The Book

The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

 

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, was released in September 2011 in hardcover, and is now available in paperback as well. You can probably get it wherever books are sold, as it is sometimes difficult to buy books in places that don’t sell them.

It is a phantasmagorical fairy tale of magic and romance set in historic late 19th-century London. The book has drawn comparison with the Harry Potter series, as well as the works of Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Susanna Clarke, and Steven Millhauser. It is not aimed at young adults, but has been recommended for teens. The novel’s rights have been sold in 30 countries, and Summit Entertainment has contracted the film rights. Jim Dale, who narrates the Harry Potter audiobooks, also narrates the audiobook of The Night Circus. Harvill Secker, the British publisher for The Night Circus, contracted Failbetter Games to create an interactive browser-based puzzle game to accompany the book (www.nightcircus.co.uk).

In an interview with School Library Journal, Morgenstern describes the short, self-contained chapters as recapitulating the myriad tents of the circus, and the black and white with a splash of red motif as showing dangerous passion simmering just below the surface.

The Night Circus won an Alex Award from the American Library Association in 2012.

— Wikipedia

 

Discussion Questions

  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 Th e Night Circus? Who in the novel is a dreamer? And what is their 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. How does the following statement apply to both Le Cirque des Reves and the competition? Which audience is more valuable: one that is complicit or one that is unknowing? "Chandresh relishes reactions. Genuine reactions, not mere polite applause. He oft en 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."
  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 reveurs play in keeping the spirit of the circus alive outside of the confi nes 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.