The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

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Part 1, Chapters 1-3 Summary

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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.

Hector introduces this man, whose name is Alexander, to Celia and asks his daughter to show him what she has learned. Celia is reluctant and reminds her father that he told her to never divulge what he has taught her to anyone. But Hector insists. The visitor is impressed after Celia demonstrates her skills. Before leaving, he accepts Hector’s challenge to a magical duel. Celia will be the competitor on Hector’s side. The man will have to find and train the challenger. When the two novices are ready, they will meet and perform. Whoever loses will relinquish his protégé. Hector would thus have to give up his daughter.

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Part 1, Chapters 4-6 Summary