As the new year has rolled around and I know that exactly none of you (well, maybe a special few) have resolved to read more complex and meaningful fiction. That said, if I may humbly ignore your inferior resolutions to recommend the following:
Here’s what happens: magicians Celia and Marco are raised from a young age as part of an ongoing series of competitions between their two magical mentors. No one is sure what the rules of the competition are, but it involves a night circus: le cirque des rêves, the circus of dreams. Unsure where to start, Celia and Marco begin instating a series of magical tents; one features a labyrinth, another an ice garden. But as the circus becomes ever more volatile and its members more involved, the two magicians find out a footnote of the competition that changes everything.
Here’s the bottom line: It’s a fabulous 5-star work of art, and I don’t call just anything art.
Ultimately, we could break down the narrative structure and look at how Morgenstern creates tension and intrigue. We could examine the information that she holds back throughout the novel and how it amounts to a read that is mysterious without being obnoxiously perplexing.
Or we could celebrate what I think is less academic and thus undervalued about the greatest of fantasy stories: the wonder.
a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
Besides the well known book Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio, the mention of this might bring up one of the greats: the Harry Potter franchise. After finally getting around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, I was reminded of how powerful the presence of wonder can be in the shape and tone of a story. Here’s an excerpt from The Night Circus that speaks to some of that tone and experience:
“Despite the name, she is not prepared for what awaits her inside the tent.
It is exactly what the sign described. But it is so much more than that.
…The air itself is magical. Crisp and sweet in her lungs as she breathes, sending a shiver down to her toes that is caused by more than the forewarned drop in temperature.
…Curious, Celia picks a frosted peony from its branch, the stem breaking easily.
But the layered petals shatter, falling from her fingers to the ground, disappearing in the blades of ivory grass below.
When she looks back at the branch, an identical bloom has already appeared.”
-The Night Circus, pages 152 and 153
Here we see Celia lost in a beautiful magical world that is at once detailed yet easy to experience. She experiences wonder in its rawest form. Which brings us to the ultimate point: so many things happened in 2016. Some were not happy. Deaths, elections, votes, personal events…in the face of the inexplicable, people have tried to explain these away in every way they can. For many in 2016, that which is incomprehensible became synonymous with that which seems to threaten ruin.
But in 2017? Let’s realize that we can’t understand everything. Let’s remember that the world is a big and crazy place; while that’s no excuse to stay ignorant about what matters, we have to learn that we’re never going to be able to understand everything.
And that’s a good thing. Frosted peonies are all the more beautiful when you let them be the beautiful, impossible flowers that they are. We need not fear that impossibility for all of its unknowns. We need only admire them.
Friends, here is to a beautiful and wondrous 2017.