Rating: PG (some scary situations)
Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult
Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. And what happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.
If you've read any of my books or possibly my author blog, you may have noticed that I have a slight obsession with dungeon scenes. Reader, I can inform you that it comes entirely from The Tale of Despereaux. This tale of a mouse who does not act like a mouse, who is in love with the princess. This tale of a light-coveting dungeon rat whose heart broke and mended in a crooked way. This tale of a deaf, slow-witted girl whose father sold her for a hen, a blood-red table cloth and a handful of cigarettes, who only wants to be a princess. A tale of a kingdom where soup has been outlawed because the queen died when a rat fell into her bowl. A tale of perfidy and forgiveness, a tale of wrongs and revenge, a tale of darkness and light. Reader, let me tell you my story.
I do not remember when I first received this book, nor who gave it to me, but I do know that it quickly became one of my favorites, and a story which influences me to this day. From the moment of Despereaux's birth to the end of his quest, this is a compelling story about those who are different, those in darkness who struggle to get to the light. About love and forgiveness. It is a story I read many times, for when I could not sleep, I would take this book off the shelf to read, because I loved it so, and because it was scarier in the middle of the night.
Despereaux, Roscuro, Miggery Sow, Princess Pea, they remain with me. I flipped through the book as a refresher, since it has been many years since I read this book, but there they were, just as they had been. I cannot exactly say they are old friends, for one would certainly not wish to be friends with the rat Roscuro, bent on revenge on the princess, and Mig is, well, Mig, but I know them. I know Roscuro's longing after the light. I know Mig's cauliflower ears and desperate desire to be a princess. I know Princess Pea's hatred of Roscuro, the rat who caused her mother's death. I know Gregory, the jailer, living life in the pitch black maze of a dungeon, asking a little mouse to tell him a story because stories are light. And I know Despereaux, the romantic hero, the tiny mouse with the big ears, the mouse who loved music and stories, the mouse who fell in love with the princess, the mouse whose own family betrayed him and sent him to the dungeon, to the rats.
This book is so expertly written, Reader. In this book, DiCamillo uses a beautiful, old-fashioned style to bring the story to life. She tells the story as a mouse whispering it in your ear, to bring some light into the darkness. It is a children's book written for children, but yet it is not dumbed down in the slightest. The vocabulary is rich. The descriptions are vivid.
The dungeons are dark and scary. It is a maze down there. Only the rats and Gregory can find their way, and Gregory only because of the rope tied around his ankle. It is dark. It is dirty. It smells horribly. If one becomes lost down there, they are lost forever. It is horrid, but yes, it sparked my love of dungeon scenes.
This book, Reader, I assure you, is well worth your time. Do not judge this book by its movie, for the movie does not come anywhere close to doing it justice. Nothing can replace the brilliance of the writing. Nothing can convey the complexity and depth and light the way Kate DiCamillo did in the original book. Nothing can quite display the forgiveness.
" 'Stories are light,' Gregory the jailer told Despereaux."Reader, I hope you have found some light here."