“Around and Around (and Around)”: A Magical New Scene from
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
_______________________
There is always a line for the carousel.
It moves swiftly and steadily, but there is always a line.
Other tents in Le Cirque des Rêves occasionally have short
lines or waits for scheduled performances, depending on the crowd or
the time of night, but the line for the carousel is constant.
It is part of the experience.
You enter the tent, wondering why the carousel is enclosed in
canvas rather than out in the open air.
You immediately become a part of the line, corralled in ropes
of black velvet that guide you and your fellow patrons through the
space. There are young children waiting with you but there are also
teenagers and adults and even an old man with a cane some places
ahead.
The line curves and winds through the tent, other queuing
patrons obscuring your view. You can see very little of the carousel
itself on the opposite side of the tent, only bits and pieces that change
as you progress through the space.
They are tantalizing, these shattered glimpses of the carousel
caught in the spaces between hats and arms and heads craning for better
views. You can see from this perspective, that it does look somewhat
like a traditional carousel, or part of one. It is slightly elevated on a


 

platform, lit with multitudes of small glowing spheres that blink and
pulse in time with the soft music that echoes throughout the tent. The
carousel itself is painted in black and white and silver, patterns and
patinas catching shadows so the whole structure seems to be in constant
motion. Sections of it sparkle with bits of glass and mirror, reflecting
the light and fracturing it, letting it dance around the walls of the tent,
over the patrons waiting in line. There are no lights in the tent save for
the ones on the carousel itself.
As the line continues winding forward, as you move closer to
the carousel, you begin to catch clearer glimpses of the creatures.
Only a fraction of the carousel’s menagerie is visible at a time
as the creatures process by in an orderly fashion, one by one. They are
not impaled on poles, instead they are suspended from above by braids
of ribbon. Swaying gently as they move. They never pause, creeping
along the visible length of platform in constant motion.
You have not seen creatures like these on any other carousel.
They are wondrous works of art, carved with obvious care and
incredible detail before being painted black or white or grey,
highlighted with shimmering silvers and pearls. They seem to glow as
they move slowly past. Not all of them are instantly recognizable, and
you can only pull names out of the depths of your memory for some of
them. A silver dragon. A luminous white phoenix. A jet black Pegasus
with silver-tipped wings. Some are amalgamations of different
animals (a few with multiple heads) and others appear partially human:
mermaids and centaurs with beatific frozen faces, eyes so perfectly


 

glossy that they seem almost alive. Each one is more breathtaking than
the next as they slowly parade along. Each bears a seat molded into
their shape, something like a saddle painted to perfectly match, situated
just behind the suspension ribbon. There are no stirrups, only a seat set
upon each creature.
You can see the front of the line now, where costumed circus
workers assist riders on to their mounts. It is not the free-for-all of
some other carousels, where people choose the painted horse that
catches their eye. Instead, each person is guided to the creature
awaiting a rider. It is fate that decides which beast you are destined for,
not some arbitrary affinity for color or style.
The creatures are alone as they circle into view. You assume
that one disembarks the ride at some other point, before each beast
returns alone to the beginning. As each creature arrives the next person
waiting in line is brought to it, and then their new riders are carried
around the bend and out of sight, into the shadows.
The older gentleman with the cane is guided to a curling form
that appears to be some sort of sea serpent. He mounts the serpent with
surprising grace, his cane held lightly in his hand. He tips his hat
appreciatively at the young lady who assisted him, and then fixes his
gaze at the unknown in the shadows ahead.
Because of the angle of the line (it has turned in on itself again
as you have reached the front) you cannot see more than one creature at
a time. You are unable to count and surmise which one will be yours,
you must simply wait.


 

There are three people in line ahead of you, and now two. A
young lady in a striped dress leads the woman in front of you to a
pearlescent white unicorn and a man in a black vest with a grey shirt
gestures to you. You follow him the few steps up the platform, finding
yourself face to face with your destined carousel partner.
It is larger than you had expected when watching from afar,
and it takes a moment for you to absorb the sight as you are guided to
it. The head is that of a great bird, an eagle, perhaps, painted white and
tipped with silver, its eyes a sharp contrast in glossy black. Your seat
awaits between massive silver-tipped wings, and there the creature
fades into the body of a lion, changing from white and silver to the
same deep black of its eyes, its dark tail curving behind it. It is a
gryphon, you think, pulling the name from story and myth.
The young man in the black vest and grey shirt holds the
gryphon steady for you as you climb on, sliding easily into the rather
comfortable saddle seat. The young man releases the gryphon once he
is sure that you are safely aboard and gives you a cheerful wave which
you are hesitant to return, your hand on the braided ribbon cord which
is shockingly thin and light beneath your fingers, but you smile at him
and he leaves to fetch the next rider in line. You turn your gaze ahead.
At first you can see only the woman ahead of you on her
unicorn and peripherally you can see the winding line on your right and
mirrors on your left reflecting fractured, overlapping pieces of yourself
and your gryphon. The movement of the creatures seems to slow as you
await the turn into the darkness.


 

Then the woman and her unicorn disappear around the curve
of the carousel, and you grip your gryphon by the tops of its folded
wings as you begin to turn, the swaying motion increasing as you move
forward.
You expect the woman and her unicorn to reappear in your
field of vision, but instead there is nothing, only darkness peppered
with hazy reflected light from behind you. Ahead of you, coming closer
with every passing second, is a deep darkness that swallows the
dancing light whole.
As you move into the dark, all traces of light vanish. It feels as
though you are floating through empty space. You can no longer see
anything, not even the white eagle head of your gryphon. There is only
the sense that you are moving forward, a change in the air that falls
over your skin, the continued swaying of the gryphon.
At first it seems your eyes are playing tricks on you as
shimmering pinpricks of light begin to appear, but then the lights grow
brighter and more distinct. They are everywhere, above and below,
stretching in every direction, an expanse of stars. The space seems to
stretch endlessly. It is difficult to discern how far you have travelled
before the light changes.
The starlight brightens, bathing the still indiscernible
surroundings in soft, warm light. The woman on the unicorn is visible
ahead of you, though quite far away. The light grows brighter and
brighter, the glare becoming so strong that you shut your eyes. With
your eyes closed you can feel the swaying movement of the gryphon


 

more intensely as you turn again: a sharp turn that swings you at an
angle, pulling you sideways through the air.
When you sense the brightness easing through your eyelids
you slowly open your eyes. You can see things now, in the light that is
dimmer but still glowing.
All around you are silver mechanisms: cogs and gears and
weights on strings, like the innards of a giant clock. Everything is in
motion, clicking and turning though the pieces do not all fit together
properly, there are gears that revolve alone and curls of metal springs
falling loose like ribbons. An expanse of silver clockwork stretches
much farther past your feet (and your gryphon’s paws & claws) than
you had expected. You grip your gryphon more tightly, looking up at
the fragile-seeming cord, though you cannot see where it is attached
above, it disappears into the shadows between the gears and now seems
quite long.
Your gryphon maneuvers around these mechanisms, soaring
as easily as a bird though its wings remain frozen at its sides.
Occasionally you catch glimpses of the woman ahead of you and her
unicorn and when you turn particularly sharply you can see a child
behind you on a large cat-like creature.
The clockwork becomes less elaborate as you continue on, the
loose parts outnumbering the functioning ones. They turn in disparate
patterns, disjointed and broken. A spring sticks out at a too-sharp angle
above your head, a wheel cracks beneath you. The light becomes
shadow; you lose sight of the woman and her unicorn once more.


 

Then you drop. Sudden and unexpected, as though the ribbon
cord has snapped and you are plummeting to the ground. You lift from
your seat as the gravity pulls you down, free falling through broken bits
of clockwork, only narrowly avoiding sharp bits of splintering silver. A
sound like a scream echoes by your ears and you are not altogether sure
it is not coming from you.
Just as suddenly, you stop. The gryphon bounces as it settles,
still securely suspended. The forward movement resumes at a leisurely
pace, the gryphon gliding along as though nothing unusual has
happened. It takes you a longer moment to recover, your heart
pounding in your chest. The gryphon remains completely unfazed by
the descent.
The space you move into is full of fluffy, cloud-like fog
glowing with soft diffused light. It swirls around you and your
gryphon, curling around legs and wings. The motion becomes buoyant,
almost bouncy, as though your gryphon is hopping through the clouds
rather than gliding on a cord. A playful movement, like the prancing of
a particularly exuberant pony. As you and your gryphon bound through
the dense clouds you can occasionally discern the shape of a unicorn
ahead of you, a shadowy impression through the fog.
The clouds gradually dissipate and the bounding of your
gryphon slows to a glide once more. The light begins to brighten and
sparkle. As the last of the fog fades you can see that the space you are
moving towards is a tunnel formed by countless globes of light, much
like the ones that adorned the front of the carousel. As soon as you are


 

fully immersed in this tunnel of light, a space so narrow you could
almost reach out and touch the surrounding lights, your gryphon begins
to turn.
You are confused, as the tunnel is narrow and straight with no
visible alternate directions to proceed in, the lights form a series of
complete rings, covering every side, the cord that you hang from slides
through a thin space between the bulbs above. As you turn, the head of
your gryphon is only inches from the lights lining the sides. You turn
completely around until you face the end of the tunnel where you
entered, curls of fog still visible beyond the reach of the lights. Your
gryphon stops turning, hovering still for a moment before propelling
you backwards.
For a moment you can see the child on his cat-like creature
emerging from the fog, and then the tunnel curves and there are only
rows of lights blurring into glowing stripes as you rush past. Your grip
on your gryphon tightens as you fly backwards, the tunnel seemingly
endless as you cannot see where you are going.
As you round a corner you are no longer enclosed in a tunnel,
the lights are now only below you, shining upwards from the floor. The
gryphon slows and begins to spiral upwards, still moving backwards
but rising as it does so, turning in a backwards corkscrew, ascending up
into the air. The light from below breaks into shifting columns around
you, blocked by your gryphon, enclosing you in shadows. Looking up,
you can make out the hooves of a unicorn when the light catches them,


 

making them appear to move. The light moves and shifts as your
gryphon spirals upwards, almost lazily.
The spiraling motion is dizzying. You turn around and around
and around as you ascend into shadows, moving farther and farther
away from the lights below. You attempt to concentrate on the gryphon
to stave off the dizzy feeling, focusing on the black braided cord that
remains comparatively steady as the light around you turns and turns.
You tighten your grip on the gryphon’s wings and they are warm
beneath your fingers, softer than they had been moments before.
Feeling more like feathers than polished and painted wood. Surprised,
you pull your hands back. The gryphon ruffles its feathers, the huge
wings shuddering around you. Perhaps it is a trick of the light, you
think, as the light is constantly shifting in that dizzying way. You hold
tightly to the braided ribbon cord. It must be the light, though now the
sides of the gryphon are expanding and contracting against your legs, a
motion quite like breathing. And the shadow of the gryphon’s eaglelike head is slowly turning back towards you. You stare at the gryphon,
unable to attribute such a movement to tricks of light or dizziness. The
head is undeniably turning towards you. You can easily make out the
curved beak, looking remarkably sharp as it moves into profile. Its
glossy black eyes fix on you as it turns completely, and with the light
dancing across its face as you continue to spiral, it is most indisputably
alive and aware.
The gryphon winks at you, a distinct conspiratorial wink. Then
it slowly turns resume its original pose.

10 
 

As soon as it settles into position the gryphon lurches forward,
moving from upward spiral to forward glide. You reach out to touch the
tops of its wings and find polished wood beneath your fingers, smooth
and cool. You enter another space full of clockwork, similar to the one
you passed through before. The woman in front of you and her unicorn
are visible once again. You wonder if she has had a similar experience
with her unicorn, if the almost-motion of its hooves you observed was
the light or something else.
You drift through a maze of clockwork, wondering if this is
what controls the carousel, if it is not purely decorative but powering
the movement as well. Some of the pieces are bright and silver while
others are near-black with wear, gears that appear brand new
interlocking with others that look ancient, turning each other. It must be
controlling everything, you think. Though it is difficult to believe that
clockwork alone can accomplish such things.
As your gryphon navigates its way through wheels and cogs
and gears, you come to a point where you glide into shadow cast by
towering pieces of clockwork. You drift into the darkness, not
plummeting or spiraling or speeding backwards, the motion steady and
calm. It is comforting despite the fact that you can see nothing, not the
woman in front of you on her unicorn nor the head of your gryphon. If
he were to sneak a glance at you now, you would not be able to tell,
and his wings remain solid and cool beneath your fingers.
Lights begin to appear, not the pinpoints of the stars but
glowing, cheerful lights multiplied in pieces of glass and mirror around

11 
 

you. Your gryphon slows, and in the growing light you can discern a
floor below your feet. As your gryphon turns an unseen corner, you
find yourself on a semicircular platform identical to the one from the
beginning of the carousel. Almost as though it is the other side of a
circle and you have only completed a half-rotation rather than a
complicated journey through tunnels and spirals.
In front of you, a man in a silver suit helps the woman
dismount her unicorn, leading her into an open space similar to the
waiting area, only this one has no velvet ropes. The disembarked
carousel riders reacquaint their feet with solid ground before drifting
out through the clearly marked exit in the wall of the tent.
A woman in a white dress with a wide black sash reaches out a
gloved hand to steady your gryphon as you dismount, your hand resting
against its large folded wing before you move away, your feet feeling
strangely heavy on the solid ground of the platform. The woman in the
white dress takes your arm, leading you down the stairs to the floor of
the tent, smiling brightly before turning to assist another rider.
You look back at your gryphon as it disappears into the
shadows, wondering who it will find on the other side for its next
journey around the carousel.

"Around and Around (and Around)": A New Scene from The Night Circus by
Erin Morgenstern, copyright © 2012 by Night Circus, LLC. The Night
Circus was originally published by Doubleday, a division of Random House
Inc., New York, in 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 

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