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Literature / The Tale of Despereaux

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Princess Pea holding Despereaux in the movie.

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.

  1. 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 (brother in the movie) takes him to the library to eat books, he ends up reading a fairy tale about a knight and princess, instead.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 by Framestore, which Disneyfied many of the darker elements while still keeping much of the original fairy tale feel of the book.

Tropes for both the book and the film:

  • Disproportionate Retribution: The King forbids eating soup and rats in Dor after the Queen dies.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: To the mice, as, besides the "banning the rats" thing, they are seen as scary and something that is best avoided because humans set out traps and send cats after them.
  • Mouse World: The story has one for mice, who live in hiding in the main castle, and one for rats, who live in the lightless dungeon. They all have to stay hidden because, after the Queen died of a heart attack after a rat fell in her soup, the king essentially declared war on the rats, and on the mice by association, forcing them all into hiding.
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  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Despereaux to the other mice, as, despite, the King outlawing the rats (and mice, by extension), interacts with the humans and even partakes in some of the stuff they do. Likewise, we have Roscuro who was born in the darkness but was so attracted to light, unfortunately, this leads to him falling in the Queen's soup. In the film, Roscuro's pretty much the same, as he's the only rat that's not evil.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Despereaux, if Timothy Basil Ering's illustrations are anything to go by. This is expanded upon in the film.
  • Three-Month-Old Newborn: Despereaux, as, unlike the other mice, he was born with his eyes open (which was lampshaded in the book). In the film, he was born with his eyes open and furred.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Invoked, as what lead to the rats being banned was when Roscuro fell into the soup and the Queen was startled, falling backwards into her chair and hitting her head on the floor, dying thereafter. On the other hand, from we've seen from the dungeon, the rats are rather unpleasant themselves, however, as Roscuro shows, they do have the capacity to be good, they just act awful.

Tropes found in the book:

  • Abusive Parents: A recurring theme. All the parents in the besides Pea's are awful to their kids.
    • Miggery's dad sold her for cheap items and her mom tells her that nobody cares what she wants right before her death. Though, Mig's mother seems to be played with case, as if Miggery calling out for mother at the end is an indication, we can presume that she was loving.
    • Despereaux's dad actually helps him go to the dungeon and, unlike his mother, doesn't protest the idea because the Council commanded that he go.
    • Chiaroscuro's parents wanted to sell him for money, on top of being neglectful.
  • Animated Armor: Despereaux dreams of this.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "What do you want, Miggery Sow?" Because of this, Mig realizes she doesn't want to be a princess, she just wants her mom.
  • Badass Bookworm: Despereaux, by mouse standards, as he's not much afraid of anything and he's certainly more literate than the other mice (as he does read the books, not nibble on them).
  • 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 (except for Chiaroscuro).
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Chiaroscuro is a 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).
    • Despereaux's mother, Antoinette, specifically picked his name because it meant "despair"!
  • The Corrupter: Botticelli, who encourages Roscuro's more evil and vengeful side and tells him that causing others pain is the meaning of life.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Two:
    • Mig, when she realizes the rats were tricking her, goes against them more when the Princess extends a hand of kindness.
    • Roscuro when he accepts Desperaux's offer of soup.
  • Karma Houdini: Botticelli, for all he did (like trying to get the Princess Pea killed), doesn't get any punishment, none that we see, anyway
  • Last-Second Chance: Despereaux realizes that killing Roscuro wouldn't achieve anything and offers him some soup. In a twist, Roscuro accepts, invoking a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Princess Classic: Princess Pea, who's lovely, kind, and is one the good characters of the book.
  • Stealth Pun: Considering the thematic use of light and darkness, it's rather fitting the D'or is French for "golden".

Tropes found only in the film:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the book, the rats are described to be ugly, and Roscuro's ugly appearance is actually the cause of the Queen's heart attack but in the movie, the rats don't look particularly ugly. Desperaux also looks less like a real mouse and more like an infant in the movie.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Roscuro in the book was a common castle rat who was already being trained to steal and trick to stay true to his species' reputation, not the domesticated, bumbling companion of a human sailor.
  • Adapted Out: In the novel, Despereaux was mentioned to have a sister, Merlot, but she doesn’t make an appearance in the film.
  • 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.
    Despereaux: Red?
    Hovil: Ah, so they tell me. You're the brave one?
    Despereaux: I guess.
    Hovil: Wear it proudly. There's no shame.
  • Bratty Food Demand: The leader of the boorish dungeon rats demonstrates his authority to Roscuro by showing him a large group of rats surrounding a large pile of food and chanting, "Eat! Eat!" but not daring to eat until the leader has rung the gong.
  • Composite Character: Gregory is a composite of the jailer from the book and Mig's father
  • Death by Adaptation: Botticelli, as he gets eaten by a cat.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: See Nightmare Fetishist, below.
  • Expy: Botticelli looks like the rat version of Anton Ego.
  • Faceless Masses: Averted. In the scene when the king finally decides to try soup again, there is a MAN with a BEARD who has BOOBS in the crowd!
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The Queen. It's unclear if she suffered a fatal heart attack, or drowned in her soup after fainting and faceplanting in it, but neither option is pleasant.
  • Fisher King: The kingdom goes grey and overcast when the King goes into mourning.
  • Fully Dressed Cartoon Animal: Despereaux, Roscuro and other mouse and rat characters, unlike their book counterparts, who are drawn nude.
  • Good Is Bad And Bad Is Good: Despereaux is not frightened by things that are intended to scare him (such as carving knives) and draws a picture of a cat in his book, nicknaming it “Fluffy.” Such courage and appreciation for cute animals would be considered normal behaviors among humans, but his parents and teachers are all shocked and horrified about this.
  • Happily Ever After: Subverted. The narrator remarks that this is normally where everyone lives happily ever after in the epilogue, but "what fun is that?"
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Roscuro starts off as a good guy and a Token Good Teammate for the rats, has a Face–Heel Turn after Pea rejects his apology, and eventually settles on the Face side for good when he stops the rats from eating Pea and helps Despereaux defeat Botticeli.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The jailer regrets being so mean to Mig when he realizes she’s his daughter.
  • 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.
  • Serious Business: Soup. To the point the Narrator claims the people love Soup Day more than Christmas.
  • Shout-Out: Boldo is a reference to Giuseppe Arcimboldo, famous for painting detailed portraits of human heads comprised of other things (fruit and vegetables, flowers, animals).
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Gregory the Jailer, as the rats chewed through his rope.
  • 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.
  • Token Good Teammate: Roscuro is one for the rats until his (temporary) Face–Heel Turn.
  • Unreliable Voiceover.
    Narrator: First of all, rats hate the light. They spend their lives in the darkness. (A rat is shown looking right at the sun.)
    Narrator: They're also terrified of people, which is why they slink and cower all the time. (The rat walks right up to a human.)
    Narrator: And as far as telling the truth as concerned, well, that is impossible, because as everyone knows, a rat can't talk. (The rat begins speaking to the human.)

Alternative Title(s): The Tale Of Despereaux


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