He reads histories and mythologies and fairy tales, wondering why it seems that only girls are ever swept away from their mundane lives on farms by knights or princes or wolves. It strikes him as unfair to not have the same fanciful opportunity himself. And he is not in the position to do any rescuing of his own.

Bailey reflects on the stories he reads about adventure in the chapter “Hidden Things.” He is being pulled in two different directions by his family, who want different futures for him, so he escapes into reading and dreams of adventure. While seemingly off-handed, this quote speaks to a gendered aspect of traditional stories that perturbs Bailey—he wants nothing more than to be whisked away on a grand adventure, but the stories he has read of such things position girls as the only people being swept away. This speaks to the ways that stories can shape one’s idea of what is possible, as Bailey cannot envision himself being “rescued” from his mundane life because boys are not the ones who are given those opportunities in the stories he knows. On a narrative level, however, Bailey’s view of being swept away by a “fanciful opportunity” as the kind of thing that might solve the problem he is having about his future foreshadows how he will eventually be invited to run away with the circus.

“Stories have changed, my dear boy… There are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need of rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the once worth something, in any case. There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings.”

In this quotation, the man in the grey suit begins a long conversation with Widget about the nature of stories in the appropriately named chapter “Stories.” Undoubtedly the most direct insight into the power of stories, this conversation speaks to the ways that stories change over time. Widget and the man in the grey suit speak from different vantage points, with the man in the grey suit arguing that stories have grown ever more complex, with overlapping perspectives and definitions of good and evil that have evolved beyond the easy villains and heroes found in fairy tales. Widget, however, believes that there can still be such thing as simple tales. On a narrative level, this discussion reflects back on the rest of the novel as a whole, and the ending in particular. Its complexity, the constant shifting in perspective, and the ending that is not completely happy are all what the man in the grey suit recognizes as this new kind of story. To Widget’s point, however, it is still a simple story at its heart: the story of two people in love who end up together.

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words… Your sister may be able to see the future, but you can shape it, boy.”

In this quotation, the man in the grey suit tells Widget about the way a storyteller can influence other people in the chapter entitled “Stories.” During their conversation about the circus and stories in general, Widget reveals that he is a storyteller to the man in the grey suit, which changes his perspective on Widget entirely. The man in the grey suit gives him an impassioned argument about how a story can influence a person’s entire future, which supports the novel’s message that stories can be transformative. That the man in the grey suit’s explanation takes the form of a poetic appeal to the power that even a simple story can hold illustrates that this is something that this is a deeply held belief for him. It is less surprising, given that he believes that a story contains the kind of power to completely alter someone’s life, that the man in the grey suit is willing to give up the remaining control he has of the circus for one of Widget’s stories.

“Tell me a story, please.” Poppet says after a while.

A request that Poppet gives Widget in the chapter “The Wizard in the Tree,” this quotation speaks to the way that stories can be used as an escape from something mentally or emotionally taxing. While the story that Widget tells Poppet—that of the Wizard in the Tree—is important to the plot, the moment that Poppet asks Widget for a story is one of emotional confidences and the need for an escape. Burdened by visions that are growing evermore alarming, Poppet is looking for something to get her mind off what she has seen written in the stars. Widget knows that there’s something off about his sister, so in the moments leading up to this, he offers her several options of what they might do that night and even suggests they talk to Celia about what Poppet has seen. But the fact that she asks him for a story instead of choosing any of the myriad activities they could engage in at Le Cirque des Rêves shows just how skilled a storyteller Widget is. Moreover, it shows how stories can serve as a balm for the mind.

We add our own stories, each visitor, each visit, each night spent at the circus. I suppose there will never be a lack of things to say, of stories to be told and shared.

This quotation is from an excerpt of Herr Thiessen’s writings used as an epigraph to introduce “Part III: Intersections.” While predominantly speaking about the ways that the rêveurs share stories of the circus with one another, this also illustrates the way the novel sees storytelling as a collaborative venture. Stories of the circus bring people together and inform the way that they approach their visits to Le Cirque des Rêves, with each story that the rêveurs tell contributing to the collective myth of the circus itself. This urge to share stories of something like the circus is framed as an impulse. It something so deeply ingrained in a person that it is like breathing. On the opening night of the circus, complete strangers are compelled to share stories with one another because they overflow with excitement. Moreover, by simply attending the circus, the audience becomes a part of the story itself.