Magical Mondays: Magic in The Night Circus

Greetings, readers dear! I have the honor of introducing our new Monday column, Magical Mondays. Here we’ll discuss a variety of issues, ranging from the gender-divided magic users in the Wheel of Time series to the myriad weird stuff going on with Rowling’s wizarding world, and anything and everything in between. 

Today I’m going to talk about the world of The Night Circus, a novel by Erin Morgenstern. The Night Circus is about the scions of two magicians, forced into a last-man-standing duel by their tutors. The battlefield that they choose is a circus, which they transform into a dazzling spectacle of illusions and mysteries, constantly one-upping each other with newer and lovelier tents. When they fall in love with each other, however, they’re forced to search for a loophole out of their duel so they don’t have to kill each other to end the showdown.

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I was particularly struck by the way Morgenstern dealt with magic in her universe, because it was so different from the workings of magic in many other stories I’ve encountered.

Two things in particular stood out to me: first, the accessibility of magic, and second, the way Morgenstern subverted common magical gender roles.

In my experience, in most if not almost all universes where there are magic users, magic is an inherited or inborn ability. You’re born with the capacity for it, or you just never have it. In The Night Circus’s universe, however, while folk of magical descent may have similar power, anyone has the ability to learn to use magic if they start early enough. This is a fascinating take to me, because in many ways the idea of magic passing exclusively through bloodlines smacks of classism and a lack of social mobility. A world where magic is free for anyone’s use is a refreshing new spin.

Furthermore, as I said, I really appreciated the way the use of magic was portrayed in regards to gender. In many fantasy stories, traditional gender roles are reflected in the way men and women use magic. Men are brawlers and fight with fire and raw power, while women are healers, and if they fight, their powers lean to subterfuge, glamors, and sneaking attacks.

the-night-circus-jacket-e1306491176869In this book, the roles are reversed. While both Celia and Marco are skilled magicians, throughout the book Celia is the one who just seems to have a staggering quantity of power to draw on, maintaining many difficult and draining tasks simultaneously and nearly subconsciously. Meanwhile, Marco is the one who works from the shadows, maintaining secrecy and keeping his distance with illusions. Compare this to the world of Naruto, for instance, where there may be a total of one female character whose most powerful skill is not healing or illusions, or the Wheel of Time, where the male magic users are consistently and immeasurably more powerful than the women. Furthermore, Celia and Marco must work together and trust each other completely to successfully escape their magical binding, making for an admirably equal and balanced relationship.

For these and many other reasons, I strongly recommend this novel—if you are looking for some fun new fantasy to read, try picking The Night Circus up.

1 thought on “Magical Mondays: Magic in The Night Circus

  1. Pingback: Escape from Magic | Stories in 5 Minutes

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