Part 1, Chapters 1-3 Summary
Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, The Night Circus (2011), has been hailed by many reviewers as a worthy successor to the Harry Potter series. The story is filled with magic and mystery as well as young romance. The novel has become very popular; as Molly Driscoll with the Christian Science Monitor states, “This book is suddenly popping up wherever you go.”
The Night Circus begins with a tantalizing description of what lies ahead in the telling of this mysterious fantasy. A circus appears in a town without any warning or advertisement. It is just suddenly there, and it is nothing like a traditional circus. Everything is bicolored in blacks and whites—even the grounds on which the tents have been placed. The circus will not open until after sunset. Curious crowds line up, but there is no one in front of the tents to usher them in. In fact, the people are almost ready to go home because the circus looks vacant. But as they are about to leave, lights pop on, revealing the name of the attraction. It is called Le Cirque des Reves, the Circus of Dreams.
The story then takes a closer look at the circus, this time from the inside. This is 1873 in New York. Hector Bowen, popularly known as Prospero the Enchanter, is introduced when a “package” is delivered to him with a note. The package is standing in front of him. She is a young girl, and Prospero recognizes that her eyes are very similar to his own. He concludes that she is undoubtedly his daughter. The girl’s mother has sent her to Prospero. The note attached to the girl’s coat tells of her mother’s imminent suicide. As father and daughter introduce themselves to each other, Hector notices something peculiar about his daughter, Celia. She breaks a cup without touching it. After the tea has spilled out, she apologizes and reassembles the cup, again without touching it. Hector realizes that his daughter has the gift.
The story jumps forward nine months; now father and daughter are in London. Hector is giving a spectacular performance of magic. The audience is ecstatic except for one man, who neither applauds nor smiles at Hector’s magic. After the show, this man appears at Hector’s door backstage. The details of Hector’s relationship with this man are not made available to the reader, but it is apparent that they have shared many experiences.
(The entire section is 520 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 4-6 Summary
Alexander enters an orphanage. He converses with the headmistress, who brings him three children. After interviewing the first boy and girl, he sends them back. The third boy most interests him. This boy, Marco, has quick reflexes, which Alexander tests by throwing his walking cane at him without any warning. Marco also tells him that he loves to read, but the place where he is currently staying does not have many books, and he has read them all.
Alexander tells Marco to pack his things. He will be living with him from now on. Marco asks if he has a choice. Alexander asks Marco if he would rather stay there. Marco tells him no.
Marco, like Celia, is trained in magic. He lives mostly by himself because Alexander is often gone and there is no one else in the household—at least, no one Marco ever sees. His meals are brought to him, as are stacks of books. Alexander sits down with him each day for formalized lessons. He also takes Marco on trips to other European countries.
Celia’s life is somewhat different. She, like Marco, undergoes intensive training. She also travels with Hector, but their travels are dictated by where Hector is performing. As Celia grows older, Hector spends less time with her, so she often studies on her own. Hector shares one lesson with her when one of the doves he uses in his show breaks a wing. Celia asks Hector if he can fix it. He asks her if she can. Celia attempts to mend the bird’s wing through mental manipulation but is unsuccessful. When she hands the bird back to Hector, he breaks its neck. He tells Celia that the lesson she has just learned is that she has limitations.
Later Hector teaches Celia how to heal herself. In this exercise, Hector splits Celia’s fingertips, and she must mend them using only her will. She is successful.
As he matures, Marco keeps a journal in which he records the magic spells and symbols he has learned. He is nineteen now, and Alexander has set Marco up in his own townhouse. Now that he is older, Marco has more freedom to explore the city on his own. One day while he is out, he loses his notebook. Frantically he retraces his steps until he finds a girl who is reading his notes. The girl tells Marco that her name is Isobel Martin, though Marco thinks she is lying. She apologizes to Marco for having looked inside his notebook. She had been following him to give it back, but she lost track of where he was going. She hands the...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 7-9 Summary
It is 1884, and Celia is sixteen years old. Prospero the Enchanter has retired from stage performance. Instead, he hires out his daughter as a spiritual medium. Celia hates this job. But her father, Hector (Prospero), believes it is a good way for them to make money. They perform tricks and make their customers believe they are talking to loved ones who have died. Celia says the whole scheme is a hoax, and her father agrees. But Hector reminds Celia that she is preparing herself for the challenge. He has no specific details as to who the challenger is or when the contest will begin, but he insists that Celia concentrate and improve her skills. To make her study harder, her father breaks her wrist. This causes a lot of pain, and it takes Celia an hour to reconstruct her bones. Later, Celia goes to her father’s room. She sees him doing something he has never done before. He makes his hand disappear. When she asks him why he is doing this, Hector slams the door in her face.
Meanwhile, Isobel has moved in with Marco. He is teaching her simple magic tricks, which she is having trouble mastering. While they are both practicing their skills, there is a knock on the door. Marco knows instantly that the man at the door is Alexander, who adopted and is training him. In his usual unaffected manner, Alexander tells Marco that he is to apply for a position with a Mr. Lefevre. Marco should do what is necessary to ensure he gets the job. Mr. Lefevre will, in some undisclosed way, have something to do with the challenge in which Marco will be involved. Chandresh Lefevre is a theatrical producer. He is always searching for shows that are fresh, alluring, and spectacular. Marco has no trouble becoming Lefevre’s assistant.
The story jumps ahead, though no date is given. The reader is presented with a preview of the circus that Lefevre will eventually produce with Marco’s and Celia’s help. Sometime in the future, at the entrance to the circus, there is a beautiful clock. The clock, like everything else in the circus, is painted black and white. The mechanics of the clock mesmerize the people who stare at it as they wait to buy their tickets.
Once people pay for their admission, they pass through a slit in a heavy, striped curtain. When inside, they are thrown into pitch darkness. Their eyes slowly adjust to the blackness, and they see only tiny pin dots of light that look like distant stars. The patrons had been together in...
(The entire section is 516 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 10-11 Summary
Time jumps forward to 1897. Ten-year-old Bailey is playing Truth or Dare with his sister, Caroline. Bailey chooses a dare. Caroline dares Bailey to go to the circus, which came to town a couple of days before, and steal something to prove he got in. It is in the middle of the afternoon, and Bailey knows the circus is not yet open. He will have to break in. Bailey agrees to do it.
The gate at the entrance of the circus is locked, and there is a tall iron fence around the tents—too high for Bailey to climb. He walks around the perimeter, hoping to find a way in. At the back, he notices that the space between two of the iron bars is large enough for him to squeeze through.
Once inside, he realizes that the environment appears different to him. For instance, it is quieter. He does not even hear birds singing. He also sees that the ground has been painted white in some areas and black in others, and all the tents have strange signs. The one that reads Fearsome Beasts & Strange Creatures makes Bailey shudder. He is so absorbed by his surroundings that he nearly walks right into a young girl, who seems to be near his own age. She tells him, in a friendly voice, that he is not supposed to be there. Then she suggests that he leave before anyone else sees him, and she helps him find a way out. As soon as they make it back to the iron fence, Bailey squeezes through the space between the bars. Before he leaves, though, he tells the girl about the dare his sister has imposed. He says he needs to bring something back to prove he got in. The girl takes off a white glove she had been wearing and gives it to him. Bailey is reluctant to take something so personal and precious, but the young girl insists that she has a whole box full of gloves. They part without telling one another their names.
The story then moves back to 1885. Chandresh Lefevre is hosting a midnight dinner at his house. At this dinner, several minor characters are introduced. Ana Padva is a retired Romanian prima ballerina whom Lefevre calls Tante Padva. He has known her since childhood. Ethan Barris, an engineer and architect, has also been invited, as have Tara and Lainie Burgess. The Burgess sisters are known for their highly developed skills of observation. The last guest is Alexander, Marco’s mentor.
After dinner, Lefevre announces his reason for inviting these specially selected dinner guests. He has begun a new endeavor, he tells them,...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 12-14 Summary
It is now 1885, and newspapers have reported that Celia’s father has died. Hector is still alive, but a failed trick has left parts of him invisible and the rest of him transparent. However, in the collection of cards of condolence, Celia finds one that is markedly different from all the others. There is no message of sympathy. There is no signature. The message simply reads, “Your move.” Celia is at a loss to make sense of the card or its message, so she takes it to her father. When Hector reads the card, he bursts out laughing.
In London, meanwhile, the midnight dinners at Chandresh Lefevre’s house continue. The principle attendees have been meeting once a month. They have come to call their gatherings the Circus Dinners because they elaborate more fully on their plans after each dinner.
At this particular dinner, an uninvited guest appears. Her name is Tsukiko, and she is a contortionist. She is extremely limber and can put her body into positions the other guests had previously considered physically impossible. Chandresh appears to know Tsukiko, though he is surprised that she is there. As Tsukiko exhibits her skills, Chandresh exclaims that Tsukiko is exactly what he has been talking about as far as the calibre of performer he wants at the circus.
The scene changes to Munich, Germany. Mr. Barris, the architect who is one of the regular participants at the Circus Dinners, is meeting with Friedrick Thiessen, a clock maker. Barris asks if Thiessen is interested in accepting a commission to create a very special piece. Thiessen, whose schedule is full with commissions from other customers who pay him for traditional cuckoo clocks, is not impressed with Mr. Barris’s offer until Barris adds that what he is looking for is something “truly outstanding,” and money is not a concern. The clock will be the centerpiece of a circus, Barris adds. The only instructions that Barris gives Thiessen are that the clock should be large, painted only in black and white, and appear dreamlike.
After a few months of design and work, the clock is complete. The first thing one would notice about this clock is that it is constantly changing colors from white to gray to black. The body of the clock is decorated with intricately carved pieces such as flowers, planets, and books with actual paper pages. There is also a silver dragon, a tiny princess in a tower, and teapots that pour into cups. Cats chase dogs and...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 15-17 Summary
It is almost a year later. Illusionists from all over the world have come to a theater in London to audition for a position. In the midst of the applicants is a young girl. She is the only female there, and many people mistake her for a clerk, as if she were there to help in the audition. She has no props, such as cages of birds; she has no trunk; and she is not wearing a cape, as most of the other illusionists are. She pays no attention to any of the others although they are obviously staring at her. Not only is she female, she is also very young.
One by one, each illusionist is called up to the stage to perform. One by one, each is dismissed. Finally, Marco calls out number twenty-three, which is the girl’s number. When she rises from her seat, Marco cannot take his eyes off her. When she is standing in front of him, Marco cannot remember what he is supposed to be doing. Her beauty is radiant and her near presence is having a profound effect on him.
The only people sitting in the audience are Chandresh and Ana Padva (the retired ballerina from the Circus Dinner parties). Chandresh has his feet propped up on the seat in front of him. Ana Padva attempts to stifle a yawn. It has been a long day.
Marco walks out onto the stage, and the young girl follows. Ana Padva smiles at her. Chandresh sits up and asks, “What is this?” He suggests that the girl must have made a mistake. He tells her that they are in the process of auditioning illusionists. The girl confirms that she is aware of this. Ana Padva asks Chandresh if there is something wrong with this contestant. Chandresh questions whether it is appropriate for a girl to perform. Padva reminds him of the female contortionist. Chandresh continues to question the girl’s appearance. He also points out that her sleeves are so big, she could hide all sorts of gadgets and tricks in them. Hearing this, the girl removes the puffed-sleeved jacket she had been wearing. Chandresh then gives his consent for her to perform.
The girl first tells her name, Celia Bowen. She responds to Marco’s other questions, saying that she has never performed publically but that she was trained by her father, who was known as Prospero the Enchanter. At this, Chandresh becomes very interested.
Celia bends down, picks up her jacket from the floor, and flings it out over the seats in the audience. The jacket is transformed into a raven. She then asks to borrow the...
(The entire section is 759 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 1-3 Summary
It is now 1886 in London, and the circus is opening tonight. Long lines formed in anticipation of the gate’s opening at sundown. Inside, at the center of the courtyard, is an iron sculpture that at midnight will be turned into a huge cauldron of fire. As the clock prepares to mark the hour, twelve fire performers surround the cauldron. They are poised with bows and arrows; the tip of each arrow has been set afire. As the clock strikes its twelve chimes, one arrow at a time is slung into the huge metal bowl. Each arrow changes the flames to a new color. The hues range from yellow to sky blue, and the last arrow transforms the flames to a brilliant white.
The crowd is stunned by the changing colors of the fire but no more so than they have been exhilarated by the performers they have seen that night. At dawn, when the circus is scheduled to close, it is difficult to convince the patrons that it is time to go home.
The circus organizers are pleased that every activity has been produced without a flaw. There was only one unexpected event: the wild-cat tamer’s wife went into labor earlier than expected. She gives births to fraternal twins, a girl and a boy. They will be called by nicknames. The boy will be known affectionately as Widget, and the girl will be called Poppet. Both babies have brilliant red hair.
Marco misses the twins’ birthday celebration because he was busy with the cauldron's fire. He has in recent months invested himself more seriously in the circus, now that he knows that it will be through this venue that the challenge with Celia will be played out. The fire in the cauldron with its unusual colors is Marco’s first feat. He will tell no one how he managed the changing colors of the fire. Only a few people know that it is not a trick. One of those people who understand the significance of the fire is Celia. Even though she is not present when the fire is lit, she feels the magic that is used to make the fiery display, and it startles her. She has no idea who her opponent is, but she senses that the fire represents the first challenge—and it is a powerful one.
Celia is not the only one affected by the lighting of the fire. Chandresh is also present at the ceremony. He has come to study the patrons. As a theater producer, Chandresh has always watched the audience rather than the performers. It is by studying people’s reactions that he knows whether the performance is a success....
(The entire section is 577 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 4-5 Summary
The story jumps forward again to 1902 in Concord, Massachusetts, where Bailey is preparing to go to the circus. Although the thought of the performers in the circus tents excites him, Bailey’s primary goal is to find the red-haired girl who gave him the white glove when he was ten and snuck into the circus. He thinks he is acting silly and doubts that she would remember him. He also wonders if he would recognize her after five long years.
As Bailey wanders around the maze of tents, trying to decide which act to see, he sees a female contortionist who is performing on a small stage outside one of the tents. The most impressive part of this woman’s act is when she bends and twists her body into a small, glass case, not much more than a foot high and wide. Even though Bailey has an unobstructed view of the stage, he cannot believe what he is seeing. The woman’s movements are slow and meticulous, and she looks as if she were folding her body into the case. In the end, only one hand remains unenclosed. At this point, the woman waves to her audience and then pulls the lid closed.
Bailey watches as white smoke begins to fill the once-transparent box. When the smoke completely obscures the body of the contortionist inside the box, the glass side panels fold down with a popping sound, disclosing that the woman is no longer there. Bailey is more than impressed with this amazing feat.
The next act Bailey watches is inside the tent marked with a sign that reads, Feats of Illustrious Illusion. As Bailey waits inside for the performance to begin, one of the seats across from him bursts into flames. Some of the members of the audience panic and run for the exit—but the door through which they came in is now missing. At this moment, the woman who had been sitting next to Bailey rises from her chair, takes off her coat, and flings it at the burning chair. As the coat flies across the tent, it is transformed into a long, trailing piece of black silk that hovers over the flames and extinguishes them.
Throughout the act, the illusionist performs many other curious transformations that include changing a patron’s gold watch to sand and levitating all the chairs (with the audience still sitting in them) a few inches off the ground. At the end, the illusionist (Celia) slowly turns as she bows, acknowledging all the members sitting in the audience. When she completes her final bow, she suddenly disappears....
(The entire section is 821 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 6-8 Summary
In 1889 France, Friedrick Thiessen is on holiday. Thiessen has never seen his large, animated circus clock on display. While talking to a local resident, Thiessen discovers that the circus is in town. So after dinner, Thiessen walks to the borders of the village, where he sees the black and white circus tents. Once inside the gates, Thiessen is pleased to find his clock in a prominent position and looking no worse for wear, although it is exposed to the elements. He inquires about the person who is in charge of the circus and is given the name and address of Chandresh Lefevre.
After enjoying several of the attractions, Thiessen walks by his clock once more, reflecting on how well the clock fits the circus. Once home, Thiessen writes a letter to Lefevre. He asks for the circus itinerary, hoping the attraction will one day come to his home country, Germany. He receives a response from Marco, who thanks Thiessen for his compliments about the circus. But Marco includes no itinerary.
In Cairo in 1890, the red-headed twins who were born on the first night the circus opened are now seven years old. They are allowed to roam freely around the circus but only with a chaperone. On this particular night, Celia acts as their guardian. As they walk, Poppet suddenly exclaims that she does not want the nice lady to die. Celia has noted that the twins have special powers, but on this night she finally realizes they are able to see things other people do not see. When Celia asks Poppet about whom she is talking, Poppet can only tell her that she does not know because they look so much alike. It is apparent that Poppet has envisioned one of the Burgess sisters, either Tara or Laine. The woman in her vision is being placed in the ground, as in a funeral. When Celia calms Poppet, she asks the young girl how she sees her visions. Poppet tells her she sees them in the stars. Poppet tells Celia that Widget, her brother, also sees visions. Widget sees things when he looks at people. He can tell where they have been and certain events that have occurred in their lives. When Widget starts to read images on Celia, Celia is able to make the visions go away. When Widget protests, Celia tells him that there are some things she does not want him to see about her. Celia realizes how powerful Poppet and Widget might become, and she decides to tutor them. She will teach them the things she knows but they must keep everything a secret.
(The entire section is 604 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 9-10 Summary
It is 1891, and the circus has arrived in London. Tsukiko kids Celia that she spends too much time alone; she encourages the younger performer to join her at Lefevre’s home for a midnight dinner. The other guests were not expecting Celia to come, but they are delighted to share her company. Ana Padva, the Burgess sisters, and Mr. Barris are already there. Celia knows all the guests well, but she has not often met with them socially, so she feels a little out of place.
After being in their company for a few hours, Celia notes how likeable the Burgess sisters are. Their bubbly personalities are infectious. Without them present, Celia concludes, the party would be a lot less lively and entertaining. They always seem to know how to keep a good conversation going. She also thinks that Mr. Barris, the architect who helped her construct the carousel, keeps the group balanced with his rational and serious personality.
While listening to the conversations, Celia sees something familiar out of the corner of her eye and steps unnoticed into the hallway, where she finds her father. He admonishes her for wasting her time socializing. She is in the midst of arguing further when Marco steps in. Celia attempts to distract him so he will not ask her to whom she was speaking. When Marco speaks to her, she cannot help but notice the charming smile Marco seems unable to wipe off his face. Marco suggests that Celia rejoin the other guests because dinner is about to be served.
As they are eating, Celia is distracted by Tara Burgess. She finds Tara’s behavior somewhat strange. One moment Tara is completely involved in the conversations, laughing along with her sister, Laine. The next moment Tara’s mind seems to be miles away, uninvolved in what is going on right in front of her. At one point, Celia feels that Tara’s laughter is not true—it almost sounds as if she were crying. This reminds Celia of her mother, who often seemed to be in a depressed state when Celia was a child.
The story then moves to Germany, where Friedrick Thiessen has just received a card in the mail. The only words written on the note inform him that the circus will be in Dresden on the twenty-ninth of September. Thiessen is pleasantly surprised. This is the first time the circus will have come this close to his hometown. Each night the circus is there, Thiessen spends the whole time wandering through the tents and enjoying the performances....
(The entire section is 500 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 11-12 Summary
In London in 1893, Marco pays a visit to the architect, Mr. Barris. Marco is aware that Barris and Celia worked together on the circus carousel. When he first arrives at Barris’s office, he asks the architect how much Celia told him about what she does. Without fully answering, Mr. Barris smiles and says, “You’re her opponent.” Barris had not known this before, but was putting all the pieces together now. He tells Marco that while working on the carousel, Celia had told him that the illusions she creates are real, not tricks. Barris accepted this without asking any further questions, he says. Barris is not interested in magic. He merely provides the form through which the magic is engaged. Barris also informs Marco that he can trust him. He is not in favor of taking sides. He will help Marco, if requested, just as he has already assisted Celia. He has no interest in their challenge. Before telling Barris the project he wants him to help with, Marco asks the architect not to reveal his identity as Celia’s challenger. Barris promises.
Celia, meanwhile, is exploring a new tent. There are multiple doors inside, each leading to a different room with a strange new environment. Her father appears in the tent and again yells at her for wasting her time and efforts. He is aware that Celia has been collaborating, this time with her challenger, though she still does not know who he is. In this new project, she has been creating a new room, and her challenger senses this and then builds one of his own, adjoining Celia’s. So far, there is a room full of books that fly, a room made of sand, and another made of snow.
The story then focuses on Tara Burgess, who has traveled to Vienna. It is a year later. She is visiting Mr. Barris, who has set up an office in Austria. Tara’s sister, Laine, is in Dublin with the circus. Tara has become tired of the circus and is taking a break from it to travel on her own. Tara confesses to Barris that she thinks the circus has become too strange for her. She is worried about how it is affecting her and everyone else involved with it. She asks Barris why he left London. He replies that he was beginning to notice how people outside of the circus were staring at him oddly. This was because he seems not to be aging as his acquaintances are.
Tara believes there is a lot more going on, in relation to the circus, than most of them are aware of. She tells Barris that she tried asking...
(The entire section is 567 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 13-14 Summary
The circus is in Prague and it is 1894. There is a sign on the circus’s front gate telling customers that the circus is closed due to inclement weather. People stare at the sign and then look up at the skies. There is not a cloud in sight. But no lights are turned on, and there is no indication that performers are getting ready for their acts, so the patrons resign themselves to returning home. An hour later, the wind and the rain start.
While the rest of the circus entertainers are enjoying an “inclement weather party,” Celia ventures off the grounds and strolls through the city until she find an alluring café. Once inside, she notices Isobel and asks to join her. As the two women drink their tea, Celia asks Isobel if she has her Tarot cards with her. Celia is not often interested in having her fortune read, but she tells Isobel that right at that moment she is a little bit curious about her future. So Isobel pulls her Tarot deck out of her purse, sorts the cards into three separate piles, and asks Celia to choose one of them. Then Isobel begins to spread those cards out on the table.
At first the cards hold no clear meaning for Isobel as she attempts to read them. There are several cards of cups, swords, and one of the Priestess. But when the card referred to as Le Bateleur in Isobel’s French deck turns up, Isobel has difficulty suppressing a gasp. In English, this card is called the Magician. The card obviously defines Celia. As Isobel deals out more cards, she begins to see a pattern and is able to intuit a calculation of what might be occurring in Celia’s inner life. Isobel tells Celia that she can see that she is carrying many burdens and has a heavy heart. She also adds that outside forces are pushing her forward. Furthermore, Isobel reads that Celia is standing on the shore of a deep emotion that is about to pull her in.
Celia enjoys the reading and thanks Isobel before leaving the café. Outside, she ponders the Tarot reading. She is curious about the emotion that Isobel implied, but what she really wants to know about her future is the identity of her challenger. As she walks along the street, she realizes that the rain is not touching her. None of her clothes are getting wet, not even her boots. She looks more closely at the raindrops and sees they are slanting away from her in every direction. Another sensation is that of heat, as if the umbrella were keeping her warm. Then she hears...
(The entire section is 665 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 15-17 Summary
The circus is in Spain, and the year is 1894. Poppet has had a vision she does not like. It has confused her. In the vision, Poppet sees a lot of red, as if someone has spilled several cans of red paint on the ground. She has not told Celia about her vision because she wants to wait until she better understands it. So far, even Poppet’s most confusing visions eventually make sense to her. After telling Widget about the red paint, Poppet adds that there was good news in the vision too. The vision made clear that they are about to get a visitor. Poppet has no idea who this visitor is, but the idea makes her feel happy. Then she asks her brother to tell her a story.
Widget begins his story: “Secrets have power.” He explains that if a person has a secret, it is best that he keep it. That is how power evolves. But keeping a secret is difficult for many people, and that is why there is so little magic in the world in the present day, Widget explains. Too many people told their secrets to others.
Widget continues by saying that the greatest wizard in the world made the mistake of sharing his secrets. He told them to a young, clever girl. The girl tricked the wizard and took his secrets for her own, then she put a spell on the wizard, trapping him inside a tree. In the end, the girl grows old and weak and finally fades away. The wizard, though, has gained immortality. The tree in which he is trapped thrives and sends out seeds, which grow into new trees. The Wizard becomes a part of each new seedling.
It is now a year later, in London. Tara Burgess has not yet called upon the man whose card Mr. Barris gave her. She is in the process of saying good-bye to her sister, Laine, who is leaving for Italy. Tara turns down Laine’s invitation to join her on the trip. Days after Laine leaves, Tara sets out to find the address on the card.
She ends up at a hotel and asks the clerk at the desk about the man whose name is on the card. The clerk claims there is no one registered there with that name. Tara ponders what to do next, and then she hears someone speak her name. When she turns, she sees the man who always wears a gray suit. She cannot remember his name, but he is described like Marco’s nameless mentor, Mr. A. H.
The man asks Tara if she is looking for him. Tara responds in the affirmative, and then she tells him she has questions about the circus. She states her concerns about the effect the...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 18-19 Summary
Many of the circus people are in attendance at Tara’s funeral. Her sister, Laine, explains the pain she is feeling from the loss. She and Tara were so often together that they were often looked upon as one.
To the side, Isobel stands under an umbrella that she shares with the contortionist. Tsukiko asks Isobel how Tara died. Isobel answers that Tara was hit by a train. This answer does not satisfy Tsukiko; she then asks, “How did she really die?”
Isobel is surprised by what Tsukiko is insinuating. She presses Tsukiko for an explanation of her thoughts. Tsukiko wants to know if Isobel ever suffered from any kind of accident or illness since joining the circus. Isobel thinks about this, then she answers that she has not. Tsukiko says that all of them are like fish living in a glass bowl. Someone is always watching them. Usually this has meant that they were all protected. But Tsukiko thinks that Tara’s death means that either the death was intentional or else the guardians, whoever they are, were not paying very close attention to what was happening. Either way, Tsukiko has a very bad feeling about Tara's death and what it means to the others. She tells Isobel that it is often difficult to see things objectively when one is too closely involved, such as they are with the circus. Then she suggests that maybe Tara was closer to the edge of things than they are, and possibly she saw things that most of the other circus people could not or would not see. For her objective observations, maybe Tara was purposefully killed.
As their conversation comes to an end, Tsukiko states that things are beginning to come apart. She is starting to see the cracks. Sooner or later things will break. Although Tsukiko does not explain her statements, they remind Isobel of something she had thought when Marco attempted to describe the challenge between him and Celia. He had said that the challenge was like a woman holding a scale. He and Celia, through their exposition of magic, would continue to load the scales until a winner was determined. Isobel had wondered what would happen if the scales broke under the weight of all the magic. Now Tsukiko is implying that this is beginning to happen.
In 1902, Bailey is still searching for Poppet at the circus. As he comes out of the fortuneteller’s tent, he happens upon a small gathering of people watching two young teens, a girl and a boy about Bailey’s age, putting...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 20 Summary
A few months after Tara’s funeral, the circus sets up in London. Celia takes advantage of being in this location to attend one of Chandresh Lefevre’s midnight dinners. After eating and taking part in the conversations that linger well into the early morning, all the guests leave except Celia. Marco asks Celia to stay to have a drink. She accepts his invitation. This is the first time they have had an opportunity to talk with one another about their personal lives.
Celia tells Marco about her mother, who often cried over her father’s many long absences. Marco tells her that he never knew either of his parents. As she watches Marco, she notes that there is something artificial about his face. His countenance is handsome, but it does not appear natural. When she comments on this, Marco’s appearance changes. His face softens. The color of his eyes becomes less intense. Celia feels more comfortable around him. Then she remembers having seen his natural face before when he attended one of her performances. When she tells him this, she adds that she remembers the way he looked at her, as if he were either afraid of her or wanted to kiss her. Marco responds that he definitely was not afraid of her.
Then Marco picks up a deck of cards and manipulates them, changing a king of spades into the king of hearts. Celia accepts the challenge and makes the king of hearts stand up on edge and then tear itself in half. Celia gestures and the card repairs itself and then turns into the queen of diamonds.
Marco asks what else she can do, so Celia takes a decorative dagger that had been hanging on the wall and stabs her hand, then she repairs the wound. Marco says that he is glad they were not challenged to a physical fight because he is certain he would lose.
As Marco takes Celia on a tour of Chandresh’s house, he and she relax in one another’s company. At one point, while he offers his hand so Celia can stand up from sitting on the floor, there is an exchange of energy that startles both of them. Later, as they are saying good-bye, Marco again takes Celia’s hand. The energy between them is still there, but this time they both enjoy it and do not want to let each other go. Marco tells Celia how much he enjoys watching her perform in public. In contrast, his is not allowed to acknowledge any of his magical acts. Celia tells Marco that she is impressed at how well he disguises his true power. Then she warns...
(The entire section is 466 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 1-2 Summary
All of those involved with the circus have been invited to Chandresh Lefevre’s home in London to celebrate the circus’s thirteenth anniversary. It is 1899, and Poppet and Widget, at age the same age as the circus, are the youngest guests.
Celia arrives in a spectacular gown that changes color like a chameleon, depending on whatever color the person standing nearest her is wearing. Marco cannot take his eyes off her. After dinner, while the other guests are dancing in the ballroom, Marco grabs Celia’s hand and they escape the crowd. He tells her how much he has missed her and how sad it makes him that they cannot dance together because no one is supposed to know they are beginning a relationship together. The closer they stand together, the more the heat in the ballroom rises, causing several guests to complain that the room is too hot. When Celia notices that her dress is changing from green (matching Marco’s clothing) to gray, she suddenly pulls away. That is when Mr. A. H. enters the room in which Marco and Celia are standing. He asks to speak to Marco alone, so Celia leaves.
Mr. A. H. tells Marco that he does not recommend Marco’s involvement with Celia. In turn, Marco is angry with his teacher because Mr. A. H. has known all along that Celia was his opponent in the challenge. Marco wants to know why Mr. A. H. did not tell him from the beginning who she was. Mr. A. H. responds that it would not have made any difference. Then Marco wants to know how long the challenge will last. Mr. A. H. says that the last one went on for thirty-seven years. Marco insists that he and Celia cannot keep the circus going for that long. Marco wants to quit, but Mr. A. H. reminds him that this would be impossible. Both Celia and Marco are bound to the competition. In their youth, before their training began, both Marco and Celia were asked if they wanted to learn magic. Upon agreeing to commit to their training, both were given special rings that melded with their skin after being placed on their fingers. The ring would cause excruciating pain if they were to stop the competition prematurely. Therefore, they are bound to doing as their teachers tell them, which in their case is to continue with the competition. The competition cannot end, Mr. A. H. reminds Marco, until one of them wins. He then suggests that Marco stop seeing Celia so he can better focus on his work. Then Marco tells Mr. A. H. that he is in love with Celia. Mr. A....
(The entire section is 510 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 3-5 Summary
On a day in 1900 in London, Chandresh Lefevre is drunk. He is feeling sorry for himself as he reflects on the circus. Although he had assumed that the circus was his project, he now feels as if the circus has left him behind. He has no control over it and can barely keep up with its progress. He rises from his chair and walks unsteadily across the hall to Marco’s office. He looks around, determined to find out more about what is happening with the circus.
Marco’s office is filled with file cabinets and boxes of papers, and blueprints are strewn around the floor. Chandresh looks through everything, unsure what he hopes to find. Nothing he finds answers any of his questions or resolves any of his doubts. He walks to Marco’s desk and begins pulling out the drawers. The bottom drawer is locked. He looks around, finds an implement, and breaks the lock. Inside the drawer is a very strange notebook. Upon opening it, Chandresh discovers a page dedicated to each person involved in the circus. He even finds a page for himself. On the page is his name, strange symbols, and a lock of his hair. As he ponders what this means, Marco enters the room.
Marco asks Chandresh what he is doing. Chandresh is angry. He senses that Marco has been manipulating not only him but everyone else in the circus. He demands to know what Marco’s role is in the circus. When Marco does not fully explain what he has been doing, Chandresh fires him. Marco does not flinch. He says that not only is Chandresh no longer in charge, he never was—not even in the beginning. Other people made plans, and they merely used Chandresh as a front. Marco points out that Chandresh never knew anything about what the circus was about and never will. Then Marco adds that when this conversation is finished, Chandresh will not remember any part of it.
In anger, Chandresh mentions the notebook he has found. Marco asks, “What notebook?” Chandresh looks down at the desk. The notebook has disappeared. So have all the other papers. When he looks up, Chandresh asks Marco what they had been talking about. He cannot seem to remember why he came to Marco’s office.
In another scene, Laine meets with Celia. Laine senses that her sister Tara was killed. She believes it had something to do with the circus, and she approaches Celia, hoping to get some of her questions answered. Celia attempts to tell Laine about the circus and why it was formed. She tells...
(The entire section is 797 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 6-8 Summary
Poppet appears in the field where Bailey is watching his family's flock of sheep. It is 1902, and Bailey is caught off guard by Poppet’s presence. He has never before seen her outside of the circus. He was planning on visiting her that night at the circus and wonders why she could not wait. Poppet tells Bailey that she has something important to ask him, and she wanted to give him time to think about his answer. She asks if he would consider coming with the circus.
Poppet cannot give Bailey a precise reason for his coming with them, but she knows he is meant to be there. She has had a vision in which Bailey played an important role. That is all she knows and all she can tell him. She says that she understands how improbable this sounds, but she knows that if he does not come with them, the circus will never return. The circus will never come back anywhere—there will not be a circus. To save the circus, she, Bailey, and Widget have to be together.
Bailey is in shock. He had wanted his life to take an adventurous turn, but he did not expect it to happen so quickly. He cannot give Poppet a definitive answer right then; he asks how much time he has to make a decision. Poppet tells him that the circus is leaving at the end of that night’s performance. Then she kisses him and leaves.
The story here returns to 1901, and the circus is in London. Celia pays a visit to the Midland Grand Hotel, where Mr. A. H. is known to stay. Celia does not go to the desk to inquire about him but merely stands in the lobby until he appears. She and he converse for a short period of time, then Celia leaves. Readers are not informed about their conversation.
At the circus, Marco appears in the fortuneteller’s tent. What he has come to tell Isobel does not surprise her, though hearing the words from his own mouth is difficult for Isobel. As he speaks, memories come back to Isobel of seeing Marco kiss Celia in the ballroom at Lefevre’s home.
After Marco expresses his feelings for Celia, Isobel asks him to choose a card from the Tarot deck. La Papessa, or High Priestess, turns up; it represents love, relationship, and secrets. Again, Isobel is not surprised. Similar cards have been shown whenever she did a reading in her attempt to understand Marco. It is just that now everything makes more sense. The symbols of love were not for her.
After Marco leaves, Isobel is shaken. She thinks about...
(The entire section is 681 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 9-11 Summary
It is 1902. Poppet and Widget are waiting to see if Bailey will decide to join them. As they wait, Poppet tells her brother that she had a vision about an extremely bright light that she thought was the circus’s courtyard consumed in white flames. Bailey was present in that vision, so she knows he must be with them. Because Bailey has not yet shown up, Widget suggests that they kidnap him. Poppet does not believe that would be a good idea.
This same night, Chandresh Lefevre shows up at the circus. It is Halloween, and Chandresh dons a silver mask provided by a woman at the circus’s gate. Chandresh is following a man in a gray suit who has chosen not to wear a mask. It is the first time Mr. A. H. has visited the circus.
Someone is also following Chandresh. He is described as young, a man Chandresh would not recognize even if he were to turn around and stare at his face. This man is Marco, who has altered the artificial facial features that Chandresh thinks is Marco’s real face.
It is now past midnight, and most of the circus patrons have gone home. The three men, however, continue on their path until Mr. A. H. stops. At that moment everything, including time, seems to halt. Even the night breezes settle down. Chandresh watches Mr. A. H., who appears to be talking to someone.
At this same moment, in a distant tent, one of the acrobats loses her balance and would have crashed to the ground if one of her fellow performers had not caught her at the last moment. In the courtyard, the white flames in the caldron sputter, causing black smoke to ascend. The smoke is thick enough to make those standing nearby cough. One of Poppet’s kittens twists the wrong way in the middle of a jump; instead of landing on its feet, it hits the ground on its back. Celia hesitates for a moment in the middle of her act. When several audience members see Celia’s complexion turn white, they go to her, fearing that she is about to faint. Simultaneously, Marco doubles over as if someone had punched him in his stomach.
Just then, Chandresh pulls out a silver dagger and quickly throws it forward. The trajectory is perfectly on target; Chandresh has aimed it at Mr. A. H.’s back. But at the last second, Mr. A. H. jerks to the side and the dagger brushes by him and pierces the chest of the man to whom he had been talking. Friedrick Thiessen falls forward into Mr. A. H.’s arms.
As soon as this...
(The entire section is 608 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 12-13 Summary
The man in the gray suit makes his way through the crowd shortly after Friedrick Thiessen dies. People in front of him step out of the way without even fully understanding that Mr. A. H. is in their midst. Only one person does not move, thus blocking his way. It is Hector, Celia’s father. Only Mr. A. H. can see him. When Hector speaks, passersby turn to look for him, but Mr. A. H. distracts their minds with a swish of his fingers, drawing their attention to the attractions around them.
Mr. A. H. tells Hector that the circus has gotten out of hand. There are too many people around. The circus was not a good venue for the challenge between Celia and Marco. But Hector disagrees. He believes the circus makes the challenge more fun. The disadvantage, Hector says, is that the circus has kept Celia and Marco separated. If Celia had been introduced to Marco earlier, she would have beat him long ago. Hector believes Celia is much stronger than Marco is.
Mr. A. H. asks if Hector is blind—has he not seen that Celia and Marco are in love? If they had been allowed to meet earlier, they would only have become besotted with one another sooner. Hector counters with a statement that his daughter is much stronger than that, insinuating that Celia is not in love with Marco. He has trained her to not allow others to distract her.
The two men continue their argument, recalling past challenges in which they have been involved. They criticize one another’s previous students and call out their weaknesses. The two men have had a long history of other challenges. Then each predicts that the other’s student will fail. As proof that Hector’s daughter will lose, Mr. A. H. points out the sound of Celia crying for Friedrick, claiming that her tears are a sign of her weakness. Celia was quite fond of Friedrick, Mr. A. H. tells Hector. Then he predicts that Friedrick’s death will be what breaks Celia. As he fades into the crowd, Hector yells out that the competition is not yet over.
The next day, Celia shows up at Marco’s apartment. Once she is in his arms, Celia begins to release all her tension from the night before. She tells Marco that she tried to save Friedrick, believing that she could fix him like she once fixed one of his clocks. But she was wrong. She could not bring him back to life.
Marco says he does not know what upset the balance at the circus. Celia replies that she knows who it was but she...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 1-3 Summary
The next chapter is seen through Celia’s eyes as she puts Marco into a deep sleep so she can slip away without having to say good-bye to him. She is determined to learn his magical system so she can figure out a way to make the circus independent of them; this way, they can release themselves from it and be together. She searches through Marco’s papers and takes what she thinks might help her.
As soon as she steps out of Marco’s place, she runs into her father. Hector scorns Celia for sleeping with Marco. He tells her that she is weaker than he had thought. Celia tries to ignore his accusations, but as she defends herself, she learns the true consequences of the challenge. Her father has bound her to a competition that requires more than magical skills. There is no winner announced at the end of the trial. The winner, Celia finally understands, is the one who remains alive.
Celia knows that the circus is exhausting her. There are so many people involved, all of whom she is responsible for in one way or another. She has to concentrate all her energies not only on keeping the magical illusions of the specialized tents alive but also on making sure no more people are hurt. She criticizes her father for putting so many lives at stake. When she asks him what happened to the winner of the last competition in which he and Mr. A. H. were involved, Hector tells her that the winner is now working for the circus, tying her body into knots—Tsukiko, the contortionist.
Once on the circus train and now heading for Germany, Celia approaches Tsukiko. She asks the contortionist questions concerning the challenge in which she was involved. Celia learns that Tsukiko’s opponent was a woman who is now dead. When Celia asks if Tsukiko will help her make the circus more independent, Tsukiko says she will not. She will, however, step in when Celia is unable to continue managing the responsibilities that are involved in keeping the circus and the people involved safe.
In the process of their discourse, Tsukiko asks if Celia is in love with Marco. Then she wants to know if Celia believes that Marco is in love with her. Tsukiko tells Celia that love is a fleeting thing, and she reminds Celia that Marco is a manipulator. She points out that Isobel once thought that Marco loved her. This conversation plants doubt in Celia’s mind as to whether Marco really loves her.
Pushing ahead one year, the story turns...
(The entire section is 602 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 4-6 Summary
It is now 1902, and the circus is in Montreal. After Celia’s performance, all the people in the audience leave except for one. Marco has come from London to see Celia. When she appears in front of him, he accuses her of running away from him. She tells him she has been busy trying to make the circus independent. Marco wants to help her. She refuses to accept his aid. She tells him what she has learned about the conditions of their challenge, which is that one of them must die. She implies that she is going to commit suicide so he can win. She cannot go on any longer. Marco is rattled by this news and begs her to let him help her find another way. But Celia will not hear of it. Then Marco tells her that she is killing him emotionally. He loves her too much to allow her to do anything that will harm her. He needs to be with her.
At this point, Celia questions Marco about his true feelings. She exposes her doubts concerning his feelings for her and reminds him that once Isobel thought he loved her. Marco says he never told Isobel he loved her. He was lonely and enjoyed her companionship. That was all. He is only sorry that he was not more honest with her. Marco says Celia is the only person he has ever loved. But Celia will not alter her plans. She disappears before Marco has a chance to make her stay.
A month later, Celia is in her room studying Marco’s journal, attempting to understand his methods. Whereas Celia was trained to improve her natural skills, Marco’s schooling was more systematic. Celia tries to understand all the symbols, codes, and spells, but it is very tedious. In the midst of her studying, her father appears. Hector tells his daughter that she is wasting valuable time. She admonishes her father, calling him and Mr. A. H. cowards for not fighting their own battles. Instead of competing against one another, they have spent their lives training others to compete for them as their proxies. Celia says she hates her father for what he has done to her.
In the course of their conversation, Celia learns that it was her father who implanted the idea in Chandresh’s mind to attempt to murder Mr. A. H. This makes Celia furious. Her father’s reply is that Friedrick’s death was an accident. He does not understand why Celia becomes attached to people. He tells her that everyone is eventually going to die.
Meanwhile, Marco calls Mr. A. H. by putting symbols on his apartment window. When...
(The entire section is 569 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 7-9 Summary
While on the circus train, traveling from Boston to New York, Widget and Poppet decide to take their problem to Celia. Celia immediately senses that the twins are troubled. Poppet is the first to speak. She tells Celia that she believes that something she thought was supposed to happen did not happen. Poppet then explains about Bailey. She says that Bailey did not appear before the circus train left, though she had clearly seen that he would be with them.
Celia then senses that Poppet might still be upset about Friedrick’s death. Although Poppet did not fully understand her vision, she had seen bits and pieces of the event. Celia consoles Poppet, telling her that it was not her fault. But Poppet asks what good it does to be able to see the future but not do anything about it. Celia replies that no one can change the future, but Poppet does not accept this. She believes that Celia is strong enough to change what Poppet has seen.
Celia asks Poppet to be clearer about her visions. Poppet tells her that she cannot, but Celia counters by suggesting that perhaps she does not want to see the future any more since Friedrick’s murder. If Poppet wants Celia to help, Poppet must concentrate harder. Celia hypnotizes Poppet to help improve the girl’s visions. Afterward, Poppet reports that she saw a fire start with the bonfire in the cauldron in the circus courtyard. In her vision, the fire has spilled over and the entire courtyard is on fire. Poppet also sees Celia in her vision. Celia is standing in the courtyard with a man. Then Celia disappears, and Poppet does not understand this, but somehow even though Celia is gone, she is also still there. Poppet also sees Bailey in the vision.
Celia thinks she knows the identity of the man with her in the vision. She says that if she is right, they are not in imminent danger because that man is in London right now. Poppet refuses this interpretation. Poppet believes that this event she has seen will take place very soon. Celia asks that they all stop worrying about what might happen because it drains them of energy. Instead, she wants them to be patient and let her know anything else they may see. Celia will, in the meantime, attempt to use magic to fireproof as much of the circus as she can.
Bailey has arrived in New York. He is waiting with a group of new friends to hear news of the circus. Finally someone arrives who has spotted the tents. He tells...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 10-11 Summary
It is the first of November 1902 when Bailey breaks into the circus, which is closed due to inclement weather. He smells that something has burned, and the smell makes him feel nauseous. He runs to the courtyard and sees that the fire in the cauldron has been put out. Standing in front of it is Tsukiko, the contortionist. Tsukiko recognizes Bailey and tells him that he is late. Bailey has no idea what the woman is talking about. Tsukiko says that she does not believe that “she will be able to hold on much longer.” Bailey does not know to whom Tsukiko is referring. Bailey has many questions to ask Tsukiko, such as where Poppet is and what has happened to the fire and the circus. But Tsukiko does not answer. She merely tells Bailey that she is a messenger who has come to escort him to a meeting. She then leads Bailey to a special tent.
The story backs up one day to October 31. Marco magically appears at the circus. Tsukiko meets him. Marco wants to know how he got there. Tsukiko tells him that Isobel sent him. Tsukiko had taught Isobel how to do that trick with the black ash Isobel blew into his face. Tsukiko then informs Marco that he and she have something in common. Mr. A. H. trained both of them and set them up for challenges. Tsukiko then leads Marco out to the courtyard, where the fire is burning.
Marco questions Tsukiko about her experience in her challenge, which she says happened more than eighty years ago. She criticizes both Mr. A. H. and Hector, saying that they do not understand how difficult it is to bind two people together as they have with Celia and Marco. She then asks Marco if he loves Celia. Marco, of course, responds that he does. Tsukiko’s opponent was a women named Hinata, and Tsukiko loved her too. Her opponent stepped into a pillar of fire that she thought was water. That was how Tsukiko won the competition.
As they stand in front of the fire in the cauldron, Tsukiko asks Marco if he knows the story of Merlin, the magician who was imprisoned in a tree. Marco nods. Tsukiko says the magician was punished because of a foolish love. Then she asks Marco if he understands. Marco acknowledges that he does.
Before Marco can do anything, Celia runs toward him. She asks Tsukiko what she is doing. Tsukiko tells her that she is taking over. The only way to save the circus is for Marco to be banished. If he is gone, he can no longer affect the circus. The circus needs Celia more than...
(The entire section is 494 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 12-14 Summary
Celia wants to scream, but she cannot open her mouth. She has not fully regained control of her body. Much of her energy is spent concentrating on Marco, holding onto him. She finds that the breaking apart portion was easier than the task of bringing them back together. She has much to balance, and she is in constant pain. Part of her wants to let everything go, but she fights to hold everything together.
Finally she brings all the pieces of herself into a solid whole. She can even feel her heart beating. Once she gets over the excitement of her accomplishment, she realizes that she is alone. She cannot find Marco.
Although Celia feels herself intact, when she looks around, she sees that every aspect of the circus is transparent. It is as if she and the circus did not exist in the same world. They are connected but separate. She begins to search for Marco through the tents they created together. There are moments when she catches glimpses of him, but she cannot grasp enough of him to make him solid.
Somewhere else, Marco takes a deep breath as if he had been submerged underwater for a long time and just freed his head into the air. He looks around and recognizes the tent he is in, but the features of the tent have been altered. For instance, a fountain that had spouted a continuous plume of water has ceased. Like Celia, Marco notices that everything about the normally physical world around him appears now to be transparent. While he stands still, staring at his new environment, he hears someone behind him take in a deep breath. When he turns, he sees Celia. She runs to him, calling out the only words she can think of. She shouts, “I love you.”
As Marco reaches out for her, he is afraid that his hands might pass right through her, just as they have passed through all the other physical elements he has tried to grasp. Then he feels Celia’s body rush into his arms. They kiss. To his great relief, she is as solid as he is.
Celia tries to explain what she has done. She tells Marco that she could not let him leave, so she used the circus as their anchor, but she did not know if what she planned would work. She feels exhausted because it is through her will that the circus is staying together. If she were to let it slip from her attention, everything would fall apart. Already the Ice Garden is melting and the white fire in the cauldron has gone out. If the circus breaks, Celia does not...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
Part 5, Chapters 1-3 Summary
A month after the circus has been transformed, Poppet visits Chandresh. She has come with papers for him to sign. Poppet asks that he relinquish ownership of the circus. Chandresh does so without even questioning why she has made her request.
Poppet stays with Chandresh for a few hours afterward, helping him sort through blueprints he has been given and plans for a museum he hopes to build. Poppet agrees to help Chandresh replace Marco. When Chandresh asks about Marco, Poppet explains that Marco had to go away unexpectedly and regrets that he did not properly resign. When Poppet goes to leave, she kisses Chandresh on the cheek and erases his memory of their morning’s transaction. After she is gone, Chandresh feels better than he has in years.
At the beginning of the next year, Widget meets with Mr. A. H. He wants Mr. A. H. to sign off on the circus. Of course, Mr. A. H.’s involvement is on a different level than Chandresh’s was, so the agreement between Widget and Mr. A. H. is quite different. There are no papers to sign. Rather, Widget asks about the competition between Marco and Celia and wants to know if it has been completed. Mr. A. H. answers that it has not. It is the first time that a competition was not finalized.
Mr. A. H. tells Widget about the history of the competitions; he confirms that he and Hector started them. The two illusionists had a decidedly different approach to their magic and often argued about whose system was better. Mr. A. H.’s approach was very systematic, whereas Hector’s (according to Mr. A. H.) was pulled out of the midst of chaos. The two men both agreed that to prove which technique was best, they would teach someone else their methods. They found and trained students, then they made their students compete. Through the years, the competitions become more complex, culminating with the complicated circus venue through which Marco and Celia exhibited their skills.
Celia was very clever, Mr. A. H. concedes, in producing a way out of the competition that did not require the death of either of the competitors. Marco, he says, was his best student ever.
At the end of their conversation, Mr. A. H. agrees to relinquish his hold on the circus and the competition—on one condition. Widget had told him that his skill was best witnessed through his storytelling. So Mr. A. H. demands that Widget tell him a story, one that reveals all Widget knows about the...
(The entire section is 445 words.)