Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, says most everything she writes is a fairy tale in some sense. But, oh what a fairy tale this is! I picked it up because I wanted something different. A novel about a circus seemed a good contrast with the thrillers and mysteries I had been reading. Now that I have known this savory indulgence for more than cotton candy or carmel corn, I wonder why I ever hesitated at the bookstore. Had I known that conceptually the novel would tap the myth of Prospero, I would not have hesitated. The Tempest has been with me for years. Other magic seems to be drawn from another system still a mystery to me. This novel has plenty of mystery, too
The Night Circus is allegory, theatre, carnival, fairy tale and more. The good prince and princess are there as are a cauldron and white hot fire. There’s a strong case here for the princess saving the prince, however. There are fairy likenesses and demons, an illusionist, contortionist, acrobats and fortune tellers. Glasses break and wine hangs suspended in air then reassembles in a glass with neither a drop lost nor a mess made. Good struggles with evil; and beautiful, perhaps sublime resolution of conflict occurs. Here is a story of unrelenting, magnetic love between two beautiful creatures whose delectable, consummation comes after years not hours. Marco and Celia grow older than the reader thinks. There’s a power struggle that may or may not be eternal. Angelic and devilish manipulation of the innocent and the not so innocent prevails — but only for a cycle.
Morgenstern’s imagination and powerful aestheticism remind me of Pater’s Marius, the Epicurean, as does the exquisite fare at midnight dinners. One makes parallels with Gide’s The Immoralist and whether or not two driving mentors have gone too far with their selfish indulgences remains a persistent question.
The Night Circus has no schedule and pops up unexpectedly in cities all over the world, creating thousands of followers known by their red scarves. What schedule there is, is known by word of mouth. In the end when The Night Circus faces extinction, there is no doubt that not only do the performers need The Night Circus for a worthwhile life, but the reader of the 21st Century should know he needs magic at any age to be happy. Bailey, the young, simple man, who gives up everything to run off to the circus and save the show becomes a very necessary next proprietor. It will be better for him if he never becomes a fanatical, heroic magician. His passion leads him to happily do what he is instructed to do by wise veterans now worthy of trust who have learned their lessons and survived by wit and luck. David Milliken.