Reading List: Carnivals and the Circus


Concept art for the movie “Coraline.”

A place outside of reality, a magical illusion, a sanctuary for freaks and misfits spat out by polite society… Who knows what you may find inside that tent.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), Ray Bradbury

The merry-go-round was running, yes, but… It was running backward. The small calliope inside the carousel machinery rattle-snapped its nervous-stallion shivering drums, clashed its harvest-moon cymbals, toothed its castanets, and throatily choked and sobbed its reeds, whistles, and baroque flutes.

Nights at the Circus (1986), Angela Carter

The child’s laughter is pure until he first laughs at a clown.

Tipping The Velvet (2000), Sarah Waters

She sang that night like – I cannot say like an angel, for her songs were all of champagne suppers and strolling in the Burlington Arcade; perhaps, then, like a fallen angel – or yet again like a falling one: she sang like a falling angel might sing with the bounds of heaven fresh burst behind him, and hell still distant and unguessed. And as she did so, I sang with her – not loudly and carelessly like the rest of the crowd, but softly, almost secretly, as if she might hear me the better if I whispered rather than bawled.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Carnivorous Carnival (2002), Lemony Snicket

Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree on what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear.

Geek Love (2002), Katherine Dunne

It goes in streaks. But some things never go out of fashion. Hunger artists, fat folks, giants, and dog acts come and go but real freaks never lose their appeal.

“The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” (2004, Smoke and Mirrors), Neil Gaiman

‘Tonight you will all be witnesses to monsters undreamed-of, freaks and creatures of the night, to displays of ability to make you shriek with fear – and laugh with joy. We shall travel,’ he told us, ‘from room to room – and in each of these subterranean caverns another nightmare, another delight, another display of wonder awaits you!’

Water For Elephants (2006), Sara Gruen

The whole thing’s illusion, [Jacob], and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what people want from us. It’s what they expect.

The Night Circus (2011), Erin Morgenstern – review here

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

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