“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souching, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you can shape it, boy. Do not forget that. There are many kinds of magic, after all.”
I believe this. That is why I loved this book. Is it my all time favorite? No, but I loved it just the same. The Night Circus is primarily about magic. Erin Morgenstern paints beautiful pictures of a fantastical circus that appears in a field without prior notice and is open only at night. Although there are elements of a traditional circus – contortionists, fire-eaters, acrobats, trapeze artists – it is like no other circus that has or ever will exist. “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. 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. . . Le Cirque des Reves. The Circus of Dreams. . . The iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.”
Of course a story also has to tell a story, not just paint a picture. In this one, two legendary wizards pit their best students against each other in a contest of skill. There is no dueling in the Harry Potter sense, no clear rules or strategies on how one wins the contest, nor, as it turns out, is there any way for either student to win while the other survives, a small detail about which both participants are unaware until very late in the game. Each student, one being the wizard’s own daughter, is trained from childhood for the strategic game they will play once they are grown. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how much of a romantic you are, the contestants fall in love, further complicating things. As they play out this magical death match, each volley not only tests the magicians’ skill but expands the circus into an even more mesmerizing, more spellbinding experience, at the same time putting in danger not just the two young lovers but all those who adore Le Cirque des Reves, including the people who call it home.
Morgenstern populates her circus with a variety of interesting, endearing, and despicable characters. They come together in unexpected (mostly) ways to craft a beautiful tale. What would it be like, I wondered, to wake one morning and see the city of towering black and white tents peeking over the tops of the cottonwood trees in my backyard. Sigh. If only it were real. Apparently, sometime “coming soon”, it will be – at a theater near you. The screenplay is complete, a director has been hired; nothing more specific at this point. Although it’s unlikely a film can truly capture the wonder and enchantment of the Le Cirque des Reves, since I can never join the crowds outside it’s actual enchanted gates, I will join the crowds that are sure to be outside the box office, keeping my fingers crossed that the movie will be even half as beautiful as the novel.