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The Night Circus: Thoughts on “The Primordium” (Part 1)

the night circus
(Via Goodreads)

The Night Circus (2011)

By Erin Morgenstern

I am currently reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. This has been on my reading list for a while, but I never gotten around to buying the book. Luckily, my friend owns a copy, and she was kind enough to let me borrow it. Right now, I just finished the first part entitled, “The Primordium.” So rather than doing one review for the entire book, I decided to do a post for each part of the book because there is so much to talk about in regards to plot, characters, symbols, and other major/minor details. 

What is “primordium”?

First of all, the word, “primordium” is a scientific, embryology term referring to an organ or tissue at its’ earliest stage in development. The “primordium” in this novel is the circus, itself. In the first part, Chandresh and his team are at the early stage of their circus project. Chandresh wants to create a circus that is something the public has never seen before. Furthermore, the “primordium” could also represent the early stage of the main storyline as well as a reader’s first impression of the characters introduced. The word, “primordium” is an appropriate title for the first part of The Night Circus because it entails the beginning of a story and all the stuff that goes along with it.


In the first part, we are introduced to two famous magicians, Prospero the Enchanter and the mysterious Mr. A.H. These two are rivals and they agreed to do a friendly competition between their young proteges, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair. The two proteges are to compete against each other in a mysterious challenge that tests their magician skills. Celia and Marco are not told any information about the challenge nor who they are competing against. Celia Bowen is Prospero the Enchanter’s daughter and she is a talented illusionist, who is capable of making wonderous transformations. While Mr. A.H. trains an orphan boy through books about glyphs and other subjects. Marco is talented in creating illusionary worlds within a person’s mind. He demonstrated his talent to a young woman named Isobel, which eventually turns into a relationship.

Aside from the main plot line, there is a subplot involving a boy named Bailey. One day, his sister, Caroline, dared him to trespass into the circus and get something from there that proves he went inside. Bailey didn’t want to back down from the dare, so he trespasses into the circus tents. A girl sees him, and tells him that he can’t be there or else he will be in great trouble. Desperate not to come back empty-handed, Bailey explains the dare situation, and the girl gives him a white glove to show his sister that he actually went inside the circus’ vicinity.

In the end of part one, Celia auditions to be an illusionist for Chandresh’s upcoming circus show. This is the first time Marco and Celia meet. Marco is Chandresh’s assistant and he works behind-the-scenes for the circus project. When Celia auditions, Marco becomes captivated by her skills. She is able to make her black coat transform into a raven, and create a dove from sheets of paper. Celia can also change the color of her hair and clothes in an instant. After her performance, Marco becomes pale and speechless because he realizes that she is his opponent for the challenge, and feels that he is no match to her skills.

After Thoughts: 

I am not sure what’s the purpose of Bailey and the subplot is, but it most likely plays an important role in the main plot between Marco and Celia. One way to think of the characters, Bailey and Caroline, is that they are simply the spectators who come to the circus. As readers, we are seeing two different sides to the circus: the entertainers and the viewers. Through the perspectives of individuals like Marco and Celia, we are getting the behind-the-scenes as well as their thoughts and feelings about magic, the creation of the circus, and their profession; as a result, we see how the “fantasy” within the circus is created. While Bailey and Caroline are the visitors that attend the circus. The circus, itself, is an entity of mystery and wonder; thus by creating characters like Bailey, readers would be able to show the spectator’s appeal to the circus.

My favorite chapter in the section, “The Primordium,” is “Horology.” Mr. Ethan Barris, an engineer and who is also part of Chandresh’s circus project, assigns Herr Friedrick Thiessen to create a special clock for the carnival. Mr. Barris requests that the clock is dreamlike, an important theme within the circus project.

At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dressed in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles silver balls that correspond to each hour. As the clock chimes, another ball joins the rest until at midnight he juggles twelve balls in a complex pattern.

-Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

The clock is handcrafted with such precision and detail that it seems to be the center point of the circus. It is a fantasy, a mystery, a wonder towards the eyes of the people.

At the end of part one, Isobel reads Marco’s fate through her taro cards. The first card is The Lovers. This card predicts that Marco and Celia will fall in love with each other. The second card is La Maison Dieu, which is the destruction of a tower, and a falling figure. This card warns that danger is looming for Marco. Hence, Celia and Marco have an unfortunate fate, where the challenge may tear them apart.

The first part, “The Primordium” is a little slow in plot development, but by the end of it, the storyline picks up.

The story so far is a 3/5.

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