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 Night Circus, opening lines
In 1886 a traveling circus became a sensation. Open only at night and constructed entirely in black and white, the Cirque des Reves is almost literally a circus of dreams.However, something strange is going on behind the scenes. Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. Alexander H— have a game. Trained from a young age, their students Celia and Marco compete in a battle of imagination and will. The scene of their battle is the Cirque, and the game affects the lives of the patrons and performers alike. The only catch to the game? The competitors don't know the rules, they don't know how to win or when they'll win, and they don't even know who their opponent is (at first). All they know is the intimate sense of familiarity they get from one another with each breathtaking addition to the circus that pushes the boundaries of reality.It is a clever allegory for a number of heavy philsophical themes, each of which seamlessly blend in the narrative.Published in fall of 2011, The Night Circus is Erin Morgenstern's debut novel. The novel also was adapted into a web game by Failbetter Games, the creators of Fallen London.
Anachronic Order: Bailey's chapters are interspersed amongst the general narrative, despite being set towards the end. The climax of the novel is when the two narratives meet.
An Aesop: Where to begin?! The book is expertly laced with them.
Stories have power ('magic' as it is stated) is presented at the very end, a lesson most tropers probably appreciate.
The Challenge is inevitable. Both participants had no choice in starting it. Neither of them know the rules, and at the start, there is no discernable way to "win". Sound like Real Life to anyone else?
Angsty Surviving Twin: Lalaine Burgess, of the Burgess sisters, who are not strictly identical twins but fraternal sisters that people regard as twins.
Awful Truth: The Challenge ends when one competitor dies. Which sucks in itself, but is especially painful given Marco's and Celia's infatuation with one another.
And if Tsukiko's story means falling in love with your competitor is normal then this sad turn of events is tragically standard.
The Beautiful Elite: Celia and Marco, to some degree. They're both immediately well-known for their good looks; by the middle of the novel, they're quite popular and Celia, at least, leads a rather illustrious life.
Calling the Old Man Out: Celia has a moment like this with her father, when she realizes that to win means the other must die, she tells her father that the only reason these games go on is because he and Alexander are much too cowardly to face off againt each other.
Chekhov's Gunman: Tsukiko, the mysterious contortionist who auditions for the circus before it begins hiring, is the 'victor' of a previous competition between Hector and Alexander. Bailey, the young reveur, becomes Marco's replacement as keystone for the circus.
Circus Brat: the twins Poppet and Widget grow up in the circus. Their parents train big cats and they have their own act, with kittens.
To clarify, the introduction of Chandresh is him throwing a knife at a review of one of his productions that describes it as "almost transcendent." He is positively furious at the word almost.
Clearly he must be doing something wrong. If his productions are merely almost transcendent, when the possibility of true transcendence exists somewhere nearby, waiting to be attained, then there is something else that must be done.
Driven to Suicide: The challenge is a contest to see which student breaks first and can only end when one of the challengers decides to end it themselves. Tsukiko's opponent in the last challenge ended it when she burned herself with her own magic.
Also, Celia is first delivered to her father after her mother kills herself. When Celia considers ending the challenge herself, she tells Marco that she was always more her mother's daughter.
When Marco tells Isobel about how he first met Celia, she pulls out a Tarot card "L'Amoreux" (The Lovers) - a man between two women.
Fortune Teller: Isobel. Celia pretends to do this in her youth as a way to make money. Poppet replaces Isobel at some point according to the second-person circus-description sections.
Framing Device: Widget is the narrator, which makes perfect sense in-universe since his ability allows him to "read" people and their pasts. He has a very extensive knowledge of what happened, and relays it to Mr. A. H— in the form of the book we, the audence, are reading. All the details of magic that are glossed over are can be attributed to holes in Widget's own understanding.
Geas: Celia and Marco are bound using rings. If they try to leave the field of play and mean it, they experience unendurable pain.
Celia: We do not feel the bars unless we press against them.
Ironic Stage Name: Hector Bowen is the exact opposite of his stage name's namesake, Prospero the Magician. Whereas Prospero was was a loving father who willingly gave up his magic at the end of his story, Hector is both physically and emotionally abusive to Celia and is consumed by his magic.
Magitek: Most of the tents in the circus consist of magic charms overlaying simplistic clockwork toys.
The trope is invoked by Mr. Barris, the engineer, working in collaboration with the Circus's two magicians to create works that should be physically impossible, but by the very flambuoyant nature of the Circus such architechtural extravagance is accepted by the general public and it goes unnoticed.
The Matchmaker: Hector Bowen tells Mr. A. H- that he should have been this.
Meaningful Name: Tsukiko's name means Moon Child. While her opponents name meant Sunflower or Facing the sun, depending on what kanji are used to write it. Considering Tsukiko stated her element was water, and Hinata's was fire...
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In one night, Celia invites Alexander to the circus to decide a victor for the Challenge, Marco tells Isobel that he loves Celia, and Isobel removes the tempering spell she had placed on the circus. These things combined lead to the death of Herr Thiessen.
Star-Crossed Lovers: Subverted in that Celia figures out a way for her and Marco to end the game and be together by duplicating the spell that caused her father to become insubstantial.
Tsukiko and her opponent count though.
Take a Third Option: Celia and Marco regarding The Challenge, though the author leaves it to us whether or not this will turn out for the better...
Telepathy: Generally all the magical characters have some bizarre perception of the world that is never fully explained, but it allows them to pick up on weird things like whether someone is using an alias. Widget's in particular is very accurate and powerful.
Tarot Troubles: Some of the readings Isobel gives to Celia may qualify.
Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer, book jacket, and promo material all advertise that Celia and Marco get together, making it a Foregone Conclusion that the latter will break up with Isobel. All this despite that Celia and Marco don't properly meet until halfway through the book.