Marco visits Mr. Barris, who is in the midst of moving out of London. When Marco asks Mr. Barris how much Celia has told him about the circus, Mr. Barris discerns that Marco is her opponent. Though Mr. Barris only knows a little bit about the competition itself, he tells Marco about the parts of the circus he helped Celia with, including the carousel. Marco asks if Mr. Barris would be interested in helping him build some tents for him as well. Mr. Barris agrees and stresses that he will remain neutral. Sometime later, Celia writes to Mr. Barris to ask if she may make additions to the new tent he helped Marco build. This becomes a maze-like tent in which Celia and Marco each create rooms. Marco begins to build a paper mockup of the tent he and Celia created together in his flat.
The Ticking of the Clock
Tara visits Mr. Barris in Vienna and asks if he has the plans for the circus in his office. Mr. Barris explains that he gave them to Marco before leaving London. Tara asks why he left London and Mr. Barris insinuates that it is because he stopped aging and worries that other people are noticing. Tara is troubled by their connection to the circus and admits that she feels like she is constantly dreaming. Mr. Barris tells Tara that if she’s looking for answers, she should talk to the man in the grey suit. He inscribes an address on a card that has the initials A.H. on it.
The Magician’s Umbrella
In Prague, Celia walks to a café because the circus is closed due to inclement weather. She deposits her umbrella in a stand near the door. She sees that Isobel is already at the café and joins her by the fire. Celia asks if Isobel will give her a tarot reading. Isobel tells Celia a source of conflict will soon be revealed to her. Later as Celia walks away from the café, she notices that she is not getting wet despite the heavy downpour. Celia realizes that the umbrella she grabbed is enchanted. Just then, she hears someone call her name and turns to see Marco holding an identical umbrella. He tells her that she took his umbrella by mistake. That is when Celia pieces together that Marco is her opponent. Marco asks if he can take her for a drink. She is tempted, but she tells him maybe at another time. They switch umbrellas and Celia vanishes.
Reflections and Distortions
Returning to the second person point of view, the narrative enters the hall of mirrors that come together to form an elaborate tent filled with illusions. Some mirrors hide aspects of the room that should be visible while others show things that are not in the room at all. A man in a bowler hat appears in several mirrors, though he is not there when the room itself is observed.
After passing several tents, Bailey feels compelled to enter the fortune-teller’s tent. Bailey’s card reading reveals that he has a journey ahead of him and that he will have a great deal of responsibility at the end of it. The fortune-teller asks if his name is Bailey and he hesitantly confirms. She says that she believes that he came to see the red-haired girl, who is really named Poppet. Bailey is shocked. She tells Bailey that he will see her again and asks if he likes the circus. He enthuses about how much he enjoys it. She tells Bailey that he will be fine, but he has a lot of decisions to make and that there will be many surprises in his future. Before leaving, Bailey asks the fortune-teller’s name. She replies that she is named Isobel.
The Wizard in the Tree
Poppet and Widget sit underneath a tree drinking cider as the circus nears closing. Poppet tells Widget about the last time she read the stars and describes overlapping images of flame and a feeling like things are unravelling. When Widget asks if she told Celia about the vision, she says that she hasn’t because it doesn’t make sense yet. Poppet asks Widget to tell her a story. He tells her the story of the wizard in the tree, who loses his power when he shares his secrets with a beautiful, clever girl. When Widget finishes his story, the tree looks more alive than it had before.
Tara Burgess’s inquiries about the circus reveal the way that the people not part of the challenge are being impacted by it. Though the conversation that Mr. Barris and Tara have in “The Ticking of the Clock” is quite guarded as Mr. Barris doesn’t reveal his role in the circus nor does he tell her about the challenge that is driving it, that he gives her the man in the grey suit’s address reveals her suspicions have merit. Tara’s demeanor during their conversation is telling as her normally light-hearted attitude gives way to earnest concern. She’s shaken by the way that she seems to always be dreaming and the way that none of the Conspirators seem to be ageing. Most importantly, Tara resents being forced into something that she can’t explain, which she compares to being trapped. While the extent to which the Conspirators are influenced by the circus is unclear, Tara’s observations that they have been pulled into something larger than life and her search for answers shows how powerful of an influence the circus has on the people who are connected to it.
“The Magician’s Umbrella” serves as a crucial turning point in the novel because Celia finally becomes aware of who her competitor is. Though the revelation is accidental, as Celia takes Marco’s umbrella from the stand at the café rather than her own, it comes as a moment of huge catharsis for the both of them. In the scope of the timeline, this event comes a nearly eight years after the circus’s opening and the official start of the game, and a full twenty years after they are both officially part of the challenge. When Celia learns that Marco is her competitor, her first reaction is to laugh, not at his expense but as an almost involuntary response to the relief she feels for having learned something she has been wondering about for nearly her entire life. Most importantly, this moment allows the two of them to finally interact with one another as equals who share something so integral to both of their lives. Though Celia declines his offer to go for a drink, she’s tempted to ask him all the questions that she’s had about the challenge, which sets them up to become friendly competitors as the challenge continues rather than ones whose competitiveness breeds animosity.
Bailey getting his cards read by Isobel speaks to how badly he wants to understand his own future and hints that his fate is much different than what he expects. Though he is embarrassed by the prospect of looking into what the future holds for him, as indicated by the way he looks around to make sure no one sees him enter the fortune-teller’s hut, he badly wants to know where he’s going to end up. He has been struggling over his future for some time now, both internally and with his family, so him seeking out answers from a fortune-teller shows that he’s seeking some kind of resolution to the constant strife it has caused in his life. Though he leaves somewhat baffled about his readings, specifically about how he can be represented by Cavalier d’Épées, the Knight of Swords, he is reassured by what Isobel says to him. Bailey’s interpretation of his own reading is limited by the fact that he assumes it’s going to give him a specific answer about whether he’ll go to Harvard or take over the farm, but the reading itself foreshadows a third as of yet unknown fate.
Isobel’s reading of Celia’s cards reveals the challenge directly and foreshadows the fate of the circus. While tarot cards may have alternative meanings in the world outside of the novel, in The Night Circus, their meanings are connected integrally to the plot and character development. While many of the cards that are pulled during the reading are glossed over, there are three named cards which all connect directly to the competitors. Celia and Marco are symbolized by the Priestess and the Magician, respectively. The third named card, the two of swords, symbolizes to the challenge they find themselves in. After Celia leaves, Isobel reflects on how she didn’t lie to the woman about the reading but omitted the fact that the reading seemed to be for the circus as much as it was for the woman, which confirms that Celia is correct in her growing belief that she is fundamentally tied to the circus. In this way, the reading that Isobel gives Celia shows just how integral the motif of tarot cards are in the novel as they’re capable of revealing major plot points and symbolizing important elements of the narrative.