Truth or Dare
Bailey Clarke and his older sister Caroline sit in a tree with his sister’s friends. Caroline picks on Bailey for being the youngest. During a game of truth or dare, Caroline dares him to break into the Night Circus, He agrees in part because he desperately wants to visit the circus again. Bailey squeezes between the bars of the fence. He encounters into a girl dressed all in white with bright red hair. Bailey awkwardly apologizes for trespassing. The girl offers to help him leave before anyone else sees him. She offers him her white glove as proof he broke in. Bailey thanks her and when she tells him that he’s welcome, she calls him by name. Bailey is partway home before he realizes he never told her his name.
Associates and Conspirators
Chandresh hosts lavish soirées at his home known as Midnight Dinners. Chandresh invites five people under the auspices of a business matter. The guests are fashionista Mme. Padva, engineer and architect Mr. Barris, renaissance women Tara and Lainie Burgess, and the man in the grey suit, who uses the pseudonym Mr. A. H—. Working as Chandresh’s assistant, Marco is also in attendance. Once the extravagant meal concludes, Chandresh begins to theatrically describe his plans for an innovative circus with immersive exhibitions and he invites the guests to work with him. Marco lays out the plans for the circus and Burgess sisters and Mr. Barris begin poring over them. By the time the morning comes, they have tripled the number of plans that Chandresh started with.
In March of 1885, an announcement is made about the death of Hector Bowen. Well-wishers send condolences from around the world including flowers, letters, and even marriage proposals to Celia. At these, Celia remarks that she is already married and she touches the scar on her finger where the binding ring once sat. A grey envelope arrives addressed to Hector that contains a note that simply says, “your move.” Celia brings it to the upstairs parlor where the ghostly remains of her father resides. She shows him the note and he laughs.
The Contortionist’s Tattoo
The Conspirators meet regularly for Midnight Dinners. Though Mr. A.H— rarely appears, the remaining group uses the time to plan the circus and socialize. One night a woman named Tsukiko arrives unannounced. Tsukiko provides vague answers about who she is and why she’s there, but Chandresh surmises that she must be a substitute for the usual entertainment and invites her to perform for them. Marco takes notes the elaborate tattoo of arcane symbols covering Tsukik’s torso. Tsukiko performs a contortionist act so skilled that Chandresh immediately offers her a job as the only contortionist at the circus, which she accepts. Tsukiko becomes a regular at the Midnight Dinners.
Mr. Barris meets with Herr Thiessen, an exceptional clockmaker from Munich, to commission a custom clock. Herr Thiessen is intrigued as he is told that it should be “dreamlike” and completely black and white. Mr. Barris tells him that money is no object and that he wants the clock to be Herr Thiessen’s masterwork. Herr Thiessen spends several months building a clock that becomes his masterpiece. He names it the Wunschtraum, or dream clock. It undergoes a slow transformation as the hours tick by, with the colors changing from white to black and the body turning itself inside out. The clock is covered in delicately carved figures that interact as the clock changes, such as an entire miniature game of chess being played. The centerpiece is a juggler who juggles the number of balls that correspond with the hour. Herr Thiessen ships the clock and receives a note from Mr. Barris saying that it is perfection.
“Truth or Dare” introduces two important characters, Bailey Clarke and the red-haired girl who works at the Night Circus. The chapter is told from Bailey’s point of view, foreshadowing his significance to the story although it is not immediately clear why. While the girl’s identity is yet to be revealed, her striking red hair and her ability to know Bailey’s name without being told makes her appearance both mysterious and significant. This section is also remarkable because it takes place nearly twenty-five years after Celia is first delivered to her father at the theater. By extending the timeline of events by more than two decades, the novel confirms that the Night Circus becomes a fully realized venture. By telling “Truth or Dare” story from Bailey’s point of view, the novel suggests that the challenge impacts and connects an increasingly large number of people.
“Associates and Conspirators” and “The Contortionists Tattoo” introduces the group known as The Conspirators, which plays a vital role in the creation of the circus. The group’s title along with the varying skills and talents of each member creates a tone of excitement, mystery, and theatricality that repeats throughout the novel. Chandresh himself embodies this tone as the eccentric and theatrical ringleader. However, there is also growing dramatic irony as the Conspirators are unwittingly being roped into a scheme between the man in the grey suit and Hector Bowen. However, the Conspirators’ enthusiasm for the endeavor creates its own ambiance of magic that is separate from the actual magical occurring around them behind the scenes. Their positions as planners and architects of the circus suggest that each of the Conspirators are themselves extraordinary enough to participate in the creation og a magical circus.
When Celia refers to herself as being already married in the chapter “Condolences,” it illustrates just how seriously she takes the challenge while also emphasizing the marriage-related symbolism that surrounds the challenge. Though the proposals that Celia receives in the mail after her father’s supposed “death” are played off as something inconsequential, her reaction that she is already married to the challenge reveals that Celia has come to feel trapped by the challenge that has thus far defined her entire life. Celia even twists the ring that she uses to conceal the scar that the magical ring left to symbolize that she is already metaphorically married. The challenge is indeed akin to a marriage given that it is a lifelong commitment that precludes her from other major events, like falling in love with someone or entering into a literal marriage. That the challengers were bound to one another using rings also correlates it directly with marriage. In contrast, that their rings were burned into their right hands rather than the left asserts that the competitors are bound in a unique, and possibly more permanent way.
Tsukiko’s tattoos hint that magic is more widespread than previously shown in the novel. Because magic has been shown as being the domain of white, western people so far in the novel—as all of the characters who use magic white and from European or American origin—this tattoo plays a key role in establishing that magic exists across the world. That the tattoo is proudly emblazoned on the skin on a woman of color also supports this stance. Marco’s keen observation of the symbols as being from different cultures around the world, including an ankh, Norse runes, and Chinese characters, also reinforce the importance of the techniques the man in the grey suit has used in his training. The details link the man in the grey suit to a larger magical world and foreshadow it will come to be significant to the plot.