Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Christoph Waltz

Five Fun Novels About the Circus


The announcement that the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus will be closing on May 21 marks the end of an era. The company began nearly a hundred years ago when the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows merged with Barnum & Bailey’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Both circuses had been around much longer and indeed this closure comes after 146 years. In that time the three-ring Big Top has become one of the most instantly recognizable and iconic images in our culture conjuring up images of popcorn, cotton candy, sequined aerialists, elephants and clowns. Indeed, circuses have inspired a number of literary works over the years as well.

Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With the Circus (1881) By James Otis Kaler. First published as a serial in Harper’s Magazine before being published as a children’s novel, in the vein of instructing children in moral lessons. Toby runs away from an foster home to join the circus only to learn that the reality isn’t nearly as light-hearted as the shows themselves. His employer is a harsh taskmaster and his truest friend is Mr. Stubbs the chimpanzee. It was considered a classic of children’s literature for many generations and inspired a Disney film in 1960. It was Kaler’s first book and his most well-known and successful.

Spangle (1987) By Gary Jennings After surrendering at Appomatoxx at the end of the Civil War, two former Confederate soldiers join a traveling circus that eventually leaves for Europe. The novel spans six years (from the end of the Civil War to the Franco-Prussian conflict.) Along the way the novel examines both the social structures of the Reconstruction South and of Europe at a time when the monarchy is beginning to crumble. Jennings was widely praised for both his wealth of historical detail and his ability to bring exotic settings to life.

Cirque du Freak (2000) by Darren Shan. Book one of The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan. Darren and his best friend Steve ‘Leopard’ Leonard visit an illegal freak show where they are enthralled by the mysterious Mr. Crepsley and his giant spider Madam Octa.  But Darren recognizes Mr. Crepsley as a infamous vampire and this starts a chain of events with enormous consequences for both boys.  The novel was also adapted into a feature film starring John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe, and Willem Defoe released in 2009.

Water for Elephants (2006) by Sara Gruen. Jacob Jankowski aged 93 is living in a nursing home and begins to reminiscence about his youth.  Seventy years before after learning of his parent’s tragic deaths, Jacob leaves Cornell University where he’s been studying veterinary medicine and joins up with a traveling circus; The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Jacob soon becomes deeply entangled with the equestrian director August, his beautiful wife Marlena, and Rosie the elephant. The novel was a huge success that stayed on the New York Times Best Seller List for 12 weeks, was nominated for an Alex Award and a Quill Award, won the BookBrowse award for most popular book and was adapted into a feature film starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz.

The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern. This fantastical fairy tale is set near Victorian Era London. Le Cirque des Reves, the Circus of Dreams with black and white tents and costumes, is open only from sunset to sunrise and features such attractions as ice gardens, acrobats soaring without nets, and a Japanese contortionist. It also happens to be employing two bona fide magicians who disguise their actual magic as fabulous illusions and a fortune teller who’s quite genuine as well. Not to mention a whole host of other dynamic figures as well. The novel was a huge splash spending seven weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and winning an Alex Award from the American Library Association. Morgenstern was compared to such authors as J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman.

Top Bigstock photo: Cars from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus train which carries elephants and other large animals.

The Legend of Tarzan – Trading in a Loincloth for Newfound Heroism


There have been a lot of films about Tarzan and his adventures in the jungle, dating all the way back to the 1910s. We’ve always been fascinated with stories of humans in a simpler, more instinctual setting (see The Jungle Book as an example), and our relationship to gorillas, apes and other animals works as a study of the human psyche and adaptability. The Legend of Tarzan is unfortunately less about any of the aforementioned and more about the thrill, minus any of the depth. It’s not as bad as one would think, but it is disappointing.


In 1884, King Leopold of Belgium has taken over the Congo, plundering the African country for its vast riches. Dr. Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) suspects that the king, now overextended and in debt, is using slave workers to cut his costs. Enter typical bad guy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), sent on a mission by the king to strike an accord with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) that will allow for the mining of diamonds. There’s just one thing Rom has to do before Mbonga agrees: bring back to the Congo the chief’s mortal enemy, Tarzan.


Easier said than done. Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), has reclaimed his heritage and birth name – John Clayton III – and for the past eight years has been living a civilized life in England with his wife, Jane, (Margot Robbie).  While John doesn’t fall for Rom’s trap to lure him back, Dr. Williams puts forth a more convincing argument – to investigate what’s happening with King Leopold and his unjust mining expeditions. And so ensues the adventure that will find Tarzan returning to his original home to seek justice.


The film tries to manage so much that it mishandles most of the story lines, culminating in underdeveloped plots and characters. Flashing back to Tarzan’s time with the gorillas doesn’t have much effect. Director David Yates attempts to bring Tarzan into the 21st century, setting him up to be a hero who confronts real-world events. The story becomes less about Tarzan and his struggles to find a place in society after his upbringing in the jungle, which would have been far more interesting to watch. Instead, it becomes the usual hero/villain story and one that’s underwhelming at best.


Christoph Waltz’s character is frankly a bit on the dull side. Waltz can sell anything, but over time his characters, all of which are villainous to some capacity, have begun to blend together. The film makes a show of painting him as a dangerous man, but in order to retain a PG-13 rating, he’s never shown to be lethal. (Surely his obsession with Jane could have crossed into more disturbing territory.)

Although I love Samuel L. Jackson on any given day, his role here seems misplaced, and for a while, it’s as if Yates wanted to turn The Legend of Tarzan into a duo adventure, with Jackson working as comic relief and Skarsgård being the serious one who doesn’t seem as into the partnership. Robbie spends three-fourths of the movie being a damsel in distress. The film would have fared better if it had allowed Robbie and Skarsgård to appropriately partner up for the jungle adventure.

The adventure aspect of the film is fun, with the jungle action sequences full of exhilarating moments. The darker tone to the film is meant to portray the seriousness of the plot, asking us to take the film more seriously than is called for. Ultimately, The Legend of Tarzan is adventurous and has some moments of intensity, but it simply tries to be too much at once. Tarzan as a savior doesn’t really work in the way that Yates probably envisioned and the combination of villainous politics and jungle adventure strikes a strange chord. In trying to make Tarzan more of a hero, it took away from all of the more humanistic struggles the film could have explored instead.

The Legend of Tarzan opens nationwide July 1, 2016.