The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I know Corey has already written on this book, but I had to tell you about my experience with it. It changed my life, changed my reading and made me rethink my career.
This book is as rich and complex as the circus it depicts. I want to teach this book, if only so I can spend more time analyzing the symbolism, the rich themes that underpin the plot and characters and make the entire novel run as magically as one of Herr Theissen’s clocks. I don’t know if Erin Morgenstern knows she has created a masterpiece, but I hope she does – the entire work is genius.
An examination of the function of Tarot in the novel is where I would start. Isobel, the card-reader, is a minor character, but an important one – the cards she turns over, when read with a tarot reader’s eye, constantly tell the reader what will happen, even if the hints, like the tarot itself, can be vague and interpreted to mean multiple events and people.
But like most books that stand the test of time, this novel also follows the general model of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey—except Morgenstern does him one better and allows at least three of her characters to follow that journey. Bailey, Le Chevalier des Epees, or Knight of Swords, enacts the Hero’s Journey on the most basic level, while the events surrounding Celia and Marco is far more lush, complex and multi-faceted.
I could go on and on, and the fact that I have only covered two major aspects of the book that I consider exemplary makes me wonder if there is more going on. I’m sure someone who knows about clockwork, mythology or the circus would have even more to say on the subject. The only flaw was the bizarre dropping of an e-mail address on the last page, a move that basically rips the reader out of the timeless feeling of the novel as a whole and rudely plops her down back in her own century.
It’s tragic, funny, beautiful, magical and (my favorite word) phantasmagoric. In short, Morgenstern may be the new Dickens. Don’t be surprised if your children are studying her work in the next decade or so. And don’t be surprised if I’m the one teaching the class.