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'The Night Circus': Thoughts

This summer I had the pleasure of reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern whilst I was on holiday. It was also on this holiday that, since I couldn't do anything that involved physical-ness, I wrote an essay using one of the Richard and Judy Book Club discussion question things. Please bare in mind that this is an essay and does involve spoilers. 

"The Night Circus" has been described as a fairytale. Do you see echos of other fairytales in this novel?

THE idea of a circus appearing seemingly out of nowhere is a motif that runs through many fairytales. An element of surprise or something happening "without warning" is something that can be seen in fairytales such as Little Red Riding Hood - whereby the wolf is an unexpected and enigmatic character. Not only this but the theme of magic runs strong throughout the novel.
MORGENSTERN'S characters all have striking resemblances to typical fairytale characters. Prospero the Enchanter, as well as alluding to Shakespeare's fantastical play The Tempest, has a feud with the extraordinarily enigmatic Alexander - or "the man in the grey suit" (a somewhat fairytale-esque nick-name in itself). Not only is a feud very typical for a fairytale-like story to have but the process of taking an orphan and said orphan exceeding characters and readers expectations is very stereotypical of a fairytale. These leitmotifs are found throughout the book, Morgenstern constantly reminding us of the fantastical, fairytale-esque the story has.
MORGENSTERN - through the second person description of the circus, "You stand in the fading light... waiting to see for yourself what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets" (page 4) - wills the reader to embrace the twisted, magical and utterly desirable setting of the circus. By introducing a patron's view of the cicrus at the beginning of the novel, Morgenstern is able to reveal how twisted and dark the circus is - reflecting ideas from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, which both have ideas of the destruction of innocence and naivety. The idea of loveless greed is also portrayed by Alexander and Hector's detachment from their pupils; Hector even being willing to hurt his own daughter in his greed to win, "He lifts a heavy glass paper-weight and brings it down on her hand, hard enough to break her wrist with the sharp crack" (page 48), the omniscient narrator's elabourate description of the paper-weight being "heavy glass" foreshadows the fact that it will cause damage. This is very much like the ruthlessness of the Stepmother in Snow White, a character that has been portrayed as a selfish and somewhat evil mother - for example in Channel 5's Once Upon a Time.
THE character's Bailey, Poppet and Widget reflect the more youthful aspect of fairytales. Morgenstern uses Bailey's character to enhance the fantastical, magical and (some would argue) the intact innocent view of the circus, allowing the reader to retain some naivety away from the feud, Chandresh and those that run the circus, "he could only stare from afar, enchanted, at the tents and the lights" (page 59) - his innocence goes hand in hand with the second person narrative. Similarly Poppet and Widget's tour of the circus shows the reader a more fantastical and desirable side to the circus - thus creating a conflict between knowing how bad the behind-the-scenes aspects of the circus are and wanting it to continue happening - "Let's play hide and seek... he follows her around the trees and topiaries, through coils of vines and ropes, chasing glimpses of her red hair." (page 306). Morgenstern also includes the typical motif of circus fairytales - Bailey decides to run away with the circus; a truly desirable image is painted for Bailey (and the reader) so he chooses to follow the circus. This is a theme found in Hansel and Gretel and the sensory imagery of the circus, paralleling the Gingerbread House found in Hansel and Gretel, alluding to the fact that the circus is a desirable place on the surface but much more twisted, complex and dangerous than it seems.
THROUGH Morgenstern's allusions to fairytales and her use of enigma and magic, she paints a fairytale-esque image that runs throughout the novel creating the "enchanting" (The Guardian) and "dazzling" (Independent on Sunday) fairytale that has captivated readers, making The Night Circus a truly fantastical tale.


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