A guest post by Cassie Beasley
Author of Circus Mirandus
June 2015, Dial Books
First things first - congratulations on your book birthday!
I've seen a lot of preliminary reviews note that Circus Mirandus is able to handle a potentially sad life event - a boy on the verge of losing his grandfather - with a surprising degree of optimism and hope.
I'd love for you to share some thoughts on why you think that themes like optimism and hope in books like Circus Mirandus, have such universal appeal for readers of all ages. What do you think it is about the human condition that makes us seek out a happy ending?
I’m glad you asked this question because even though Circus Mirandus is about a boy whose grandfather is dying, I do think it’s ultimately a story about hope.
The idea behind the novel is that Micah Tuttle’s grandfather, Ephraim, has raised him, and they’ve always had a really close relationship. A huge part of that relationship has been Grandpa Ephraim sharing stories about the time he visited a magical place called Circus Mirandus when he was a boy. Micah has always loved the stories, but he’s also assumed that they were just make-believe.
But then, when Grandpa Ephraim gets sick and it becomes clear that he’s unlikely to recover, he tells Micah that all of the stories are real. So Micah decides that he has to find the circus and convince one of its magicians, the Lightbender, to save his grandfather.
The hope really comes into play at that point because people keep telling Micah that he can’t do it. His great aunt, Gertrudis, is an unpleasant character, and she thinks that the Circus Mirandus stories are toxic. She thinks that having faith in magic is a foolish and dangerous thing, so she tries to stop him. And Micah develops a friendship with a girl at school, Jenny Mendoza, who is a wonderfully kind person who just can’t bring herself to believe that magic is real.
But Micah refuses to give up. I think that’s a big part of the appeal for readers. We all know how hard it is to keep struggling toward something when nobody else believes you can reach it. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what Micah is after; we can admire his determination for its own sake.
And it doesn’t matter that he’s not getting as much support as he needs, because his own faith in his ability to make a difference is keeping him going. It’s hope that makes him do brave and wonderful things, and it’s hope that helps him pick himself back up every time he gets knocked down.
I’ve told people before that I think Micah’s belief in the circus would be of value to him even if the story had turned out differently and he’d discovered that magic wasn’t real. And I think most of us feel, on some level, that hope is its own reward. After all, we do love stories about characters trying to do the impossible, don’t we? Nobody wants to be like Aunt Gertrudis, who has given up on faith.
What does her hatred of “nonsense stories” do for her? Nothing. She’s an unhappy person, someone who’s never going to rage against the odds, and in the end, she misses out on what magic she might have had in her life because she isn’t willing to risk disappointment. Hope, even when it proves fruitless, can make us better people.
As for happy endings, I think they tell us that sometimes a struggle toward a crazy dream is rewarded. People want to know that the protagonist’s faith wasn’t wasted, that some good came of it even if that good wasn’t quite what he or she had in mind in the beginning. Because if a character in a book can face something as terrifying as the death of a loved one and still come out the other side with their hope intact, then maybe we can too.