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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published: 9/13/2011
ISBN13: 9780385534635
Page Count: 391

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet.

Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impressive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.

And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.

You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.

The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred. The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind. The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock.

The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.

The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of someplace warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.

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.

Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more firefly-like lights flicker to life. They pop as they brighten, some accompanied by a shower of glowing white sparks and a bit of smoke. The people nearest to the gates take a few steps back.

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. First a C is distinguishable, followed by more letters. A q, oddly, and several e’s. When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads:

Le Cirque des Rêves

Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while others frown and look questioningly at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on her mother’s sleeve, begging to know what it says.

“The Circus of Dreams,” comes the reply. The girl smiles delightedly.

Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.

Now you may enter.



Title Page


Part I: Primordium
Unexpected Post: New York, February 1873
A Gentlemen’s Wager: London, October 1873
Shades of Grey: London, January 1874
Magic Lessons: 1875–1880
Le Bateleur: London, May–June 1884
False Pretenses: July–November 1884
Target Practice: London, December 1884
Darkness and Stars
Truth or Dare: Concord, Massachusetts, September 1897
Associates and Conspirators: London, February 1885
Condolences: New York, March 1885
The Contortionist’s Tattoo: London, September 1885
Horology: Munich, 1885
Auditory: London, April 1886
Stratagem: London, April 1886
Fire and Light
Hidden Things: Concord, Massachusetts, October 1902
Part II: Illumination
Opening Night I: Inception: London, October 13 and 14, 1886
Opening Night II: Sparks: London, October 13 and 14, 1886
Opening Night III: Smoke and Mirrors: London, October 13 and 14, 1886
The Hanged Man
Oneiromancy: Concord, Massachusetts, October 1902
Rules of the Game: 1887–1889
Tasting: Lyon, September 1889
Chaperoned: Cairo, November 1890
Wishes and Desires: Paris, May 1891
Atmosphere: London, September 1891
Rêveurs: 1891–1892
Collaborations: September–December 1893
The Ticking of the Clock: Vienna, January 1894
The Magician’s Umbrella: Prague, March 1894
Reflections and Distortions
Cartomancy: Concord, Massachusetts, October 1902
The Wizard in the Tree: Barcelona, November 1894
Temporary Places: London, April 1895
Movement: Munich, April 1895
In Loving Memory of Tara Burgess: Glasgow, April 1895
Ailuromancy: Concord, Massachusetts, October 1902
Tête-à-Tête: London, August 1896
Part III: Intersections
The Lovers
Thirteen: London, Friday, October 13, 1899
Bedtime Stories: Concord, Massachusetts, October 1902
Bookkeeping: London, March 1900
Three Cups of Tea with Lainie Burgess: London, Basel, and Constantinople, 1900
Stormy Seas: Dublin, June 1901
An Entreaty: Concord, Massachusetts, October 30, 1902
Invitation: London, October 30, 1901
Intersections I: The Drop of a Hat: London, October 31–November 1, 1901
Darkest Before the Dawn: Concord, Massachusetts, October 31, 1902
Intersections II: Scarlet Furies and Red Destinies: London, October 31–November 1, 1901
The Pool of Tears
Farewell: Concord, Massachusetts, October 30 and 31, 1902
Retrospect: London, November 1, 1901
Beautiful Pain: London, November 1, 1901
Part IV: Incendiary
Technicalities: London, November 1, 1901
Playing with Fire
Tsukiko: En Route from London to Munich, November 1, 1901
Escapement: Concord and Boston, October 31, 1902
Impasse: Montréal, August 1902
Visitations: September 1902
Charming but Deadly
Precognition: En Route from Boston to New York, October 31, 1902
Pursuit: En Route from Boston to New York, November 1, 1902
Old Ghosts: London, October 31, 1902
Aftermath: New York, November 1, 1902
Incendiary: New York, October 31, 1902
Transmutation: New York, November 1, 1902
Suspended: New York, November 1, 1902
The Second Lighting of the Bonfire: New York, November 1, 1902
Part V: Divination
Fates Foretold
Blueprints: London, December 1902
Stories: Paris, January 1903
Bons Rêves