In our times, the circus is transforming. A famous circus closes its doors forever while Cirque de Soleil continues in all its many forms. Small circuses bring novelty and entertainment to small communities even as their reliance on animal acts—especially when those animals are abused—sparks outrage.
I have two memories of circuses growing up. The first is of a terrifying moment when a gorilla escaped and climbed into the stands where I sat with my family. In my panic, I tried to scale a poor woman sitting in the row in front of me, trying to make my getaway. My mother pulled me back into my seat and assured me that the gorilla was a man dressed in a gorilla suit.
More pleasant is the second memory of something that took place later that night. The evening approached midnight. All the acts but one had finished. I looked up at the ceiling, at what seemed to be the highest point in the tent. Through the darkness, a spotlight illuminated a woman dressed in gold grasped a gold swing, surrounded by a dangling gold moon and dangling gold stars.
The woman seemed so far away, so high above me. Without a doubt, it was the most enchanted moment in my life as a child. I sometimes remember it as a woman dangling from moon and stars, swinging and performing feats in the night sky itself.
One novel that helped me connect back to that moment was Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. I loved the story of two dueling magicians, one female and one male, both wards of men caught in a perpetual and deadly rivalry. But what I loved most about the book was the circus itself.
All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. The waiting crowd quiets as it watches this display of illumination. Someone near you gasps. A small child claps his hands with glee at the sight…Rather than a single tent with rings enclosed within, this circus contains clusters of tents like pyramids, some large and others quite small. They are set within circular paths, contained within a circular fence. Looping and continuous.
Lately I’ve been inspired to create my own story of a mystical circus—The Carnival of Moon and Stars is its working title. Unlike, The Night Circus, there are no magicians caught in a rivalry that they can’t control. Instead, a simple canvas tent hides a mystical world that is refuge for a girl named Angelique, a girl with a secret . A teenaged boy named Ash, a boy who spent his life on a farm just outside a small town, sees the tent in the distance from his bedroom window. He is drawn to it, hoping to discover something outside of his small world.
Diana Holbert says