'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern: Book Club Discussion Question

Reading Group Guide

"The Night Circus" is a 2011 debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. Morgenstern knew she wanted to write about the circus, and the result was a novel built in an alternate reality "fantastical" world set in the past. Audrey Niffenegger, author of "The Time Traveler’s Wife," described the story as follows: "Erin Morgenstern has created the circus ... and populated it with dueling love-struck magicians, precocious kittens, hyper-elegant displays of beauty and complicated clocks.”

The Night Circus

Plot Summary

"The Night Circus" is centered on a circus called "Le Cirque des Rêves," which is open only at night. Two magicians—Celia Bowen and Marco Alasdair—are groomed for years (in the late 1800s) to practice magic: Celia is taught "old magic" and Marco, "new magic." The two are destined to duel at the Night Circus with competing magical exhibits. This leads to a love triangle, and eventually to Celia's death by her own hand.

While readying themselves to take over the competing exhibits, Marco sends his girlfriend Isobel to see how his soon-to-be rival Celia is coming along. Isobel casts a spell that keeps the magicians safe from harm. Once Marco and Celia begin their competition at the circus, the two antagonists find themselves falling in love, a jealous Isobel loses concentration, and the circus-protecting spell is broken. Celia recognizes the danger and sacrifices herself to protect Marco and the circus. But, she also casts him (and herself) into a ghostlike state, where the two lovers can be together and watch over—or perhaps haunt—the circus forever.

Discussion Questions

Use these book club discussion questions on "The Night Circus" to lead your reading group into the intricacies of Morgenstern's novel. Spoiler alert: These questions reveal important details about "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. Finish the book before reading on.

  1. "The Night Circus" does not follow a linear timeline. Did you find the structure of the book disorienting? Do you think it was effective in mirroring the nature of the circus or did it just annoy you?
  2. Between the chapters that tell the story of "The Night Circus" are descriptions of the circus itself, written as if you are visiting it right now. What do these chapters add to the story?
  3. What was your favorite part of the circus? Which character would you most want to meet? Which tent would you most want to visit? Which food sounded most appealing?
  4. Why are Frederick Thiessen and the reverse important to the story? Why do you think some people were so entranced by the circus that they devoted themselves to following it around?
  5. Did you feel sorry for those who were being used in the game—Isobel, the Burgess sisters, even Celia and Marco? Why do you think some people, like Mr. Barris, don't mind being trapped by the circus while it drives others, like Tara Burgess, mad?
  6. Why do you think Bailey was willing to give his life to the circus?
  7. Discuss themes of good and evil and free will versus being "bound."
  8. What did you think of Marco and Celia's relationship? Why did they fall in love?
  9. Why does the man in the gray suit feel so passionate about stories? What sort of commentary do you think the chapter "Stories" is the novel? On life?
  10. Rate "The Night Circus" on a scale from one to 10, and explain why you picked that rating.
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Your Citation
Miller, Erin Collazo. "'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern: Book Club Discussion Question." ThoughtCo, May. 3, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-night-circus-by-erin-morgenstern-361855. Miller, Erin Collazo. (2021, May 3). 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern: Book Club Discussion Question. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-night-circus-by-erin-morgenstern-361855 Miller, Erin Collazo. "'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern: Book Club Discussion Question." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-night-circus-by-erin-morgenstern-361855 (accessed May 29, 2023).