Saturday, October 17, 2015

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

This book is like a slow boiling pot of noodles. I'm always impatient for the quiet pool of water to heat up. I forget about it and then suddenly boiling water is rushing unexpectedly to the top, steam hissing as it touches the dry sides of the metal pan before spilling over the edge onto the burner. "Circus Mirandus" simmers at the start with the nasty Aunt Gertrudis that cruelly manipulates her nephew, fifth grader Micah, from seeing his dying grandfather. The story erupts at the end with oodles of action as Micah matures into a young man willing to take risks and find happiness in whatever situation life gives him. The writing has beautiful figurative language that had me writing down favorite lines and themes that spilleth over like my pasta pot - although I found it hard to latch onto one. Good book. Thought-provoking. Just hard for me to write about in a cohesive manner. My fragmented sentences truly reflect my thoughts on this one.

Micah Tuttle has heard his Grandfather Ephraim's "Circus Mirandus" stories all his life, but when he finally gets to enter the world of stories for real, he finds magic in illusions that give him hope when things look bleak. His grandpa is dying and Micah needs a miracle to save his life. Micah knows that the Lightbender promised Ephraim a miracle as a young boy that he never used. Micah wants Ephraim to use that miracle now for a cure so he doesn't die and Micah will have to live with the unimaginative and mean-spirited Aunt Gertrudis. Grandpa Ephraim cashes in his "ticket" for a miracle and most of the story is spent seeing what that miracle is. Micah makes friends with Jenny, a girl in his class that doesn't believe in magic but science. She's a loyal friend and grounds Micah in reality as he gets lost in the world of magic.

Illusion in Circus Mirandus is suppose to inspire hope and good-will for children that represent the future. Not everyone understands the power of illusion. Aunt Gertrudis felt deceived by the world of illusion as she never got to see Circus Mirandus. Victoria believes that magic is power and should be spent on oneself and not children. She uses magic for the wrong reasons. Micah and his Grandpa believe in the good and joy that magic brings to their lives. The Lightbender is the master of illusion and a metaphor for storytelling.

Micah and Ephraim tell the Lightbender that he has "changed" them. Storytelling in its own right is a form of illusion with the goal of changing the reader. Readers must be able to enter another world and identify with the characters. In that alternate make-believe world they can interpret what is happening in the plot, apply it to themselves and develop new understandings of themselves in a complex world. In this case, Micah is dealing with death and the choices he makes in life. He realizes that he can't control the adults around him, but he can control his attitude and beliefs. Storytelling is passed from generation to generation and as Ephraim passes his stories on to Micah the tradition and history of this craft is highlighted. Stories as a form of entertainment, socialization, ethics, and education can be found in every culture from ancient times (i.e. Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Vedas, Shijing) to the present.

The friendship between Jenny and Micah reveals the complexity of relationships from acquaintances to interpersonal bonding. Jenny is skeptical of magic and at times embarrasses Micah with her lack of understanding when she meets others from the circus. She's not sensitive to what she is saying and only realizes something is up because Micah seems upset. But Micah doesn't abandon their friendship because of a fight. She helps settle him down during emotional moments and gives sound advice at critical moments. Micah knows this and reminds himself of her strengths when he feels let down or angry with her. The two disagree but they are respectful of each others opinions.

Aunt Gertrudis is an archetype like Dicken's Scrooge or more accurately Roald Dahl's Aunt Spiker. She is wicked and more of a caricature that represents human qualities than a three-dimensional character. I understand that hyperboles are a good way to to point out the details of characters, but it doesn't work for me if the character is cliched or stereotyped. Aunt Gertrudis is neither, but she was plain ole frustrating with her lack of compassion and use of authority to keep Micah from seeing his grandpa. I thought the plot's action got slightly repetitive as she kept preventing him to see his grandpa.

Aunt Gertrudis' description is delicious: "On the inside, Aunt Gertrudis was probably cough syrup. She wore her dust-colored hair twisted into a bun so tight it almost pulled her wrinkled skin smooth, and she starched her shirts until the collars were stiff enough to cut. She made black tea every day in a bright steel kettle. The tea was scalding and bitter, a lot like her, and she wouldn't let Micah add sugar because she said bad teeth ran in the family."

Now compare the above description to Aunt Spiker in Roald Dahl's book. "Aunt Sponge was enormously fat and very short. She had small piggy eyes, a sunken mouth and one of those white flabby faces that looked exactly as though it had been boiled. She was like a great white soggy overboiled cabbage. Aunt Spiker, on the other hand, was lean and tall and bony, and she wore steel-rimmed spectacles that fixed on to the end of her nose with a clip. She had a screeching voice and long wet narrow lips, and whenever she got angry or excited, little flecks of spit would come shooting out of her mouth as she talked. And there they sat, these two ghastly hags, sipping their drinks, and every now and again screaming at James to chop faster and faster. They also talked about themselves, each one saying how beautiful she thought she was."

Grandpa Ephraim explains to Micah that if you hold on too hard to something you break it. When something becomes too important in life such as magic, money, power, fame, it leads to self-centered choices that are distorted in reality. Victoria thought she was so important and special that she murdered animals to prove a point and didn't see anything wrong with it. For her, the future did not exist in the children she brought happiness to but existed in satisfying her own needs and wallowing in her magical powers. She desires to be special, to stand out. Like Aunt Gertrudis she is an archetype  villain whose perspective is distorted in the quest for power.

Circus Mirandus nutures magic. But magic is what is inside of people. For Micah, magic is in the knots he can tie that reflect the complexity of others. For Jenny, magic is in her friendship to Micah and ability to be open to new ideas. Magic for the Lightbender is to create fantastic illusions that give hope in the impossible. Magic is the part of a person that is too big to keep to himself or herself and must be given to others in order for a person to reach his or her potential. Magic is a metaphor for giving to others. Individual talents are not for personal gain but used to nuture and share with others. Like I said, I had a hard time pulling out one strong overall theme that the character development points back to. I think its magic. In the end, I feel more like Big Anthony who loses control of his pasta pot. Perhaps someone else can take my mishmash and make sense out of it. I'm done drudging through my thoughts and I'm hungry for spaghetti.

5 Smileys

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