This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse. The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.
"This is 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. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out."
This is a beautiful, simple fable, full of all the best things: forgiveness, light, love and soup, as Booklist puts it. I remembered enjoying it when I read it four or five years ago, but this time around, I loved it. I can see why some would find its style pretentious, as if the author was trying to hard to be beautiful and simple. But I didn't. The way that the author speaks directly to the reader, asking them questions, is brilliant, and especially good for the younger readers that this book is aimed at. But really, anyone could read the book and enjoy it. A lot of middle grade novels now feel simplistic and forced to me. The Tale of Despereaux, along with only a few others like Walk Two Moons, When You Reach Me, and Savvy, doesn't. Maybe that's the point of the Newbery award (four of those books have won it), to select middle grade books that people of all ages can enjoy.
Beautiful or gorgeous or something to that effect and simple are really the two best words to describe the book's story, message, and writing. But the simplicity isn't overdone; to me it didn't seem forced, although I'm sure plenty of other people think differently. After all, of my Goodreads friends who've read it, two out of five rated it two stars. The other three rated it five stars. I guess it's one of those books that you absolutely love or one where you just don't get why everyone raves about it. I belong to the former category, although only upon rereading it.
There are so many amazing parts of the story that just come together perfectly, like a perfect blend of ingredients into a soup. There are many seemingly unrelated plot-lines, but it never gets confusing and it fits together realistically. I loved how the first part ended, with the small mouse who has discovered love telling a story to the jailer who hasn't seen the light of day for years so that his life can be saved. It was a beautiful image. And then the story moved on to a rat who was not always evil but became so.
This is an amazing story with an unlikely hero, a small mouse with too big ears who sees and hears more than the other mice. He hears music, and reader, he can read. And he can love. He wants more from life than the fairly joyless existence that the other mice lead.
I love fairy tales and fables, and this is a perfect one. It has all the good things mentioned above, as well as a princess, a castle, a servant girl, and people yearning for something more. It kind of reminded me of The Castle Corona a bit, although it was much better.
The copy I have is also beautifully designed, with the gold Newbery medal on the cover and the rough-cut pages that feel so nice to the touch. See, this is what one loses with e-books; the texture and the joy of it. I can't imagine enjoying The Tale of Despereaux nearly as much on a Kindle.
I'll close with some quotes: “There is nothing sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name.”
“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
“Love, as we have already discussed, is a powerful, wonderful, ridiculous thing, capable of moving mountains. And spools of thread.”
“There are those hearts, reader, that never mend again once they are broken. Or if they do mend, they heal themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sewn together by a careless craftsman. Such was the fate of Chiaroscuro. His heart was broken. Picking up the spoon and placing it on his head, speaking of revenge, these things helped him to put his heart together again. But it was, alas, put together wrong.”
“Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”
"Despereaux marveled at his own bravery. He admired his own defiance. And then, reader, he fainted.”