I was obsessed with playing imagination games as a child. My parents joke of the oft-repeated household phrase "Ok, let's pretend Mom and Dad are dead". My sister and I love our parents effusively. But when you think about it, many of the great children's tales begin with dead or otherwise unavailable parents: The Boxcar Children, The Little Princess, about half of The Babysitter's Club, nearly every Disney movie, A Wrinkle In Time, almost anything written by Roald Dahl... And on and on. In my opinion, the callous disregard afforded to parents by children's authors allows the child protagonists to grow in fundamental and heroics ways, unhampered by such mundane duties as homework and bedtime.
Much of my childhood was happily spent dressed in bedsheets- whether I was a beautiful, extravagantly adorned princess or Amy March, on my way to help Marmie feed the Hummels (a particular benefit of imagination games being the ability to rewrite tragic plot points). To this day, the most acrimonious fight my best friend and I have encountered centered on an imagination game. We were in fourth grade, and after having seen "The Miracle Worker" I was experiencing an obsessive period now referred to as my "Helen Keller stage". I had strong-armed Anna into playing "Blind Girls" (which, as disrespectful as that sounds, was a young child's homage to the amazing feats of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan). Being the sort of child who didn't want to spend an entire afternoon walking around the basement with her eyes closed, Anna decided to "magically" get her sight back. I bitterly rebelled. You can't just "magically" get your sight back. That's not how it works. We didn't speak for days.
Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" evokes the intense fantastical feelings I experienced while playing imagination games as a child- and not just because nearly everyone's mom and dad are dead or otherwise unavailable. The protagonists are creative and intelligent. The circus is an atmosphere in which any child or childlike kindred spirit would be enthralled. As with my favorite inspired reveries, potentially doomed love is an important plot point. Don't be mistaken: elements of the tale are deliciously dark and insidious. The story has breathtaking depth as well as whimsy.
My last thought is this: after reading "The Night Circus", do not refrain from constructing elaborate circus tents using pillows and blankets in your living room. We all need a little magic now and then.