The Tale of Despereaux
|Illustrator||Timothy B. Ering|
|Cover artist||Davis Right|
|August 25, 2003|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ8.D525 Tal 2003|
The Tale of Despereaux is a 2004 Newbery Medal winning fantasy book written by Kate DiCamillo. The main plot follows the adventures of a mouse named Despereaux Tilling, as he sets out on his quest to rescue a beautiful human princess from the rats. The novel is divided into four "books" and ends with a coda. Each "book" tells the story from a different character's or group of characters' perspective: Despereaux, Roscuro, Miggery Sow, and finally all of them combined.
In 2007 the U.S. National Education Association named the book as one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children", based on an online poll. Teachers also made it a summer reading project. In 2012 it was ranked number 51 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal – the second of three books by DiCamillo in the Top 100.
In 2008, the book was adapted as an animated film of the same name.
A noble mouse named Despereaux saves a princess.
Book I: A Mouse Is Born
Book one tells a story about a small, sickly mouse born in a castle whose name is Despereaux. He was born very small with large ears and his eyes open. Despereaux, unlike other mice, spends lots of time reading. He particularly enjoys a book about how a knight saves a princess and they live happily ever after. One day while reading he hears music. He follows the sound and is led to Princess Pea and King Philip. He sits at the king's feet to hear the music and falls in love with the princess and speaks to her, but the king led the mouse away because mice were related to rats, which are outlawed. Furlough, his brother, sees this and tells his father, Lester Tilling. Lester calls the mouse council; Furlough goes to collect Despereaux. The mouse council orders Despereaux to be sent to the dungeon because talking to a human is forbidden. In the dungeon he meets Gregory, the jailer, who saves him because Despereaux tells Gregory a story.
Book II: Chiaroscuro
Book II talks about a rat named Roscuro who, unlike the other rats, loved the light and was less vicious and cunning than the other rats. Finally, he decided enough was enough and went into the light. He climbs onto a chandelier, which is above a banquet. However, he falls into the queen's soup, and the queen, whose habit was to state the obvious, said, "There's a rat in my stew," before dying. The princess, now hostile to Roscuro, orders him to leave. Roscuro, angry, desires revenge against the princess. The king, upset, bans the use of spoons, soup, and bowls.
Book III: GOR! The Tale of Miggery Sow
Many years before Despereaux and Roscuro were born, a six-year-old girl named Miggery "Mig" Sow witnesses the death of her ill mother. Afterwards, Mig is sold to work by her father for some cigarettes, a hen, and a red tablecloth to a man Mig calls "Uncle". Uncle often clouts Mig's ears, leaving her partially deaf. Mig decides, upon seeing the princess pass by on a horse, that she wants to be a princess. Mig is then sent to work in the castle by the King's soldiers, who tell "Uncle" that no human being is allowed to own another. In the castle she gains weight and becomes lazy. Mig's main job is to go down to the dungeons to deliver Gregory the jailer his meal and, while there, she meets Roscuro and confesses to him that her greatest wish is to become a princess. Roscuro convinces Mig that if she helps him kidnap Princess Pea, he'll make her a servant girl so Miggery Sow can become a princess.
Book IV: Recalled to the Light
Despereaux escapes the dungeons on a tray of Gregory's that Mig brings back to the kitchen, where he hears her conversation with Roscuro. However, Despereaux is soon discovered by Mig and Cook. Cook, as a mouse-hating woman, orders Mig to kill Despereaux. She explains to Mig that her philosophy with mice is "kill 'em, even if they're already dead." When Despereaux is attempting to flee, Mig chops off his tail with a knife so that she can tell Cook that she missed the "meecy" and at least spare the "meecy"'s life. Despereaux spends the night in pain, sleeping on a sack of flour. He dreams of the castle's knights in shining armor, darkness, and light. However, when the knight removes the helmet, it doesn't reveal anyone. Despereaux begins to doubt "'happily ever after" and everything else that he has read and starts to weep. Meanwhile, Roscuro leads Mig to Princess Pea's room with a knife, and to kidnap Princess Pea and lead her to the dungeon.
The next morning, the castle is in a panic over the missing princess. Guards are sent to search the dungeon, only to find Gregory dead from starvation, being lost in the dark because Roscuro has chewed the rope which secures him to where he started. Despereaux is seen by the mouse council, who mistake him for a ghost because he is covered in flour from his night on the flour sack. Despereaux forgives his father, upon the latter's request, for sentencing him to the dungeon. Despereaux goes on to seek the King. Despereaux tells the King that he knows that Pea is in the dungeon, but the King refuses to believe him because Despereaux is related distantly to the rats.
Despereaux then goes to Hovis, a mouse who is, in secret, Despereaux's friend. Hovis gives him an entire spool of red thread and a sewing needle, as a sword, for his quest to the dungeons. Mig, meanwhile, learns that Roscuro tricked her into helping him kidnap Pea, and that she will never be a princess. Roscuro plans for Pea to remain locked in the dungeons, so that he can marvel over her brightly colored dress, but Despereaux arrives to save Pea and Mig chops Roscuro's tail off with the knife when he refuses to show them the way back. However, many rats arrive on the scene because they followed the smell of Despereaux, and the soup he recently ate. Despereaux threatens to kill Roscuro with the sewing needle. Roscuro begins crying. Pea offers that if Roscuro lets her go, she will treat him with some soup. Roscuro agrees. Botticelli and the other rats are so disgusted by the happiness of all that is happening that they all return into the darkness.
Despereaux and Pea become close friends. Roscuro is allowed access into the upstairs of the castle, and reunites Mig's father, who has become a prisoner in the dungeons, with his daughter. Mig's father promises that he loves Mig and will never leave her. But before this, however, Roscuro, Mig, the King, Pea, and Despereaux all get together for soup, as Despereaux's friend Hovis, his parents, and his brother watch in amazement behind the scenes.
Despereaux Tilling - The lonely character of the story, Despereaux was born as a castle-mouse and the only living mouse of his mother's latest litter. Named for the despairs and sadness of that time, Despereaux is an oddball among the mouse community from birth, as he is born with a small body, giant ears, and yellow eyes. He grows up to be very different from the other mice in this tale, choosing to read books instead of eating them, and he does not learn to scurry like any other mouse, because he becomes fascinated by a certain fairy tale about a beautiful princess and a knight in gloomy armor and learns from it ideas such as chivalry and courage, which his fearful elders dismiss as absurd. Through his large ears, Despereaux is able to listen to the music that the king plays for his daughter Princess Pea, and because of this, he is able to meet and fall in love with the human princess. This behavior, however, does not go undetected by the mice, and when he is sent to the duck of pain Despereaux must rely on his wits, bravery, and inner strength in order to save himself and the princess.
Princess Pea - The Princess of Dor and the fifth child of the king and queen, Pea is a sharp-eyed and beautiful girl whom Despereaux grows to honor and love upon their first meeting and she also comes to adore the mouse. Though kind-hearted and loved by the people of the castle, Pea is often overcome with loneliness after her mother's death. Because of her title as a princess, Pea is not used to being told what to do and sometimes takes slight offense when someone does not appreciate her for her title. However, when her past actions cause her kidnapping, Pea comes to use her forgiveness, good nature, and place as royalty for the good of the other characters.
Chiaroscuro (known as "Roscuro") - Chiaroscuro was born innocent among the evil rats of the castle dungeon some years before Despereaux. Because of a match-related reprimand from the jailer, Roscuro did not act like a rat, afraid of light. He comes to be fascinated by light and goodness, despite objections from fellow rats. However, his love of light is what causes him to make a grave mistake in the human world, resulting in his plot to take revenge on the humans by kidnapping the princess. In the end, it is through the actions of Despereaux and the princess, and Roscuro's own true love for light that he finds his self-redemption.
Miggery "Mig" Sow - Born in the countryside of Dor, Miggery Sow was an often a mistreated child, since nobody around her cared much for what she wanted. Her mother died when she was very young and soon after, her father sold her to a man whom she was forced to call "Uncle". Miggery Sow had to work for the man to whom she was sold for many years with little or no thanks. The man would also give her "clouts to the ear," rendering her to be almost completely deaf. Despite her harsh life, Miggery remained a well-meaning albeit simple-minded child. On her seventh birthday, an accidental meeting with the royal family causes Miggery to dream of becoming a princess. When she turns twelve, she is rescued from slavery by the soldiers of the castle, and she is given the position of serving-maid in the castle itself, befriending Princess Pea but becoming an unintentional pawn in Roscuro's plan.
Botticelli Remorso - Botticelli is a very old one-eared rat who lives in the dungeon and is suspicious of Roscuro and his ability. Botticelli believes that the meaning of life is suffering, specifically the suffering of others, and that Roscuro should take action and become a part of the rat community. He had taken a golden heart-shaped locket from a prisoner and hung it on a thin braided rope. Whenever he speaks, the locket moves. Botticelli is evil, and wishes for the princess to die. Later in the book, he leads Despereaux to the princess in order to kill him later, and intends on feeding the princess to his army of malicious rats.
Gregory the Jailer - When Despereaux tells Gregory a story he saves him from being killed by the rats. He wears a long rope that protects him from getting lost in the dungeon's darkness. Chiaroscuro chews up this rope and as a result Gregory becomes lost in the darkness and eventually dies.
Furlough Tilling - One of Despereaux's many older brothers. He betrays Despereaux and sends him to the dungeon. He had previously tried to teach Despereaux to be afraid of things, and hated him for his difference from other mice. He refuses to try to help his brother when he is banished. At the end, he is shown to be disgusted by Despereaux's well-being.
Lester Tilling - Lester Tilling is Despereaux Tilling and the rest of the Tillings' father. He sent his own son to the punishment of being exiled to the dungeon (though it was stated that he was weeping), where the rats would no doubt eat him. Later, after Despereaux escapes the dungeon on Gregory's tray, Despereaux pays a visit to the Mouse Council, which pronounced his sentence. Lester is forgiven for the perfidy he committed against his son.
Antoinette Tilling - Despereaux's French mother who arrived in Dor in a foreign diplomat's luggage. She cares too much about her appearance and is often picky. Although, like most of Despereaux's family, Antoinette is inconsiderate of Despereaux, she is sad when he is thrown into the dungeon and defends him occasionally in the book.
Cook - The head cook of the castle who hates mice, but is shown to having secretly be making soup despite the ban.
King Philip - The king of Dor and Princess Pea's father. He was heartbroken after the queen died eating a bowl of soup and banned soup, rats and instruments to make soup. He also did not believe in Despereaux when he tried to inform him of Princess Pea's kidnapping.
- Griswold, Jerry, "'The Tale of Despereaux': A World Without sad sad sad Soup", New York Times, 16 November 2003
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