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The Magic of Morgenstern’s “The Starless Sea”

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

When my best friend Leo Cornelson lent me their favorite book, I was a bit nervous. The sheer volume of it intimidated me. It was a beautiful hardback of 494 pages with a gold bee, key, and sword on the cover. To be honest, I hadn’t read something this long in quite a while. With the stress of college and my generally short attention span, I had fallen into a reading slump. Little did I know that Erin Morgenstern’s “The Starless Sea” would quickly pull me out of it. 

Initially, I began to read out of curiosity and determination, wanting to keep good on my promise to Leo to give it a chance and intrigued by the book’s premise. The further and further I got into the story, the more and more I fell in love with it. From an elaborately built fantasy world, to well-developed characters, and even poetic tales about the moon and stars and everything in between, there’s nothing this book doesn’t have. Morgenstern’s stunning writing reignited my passion for reading, and I’m truly grateful. 

“The Starless Sea” is set in a secret underground world — a place of pirates and key collectors, filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and sweet shores. Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a graduate student in Vermont, stumbles upon a book in his university library that guides him to this mystical place. He must follow and piece together stories in order to protect this special realm and discover its mysteries. By doing so, he also learns a lot about himself and his real purpose. 

Reading this novel felt a lot like performing a waltz. It clearly follows a plot with a set structure but diverges into other details with an overall focus on romance, magic, and drama. I was incredibly fascinated by Morgenstern’s strategic use of stories within stories. The book consists of many short stories, acting as a subplot alongside Zachary’s main plot. It was absolutely gorgeous to see the stories interweave and connect. While the stories seem to stand alone, they all come together in an overarching narrative by the end, and it’s satisfying. 

My favorite short story is “The Inn at the Edge of the World” from the Fortunes and Fables segment. It’s about an innkeeper who falls in love with a woman occupying one of the inn’s rooms for a few days. They share wine and bread, telling stories, sheltering themselves from the harsh, cold, winter winds outside. They take comfort in each other’s presence, and it’s very endearing. The end of the tale implies that the woman is the moon, which is lovely yet bittersweet. The last sentence of the passage is, “For no mortal can love the moon. Not for long.” This powerful statement put me into an introspective, thoughtful mood. What would it be like to love the moon on that level? I guess I’ll never know. 

The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor section has my heart. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, who are star-crossed lovers, Simon and Eleanor are time-crossed. They discover each other in a space outside of time and fall deeply in love. However, they exist in different times, so they’re stuck in a constant loop of losing and finding each other. Separating and reuniting. I was fully invested in their relationship. I desperately wanted them to find a way to be together but unfortunately, time’s influence was too strong. The vivid descriptions of the budding romance between them worked very well and had me rooting for them against all odds. 

“A reading major, that’s what he wants. No response papers, no exams, no analysis, just the reading.”

This book is meant for book lovers. Those obsessed with pretty prose and imaginative literature. People who understand and relate to how Zachary feels, wanting to get lost within pages upon pages of a novel and find their own fantasy world to escape into. As someone who falls under this category, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Starless Sea” and highly recommend it. It’s a mythical masterpiece I had the pleasure of reading.

Tanvi Sabharwal

CU Boulder '27

Tanvi Sabharwal is a contributing writer at the Her Campus Chapter at the University of Colorado Boulder. As a contributing writer, she pitches and writes two articles per month. Outside of Her Campus, Tanvi is a freshman at CU Boulder. She is majoring in Journalism and considering a minor in Film. She's hoping to build up her writing career since she's always been fond of English classes and telling stories. She's interested in all kinds of writing, from creative to academic. In her personal life, Tanvi enjoys reading, hanging out with friends, and watching TV shows/movies. Her favorite book is If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio and her comfort show is The Good Place. She also likes going to concerts, thrift shopping, and baking. She adores live music and generally going to fun places "for the plot". Tanvi is excited to grow as a writer and explore Boulder more!