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Host a Masquerade Ball Inspired by "The Starless Sea" by Erin Morgenstern

The appeal of any masquerade party is essentially the thrill of becoming someone else ... trying on a new persona and immersing yourself in a dark and enigmatic evening of secrets and discoveries. The masquerade suggests an aura of mystery, with a slight undercurrent of danger. Who might be hiding behind those masks? Anything can happen in a place where no one is bound by their conventional identity.

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A masquerade party can be themed in a variety of different ways, from a spooky Halloween affair to a historic Venetian soiree, but today we’re going to create an immersive literary masquerade based on the party described in Erin Morgenstern’s intricate and fascinating novel, The Starless Sea.

Today let's talk about the four major elements you’ll need to create this immersive event: Decor, Activities, Food and Costumes.


In the story, the main character (Zachary) attends a mysterious literary-themed masquerade ball in an elegant, historic hotel. The dress code is formal and most guests are dressed as a literary character or author. The space is dark but loud as there are a lot of guests all talking over dance music. The evening’s activities sort of swirl around Zachary, because he’s trying to solve a mystery, but he doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for, and he doesn’t know anyone else there, so “dark and drifting” is your inspiration as you set up your decor.

Many immersive events require specific decorative items to set the stage so guests know where they are, like Hogwarts banners or Eiffel towers and berets. In the case of this party however, you’re getting off easy since the most evocative element will be darkness. Do a dry run for your setup at night, and try turning off all your electric lights and using only battery operated candles for light. This will either work perfectly or be a complete disaster, so you want to know this ahead of time. Maybe you need to get more candles, or you might need to add some small table lamps, or dim some overhead lights. The atmosphere you’re going for is curiously mysterious, not creepily petrifying. Add some mysterious music and you’re on your way.