A Newberry Award winning fantasy book for children written by Kate DiCamillo. The book itself is split into four separate stories: "A Mouse Is Born," "Chiaroscuro," "Gor! The Tale of Miggery Sow," and "Recalled to the Light." The first three introduce the three threads of the plot and then they are all brought together in the final story.
A Mouse Is Born: The story's protagonist is Despereaux, the only survivor of his litter. He was born with open eyes, huge ears, and no fear. When his father takes him to the library to eat books, he ends up reading a fairy tale about a knight and princess, instead.
Chiaroscuro: A rat born innocent among the evil rats of the dungeon. An encounter with a jailer led to his whiskers being singed off. This event led to his desire for light and goodness, eventually leading him to leave the dungeons and explore the world above. Unfortunately, after some misunderstandings he's effectively banished back to the dungeon and for this he craves revenge.
Gor! The Tale of Miggery Sow: Mig was sold into slavery at a young age for some cigarettes, a hen, and a red tablecloth. The man she called "uncle" beat her about the ears until she was nearly deaf. A chance encounter with Princess Pea led to her desire to become a princess.
Recalled to the Light: Here things come to a head, as Chiaroscuro manipulates the mentally unstable Mig into doing his bidding and Despereaux is able to come into his own as the hero of his very own fairy tale.
The books were adapted to a CG animated film in 2008, which Disneyfied many of the darker elements while still keeping much of the original fairy tale feel of the book.
Beauty Equals Goodness: Adorable Despereaux and Princess Pea are good, plain but not hideous Mig and Chiaroscuro are subject to evil urges (but are eventually redeemed), and the ugly rats are Always Chaotic Evil.
Bilingual Bonus / Parental Bonus: Chiaroscuro is style of painting and photography involving extreme contrast between light and dark. It's a combination of the Italian words for "light" (lit. clear) and "dark" (fig. obscured).
Blind Seer: After Despereaux is exiled for the crime of consorting with humans, he meets the blind mouse Hovil, whose eyes are pearly white. Hovil is charged, among other tasks, with overseeing the gateway into the darkened sewers beneath the dungeon. Early on, he is the only mouse who seems sympathetic to Despereaux's curiosity and fearlessness. It appears to the viewer that Hovis lowers criminals into the sewers using a thread whose color corresponds to their crime. For Despereaux, convicted of courage, the thread is red.
Never Bare Headed: Despereaux keeps his red hat on most of the time, although he does take it off when bowing in front of Pea.
Nightmare Fetishist: Despereaux drew pictures of cats in his notebook, much to his teacher's (and parents') horror.
Opening Shout-Out: Early on in the film, the meager Despereaux becomes enchanted with certain, often-recurred Renaissance notions of heroism: honor, courage, chivalry, and truth. When Despereaux encounters Hovis, the older mouse cryptically references these precise words to reassure the frightened mouse.
Hovis: Courage, right?
Despereaux: And truth. And honor.
Hovis: Good. But especially courage.
Despereaux: I'm ready.
Prophet Eyes: Hovis the thread-master, but only in the film.
Suicidal Gotcha: For the audience. The subversion of the Happily Ever After occurs while Despereaux is hanging from a window and apparently falls to his death. They later reveal him gliding away on his huge ears to his next adventure.