“Night Circus” Is Not the New “Harry Potter”

Plus: Details on the 20th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival

On July 13th, the twitterverse lit up when it was announced that David Heyman, the mega-producer of the movie mega-franchise Harry Potter, was circling around his next potential project: the adaptation of not-yet-published The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Quickly, many (including myself) added Circus to their wish lists  and waited patiently for its September 13th release, secretly pining for a reprieve from the aching absence of new Harry and Hunger Games books.

Night Circus is an enchanting novel, with wonderful imagery and kinetic storytelling, but it is not a Potter substitute. Despite a young adult-looking book cover, a plot focused on magic, and an audiobook voiced by Jim Dale, it is a dark, wholly adult and disparate book.

Night Circus tells the story of Celia and Marco, two young magicians who have been thrust into an decades-old contest by their mentors. The setting for the competition is a magical, one of a kind event that stirs every sense. Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) is a fully black-and-white circus, which “Opens at Nightfall; Closes at Dawn.” Without knowing the rules of the game or, at first, the identity of their opponent, Celia and Marco use their magic to create and manipulate the circus. But as their rivalry grows,  the pair finds themselves dangerously drawn to each other.

What strikes you about Morgenstern’s novel are the glorious descriptions of the circus: “…a complex illusion of illumination.” She transports you into this wonderful but scary place of maze-like tents, contortionists, fortune-tellers, acrobats, halls of mirrors and illusionists. It is a place that might not let you leave; much like the book itself. The story’s labyrinthine structure has readers jumping from year to year and decade to decade. The reader is never completely sure of what transpiring. Or when. And it is not sure how Morgenstern is going to get out of the story. (She does, but in a not completely satisfying way.) The writing style can be difficult and the subject matter is distinctly more adult than any of the Potter books. I don’t think Rowling ever wrote a sex scene—especially one that ends with “they come together.”

Any comparison to Harry Potter is unnecessary and distracting. (As an aside, a more interesting comparison for both Circus and Potter would be to Lev Grossman’s dark, twisted, wonderful The Magicians series. If you haven’t read it, pick it up!)

Many will close the book disappointed that there will not be a sequel and that this world, though magical, is not a happy place with black and white answers to what is right and what is wrong. Night Circus won’t inspire a Team Celia or Team Marco debate.  But those who can put that aside will marvel at Morgenstern’s debut, and continue to wish list all her future novels. And be first in line for the movie adaptation.


Last week, the initial line-up for the Philadelphia Film Society’s 20th Philadelphia Film Festival was announced. As it did last year, the Festival is bringing major talents and Oscar-contending films to Philadelphia months before their wide-releases. So what will be this year’s Black Swan or Blue Valentine? Maybe it will be controversial director Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, starring Kirsten Dunst (who won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival) as a woman during the last days of Earth. Or, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley in a movie examining the relationship between psychiatrists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Also playing is the everyone-is-talking-about The Artist, a modern silent film set in the 1920s Hollywood, Alexander Payne’s follow-up to Sideways, The Descendents and many more. The festival runs from October 20 until November 3. Tickets will go fast.
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