“Stories have changed…there are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need of rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something…there are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quest lacks clarity of goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficult to recognize for what they are. And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise.”
“The Night Circus” is a beautiful love story of two magicians, a boy and a girl bound into battle by forces beyond their control, expressing their love and their competition in fantastic traveling circus. It’s a story of sad women and haunted men, of beauty and joy, and of the terrible weight of destiny.
Women and men are often on equal footing in Morgenstern’s novel. They both make mistakes, they both get their hearts broken and break hearts, and they both struggle desperately to control their own fate.
It is this the terribleness of fate that is distinctly masculine. The forces that jerk the characters around are embodied by men deciding to play God, using people’s lives and love to their own selfish ends. Men and women are both caught in the terrible game.
But within the game, gender has an entirely different dynamic than outside the safe space of the circus. Within the circus, women are lion-tamers and sorceresses, fortune-tellers and architects. They live in a space of beauty and magic, and safe behind the borders of the circus they are free from everything but themselves, and the game that created the circus.
The novel often asks, both men and women, what they are willing to sacrifice for love. Whether that love is for one another or for the glorious space of the circus, its preservation is not a given. But through sacrifice comes a kind of immortality, for to live in the magic bounds of the circus is to live a life unlike anything else.