Brice at The Book Vault
“The Night Circus can be described in so many ways…it’s a love story, a mystery, a fairy tale. However one describes it, it’s definitely an exercise in imagination of the finest type. I could literally feel my mind bending around this positively fascinating book. After reading the tale, you will never look at any circus in the same way again! Share the amazement.
You will become consumed by this book until the very last word. Strap yourself in for The Night Circus.
This is the type of book that should be debated over cups of coffee-grown-cold, long, long into the night! Highly recommended.”
Lisa at Oblong Books
"This tale of magic at the turn of the 19th century will keep you enthralled from the first eerie page to the last. Two children are unwittingly locked into a magical competition spanning decades that is wrapped up in the most amazing circus ever conceived."
Pete Schulte at Tattered Cover
“Trust me, you won't want to exit this circus until the very last sentence.”
Georgiana at Magnolia Books
"I'm kind of in that state of poignant, blissful, yet aching emptiness you have after finishing a book you become entrapped in and enraptured by. Erin Morgenstern has a wondrous mind and a way of writing that transmits her wonder directly and cleanly, yet suffused with the magic she feels. WOW.”
Leslie Hakala at Best of Times Bookstore
“The Night Circus opened a world of romance, magicians dueling, and Victorian-era intrigue that I didn't want to end, all in a black and white world only open after midnight. I was a goner after the first chapter!”
Katie at Fireside Books
“The Night Circus immediately grabbed my attention with its colorful, authentic characters. This book has everything: mystery, fantasy, drama, romance. The thing that ties everything together is the backdrop of a monochrome secret circus with endless possibilities and thrilling surprises. I loved the way the author describes the circus itself, and the many wonders within, in the most loving and intricate detail. The Night Circus was one of those books that I had to take with me everywhere I went...just in case I had a minute to read it in line at the post office or something.”
David Joslin at Mysterious Galaxy Books
“The Night Circus is like no other book I have read. You may bread it as a novel,
with strong characters and enthralling story well and deftly handled, but these usual literary suspects are besides the point of explaining why this book is so strange and appealing. Really, the book is about a place, the night circus itself, with its impossible collection of acts, illusions, and wonders. The place in turn is a world of art, done up principally in silver and black, with other colors appearing as accents, to create for the reader a remarkable visual experience. And the art in turn expresses the interior life of dreams and passions. Everywhere there is beauty, more and more beauty. You read The Night Circus, finally, for the experience, for the intense experience of lapidary beauty and luminous imagination. What a wonderful, truly magical, book!”
Kenny Brechner at DDG Booksellers
“Anyone who does not enter the pages of this novel will be much the poorer for it. This magnificent tale of tales, of bindings and passionate contests, of adjoining rooms of wonder and intimacy, is itself a wonder and a challenge to all who enter. Whether you call it magic or manipulation, Morgenstern has employed her art to put on a literary spectacle, a variant of the world serpent which swallows its own tail, encompassing all within itself, whose movements shake the world within, and which lives forever.”
Barbara Theroux at Fact & Fiction
“For those willing to take the dare, try reading the opening preface—appropriately titled Anticipation—of The Night Circus and not be ready to enter the world that Erin Morgenstern has created. Morgenstern is a capable circus master. The Night Circus is one of the most uniquely crafted stories I have read in a long time. What an amazing book. Before I finished I was plotting ways to tell people about it.”
Drew Williams at Little Professor Book
“ I. Loved. It. The Night Circus reminded me mostly of Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell, without that particular title's dense-to-the-point-of-frustration mock-up of 18th century literary conceits. But on to The Night Circus:
I don't think I've read a book in a very, very long time that instilled in me such a great desire to live within its pages. For long chapters of The Night Circus, I wanted nothing more than to read about the circus itself, to get as close as I possibly could to the wonderful diversion trapped in its pages. All in all, a phenomenal novel.”
Renee Wilson at Auraria Campus Bookstore
“I absolutely loved the [The Night Circus]; it was hard to put down. Loved the characters and the story line. Really [it] was the best I’ve read in years.”
Vicki Erwin at Main Street Books
“Like everyone else who has read it before me, I am entirely enchanted by The Night Circus. What imagination! And what a satisfying read. The work was original, magical, and absorbing. Thanks so much for letting me read it in advance. I can't wait to share it with my customers.”
Nikki Furrer at Puddn’head Books
“Oh. My. God. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book. I want to live in it. It's elegant and strong and fantastical in just the right way. It'll be an easy handsell for most of our regular customers, and I expect it to have strong sales all the way through Christmas.
I've been craving anything magic, and I love all things circus, so this was my thing anyway, but it’s so well done, I think it's going to be a big book for quite some time. PLEASE tell me she's finished her second book!”
Cat Connolly at Watermark Books & Café
“Surreal, decadent, hypnotic—such words evoke the canopy Erin Morgenstern has pitched in her novel, The Night Circus. Equal parts Water for Elephants and The Prestige, the plot coils its way into the spectacle of the mysterious world of Le Cirque des Rêves itself, coming to regard with a serpentine gaze the tangle of love and rivalry at the knot’s heart.”
Penelope Barcelo at Kepler's
“Ms. Morgenstern has truly crafted a world, rich with lyricism and grandiose and one I found very hard to leave.”
David Menard at Watermark Book Company
“Sometimes I can be at a loss for words to describe a book so involving, so captivating that I’m tempted to fall back on cliché: “magical”, “enthralling”, you get the idea. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one such book. It is perfect at creating a world that you live in as you read the book. The story, the language, the characters—I’ve had dreams less vivid. Masterful!
Lynn Riggs at
Books & Company
“Circus lover or not, you will be mesmerized by the fertile imagination of Erin Morgenstern in The Night Circus. Envisioning the marvelous world she has created is not easy; one must stretch the boundaries of the believable. But it is worth it. It is a bewitching kaleidoscope of a world with an enigmatic tattooed contortionist, a remarkable set of twins, and a very ordinary young man as enthralled by the circus as you will be by this book. But at it's most basic, it is an enchanting story of love.”
at Books & Company
“You will fall into a world of delight, wonder, and awe when you read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Pop some popcorn and get comfortable because you will not want to put this one down. ”
Linda Bond at Auntie’s
“The circus has come to town and magic is in the air. Welcome to the dream-like writing of an author who brings out the child's faith in all of us by simply leading us down the tented corridors of an unusual world in which what you see—what you feel—may not be real at all. Or perhaps a little too real for comfort. I was alternately chilled and warmed, but always enchanted by this unexpected tale.”
Andy Lillich at University of Oregon Bookstore
“Count me among those who were bereft (after that initial period of elation during which I congratulated author Erin on what an excellent feat she had accomplished and savored all the levels of meaning that reverberated through the story for me because of the way she ended it)—bereft, I say, when I looked over on the stack next to my reading chair to find that The Night Circus was no longer there for me to savor—that the Unlimited Access that the Advanced Reader's Edition entitled me to was no longer going to admit me to new scenes, new chapters, new wonders, new visions! I had read it all—used it up!”
Karyn Reis at Read Booksellers
“Just as if I were a circus patron watching an illusionist’s enchanting spectacle, I could not pull my eyes away from this exquisitely-rendered debut novel. Erin Morgenstern swept me away with the dazzling magic and mystery that lie at the heart of The Night Circus. It’s a moving love story in which the lines between magic and reality are blurred together. A gorgeous read indeed.”
Linda Walonen at Bay Books
“I loved it! I've never read anything exactly like it. Most of the characters were likable and the plot was unique. As a reader, I had to keep turning pages because I had no idea what would happen next. I love it when I find a book like that. My fellow book sellers are eager to read this wonderful novel.”
Becca Wren at Joseph-Beth Booksellers
"I just finished The Night Circus last night. It was amazing. Astounding. Exquisite. Not only is it a well written book but it is a well read tale. While I mostly immerse myself in the world of children’s bookselling this particular book was pushed into my hands by another bookseller and I am so grateful. This is going to be HUGE. Love it! LOVE IT!"
at Colgate Bookstore
“The whole thing was enchanting.”
Amanda at Inkwood Books
"This book arrived in my hands without warning. Buried in a sea of books, I off-handedly began to thumb through it one day, and after the first paragraph I was wholly enthralled…more than the story is the writing itself. Like the illusionists of her imagination, Morgenstern captivates the audience with misdirection and sleight of hand, and thrills them with each big reveal. Pick up this marvelous novel, and you will be under the spell of a true magician."
Susie at Old Firehouse Books
“One of the best books I've read this year. The descriptions are gorgeous—black and white versus rich, vibrant color. It's easy to tell that the author is also a visual artist. The lush descriptive writing pulled me right into the book and let me walk through the Cirque de Reves along with the other patrons of the circus.
The author shows instead of telling, so much of the characters' inner lives must be inferred by the reader. This style of writing increases the resemblance of the story to a fairy tale. When do you get to read much about the angst of Cinderella, or the interpersonal acrimony between the Seven Dwarves? You don't; the plot moves right along and you absorb character as you go. I fell in love with The Night Circus. I wanted to be able to walk between the tents, the aroma of caramel and cinnamon drifting through the air, stopping to watch an amazing acrobat or kittens performing tricks. The author has created a setting with a life of its own that the reader will want to return to again and again.”
Kat Bailey at Bookshop Santa Cruz
“The Night Circus is a sparkling blend of fairy tale, romance and magic—think Aimee Bender meets Harry Potter, in 19th century Europe. In this epic debut, Erin Morgenstern effortlessly juggles rivalries and attractions, fate, magic and illusion, all without losing sight of the story’s core: two characters struggling to find themselves and each other, in the middle of the strangest circus the world has ever seen. A gorgeous, complex book that will stay glued to your hands for days.”
Stacie M. Williams at Boswell Book Company
“This continuous dreamscape of a novel juggles a tale of fated characters with exquisite descriptions of a magical place where ice gardens grow, cloud mazes climb high into the sky, and wishes can come true.”
at Snowbound Books
“I'm in love. The opening reminds me of the City of Forgotten Books in The Shadow of the Wind. This is going to be huge.”
About the Book
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Night Circus, the magical, beloved novel by Erin Morgenstern.
About the Guide
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
About the Author
Erin Morgenstern is a writer and a multimedia artist, who describes all her work as “fairy tales in one way or another.” She lives in Massachusetts.
1. The novel opens with a quote from Oscar Wilde: “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” How is this sentiment explored in The Night Circus? Who in the novel is a dreamer? And what is his or her punishment for being so?
2. The novel frequently changes narrative perspective. How does this transition shape your reading of the novel and your connection to the characters and the circus? Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from varied perspectives?
3. The narrative also follows a non-linear sequence—shifting at times from present to past. How effective was this method in regards to revealing conflict in the novel?
4. There are a number of allusions to Shakespeare throughout the text: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and As You Like It. Explain these references—how does each play reveal itself in the novel?
5. What role does time play in the novel? From Friedrick Thiessen’s clock to the delayed aging of the circus developers to the birth of the twins—is time manipulated or fated at the circus?
6. “Chandresh relishes reactions. Genuine reactions, not mere polite applause. He often values the reactions over the show itself. A show without an audience is nothing, after all. In the response of the audience, that is where the power of performance lives.” How does this statement apply to both Le Cirque des Rêves and the competition? Which audience is more valuable: one that is complicit or one that is unknowing?
7. Chandresh is portrayed as a brilliant and creative perfectionist at the beginning of the novel, yet he slowly unravels as the competition matures. Is Chandresh merely a puppet of the competition—solely used for his ability to provide a venue for the competition—or do his contributions run deeper?
8. Marco asserts that Alexander H. is a father figure to him (though his paternal instincts aren’t readily noticeable). In what ways does Alexander provide for Marco and in what ways has he failed him?
9. Celia emphasizes that keeping the circus controlled is a matter of “balance.” And Marco suggests that the competition is not a chess game, but rather, a balancing of scales. However, both the circus and the competition get disordered at times—leaving both physical and emotional casualties in their wake. Is the circus ever really in “balance,” or is it a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the next?
10. From the outside, the circus is full of enchantments and delights, but behind the scenes, the delicate push and pull of the competition results in some sinister events: i.e., Tara Burgess and Friedrick Thiessen’s deaths. How much is the competition at fault for these losses and how much is it the individual’s doing?
11. How do you view the morality of the circus in regards to the performers and developers being unknowing pawns in Celia and Marco’s competition? Do Celia and Marco owe an explanation to their peers about their unwitting involvement?
12. Friedrick Thiessen asserts that he thinks of himself “not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to the circus.” He is a voice for those unable to attend the circus and suggests that the circus is bigger than itself. What role do the rêveurs play in keeping the spirit of the circus alive outside of the confines of the circus tents?
13. What is Hector’s role in determining the final fate of the competition? He lectures Celia about remaining independent and not interfering with her partner, but ultimately, Hector largely influences the outcome of the competition. Explain this influence.
14. Poppet and Widget are especially affected by the lighting of the bonfire. How crucial are their “specialties” to the ongoing success of the circus?
15. Isobel is a silent, yet integral, partner in both the circus and the competition. She has an ally in Tsukiko, but seemingly no one else, especially not Marco. How much does Marco’s underestimation of Isobel affect the outcome of the competition?
16. How does Isobel serve as a foil to Celia? Who, if anyone, fills that role for Marco?
17. Tsukiko is aware of Isobel’s “tempering of the circus” from the outset and when Isobel worries that it is having no effect, Tsukiko suggests: “perhaps it is controlling the chaos within more than the chaos without.” What, and whose, chaos is Tsukiko alluding to here?
18. Mr. Barris, Friedrick Thiessen, Mme. Padva, and even Bailey are aware that the circus has made a profound, inexplicable change in their lives, but they each choose not to explore the depth of these changes. Friedrick Thiessen confirms that, “I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.” Do you agree with this standpoint? What inherent dangers accompany a purposeful ignorance? What dangers present themselves when ignorance is not chosen? Is one choice better/safer than the other or are they equally fraught?
19. Celia tells Bailey that he is “not destined or chosen” to be the next proprietor of the circus. He is simply “in the right place at the right time . . . and care[s] enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.” In this situation, is that “enough?” Can the responsibility of maintaining the circus be trusted to just anyone, or unlike Celia suggests, is Bailey truly special?
20. At the closing of the novel, we are left to believe that the circus is still traveling—Bailey’s business card provides an email address as his contact information. How do you think the circus would fare over time? Would the circus need to evolve to suit each generation or is it distinctive enough to transcend time?
Aimee Bender, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake; Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; Liz Jensen, My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time; Katherine Dunn, Geek Love; Audrey Niffenegger, Her Symmetry, The Time Traveler’s Wife; Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.