Thursday, October 20, 2011

Christian Review: The Night Circus A Novel

LOL After writing how it's not for kids, I had one of my kids hold it so I could take this pic.

I just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It's a captivating creation--a canvas of words painting vivid pictures, with a story that will take you by the hand, not setting you free until you learn what becomes of the characters in the tale. However, for a Christian, it holds some problems.

I should say, for a young newly forming Christian, it could hold problems. A mature person, already firm in her/his faith could enjoy the fairytale atmosphere, remembering that the magic is part of the life of the book and no more.

At this point in the book review, I'll mention, for those new to my blog, I'm a wildly geeked out Harry Potter fan, not at all paranoid my children will be drawn by Harry into the world of paganism. So, I don't come from that place. In Harry Potter, magic is tool that some people have at their disposal. In The Night Circus, it is something else.

I'll trust you've read the synopsis over at Amazon or elsewhere and you're just here to get a Christian take on it.

Okay, well, you wouldn't be handing The Night Circus to your little ones (some adult themes), but your teens may want to pick it up. I wouldn't recommend it unless they were very firm in their faith.

Tarot and other divination methods are well respected and are a central theme in the novel. In Harry Potter, if you'll recall, Trelawney was a joke and her divination didn't work, at least not on demand. She only foretold events spontaneously, or so it seemed. It always happened at fortunate moments. God's planning?

Magic, in The Night Circus can be learned by anybody. The dénouement (or rather the scene Morgenstern sticks on there after the dénouement) rambles a bit (quite unlike the rest of the book) and involves a character explaining to another how there are no battles anymore between good and evil (moral relativism anyone?) and it's not really magic and few people take time to note it. "Not a one of them even has an inkling of the things that are possible..."

The other responds, "But some people can be enlightened." The conversation sounds suspiciously like a new age or neo-pagen lesson that the author has patched at the end of an otherwise elegant story.

And it is an elegant story. Morgenstern's descriptions express as much detail as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (an illustrated novel about an orphaned clock keeper, which you should totally read!) but she does it in words instead of pictures. Her use of omniscient narrator and occasional use of second person, addressing "you" is brilliant. It's told in present tense with little dialogue, giving the story a sense of immediacy.

I make the comparison between The Night Circus and Hugo Cabret because of the steampunk elements in The Night Circus. The characters sometimes blend their magic with clockworks. I find that playful in a Mr.Magorium kind of way.

But the Night Circus isn't all light-hearted. At the core, I found it ominous. There's more going on than meets the eye. The tone set up in the beginning of the novel informs us what sort of book this is. After her mother kills herself, a girl who clearly possesses magic, is sent to live with her rather cold father. When the grey suited man comes to call, certain events are set into motion that change the course of that little girl's life.

But, even with the creep factor, it's an enchanting book that begs to be delved into and adored. There's even a built in fan "uniform." People who follow the circus around, called rêveurs, wear red scarves.

If I have a vote, however-- I'd rather my teen stick to her Gryffindor scarf.

A side note: If you're interested in reading an article on the Incompatibility of New Age philosophy/religion with Christianity, you may like "Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on The New Age" at the Vatican web site. 


  1. This lovely story becomes a beautiful artistic expression of the authors imagination, with vivid imagery describing a magical circus that comes alive at night. Although lacking in depth of plot and character development The Night Circus was a wonderful, beautifully written love story, albeit light, well worth the time as it is a quick read. I cannot wait for the visual treat that the story will produce on the big screen!

  2. Thank you for your review. I am not much of a fiction and fantasy reader but my teenage daughter is. I am always looking for good places to review books that understand my intention not to shelter but yet to be discerning about what she is being exposed to. I appreciated the thoughtfulness of this review. Thank you for your candid and helpful review!