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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 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 found in the book:

  • Abusive Parents: A recurring theme. All the parents in the book besides Pea's are awful to their kids. Miggery's dad sold her for cheap items, Miggery's mom tells her that nobody cares what she wants right before her death, Despereaux's mom doesn't care about her son being sent to the horrible dungeon, Despereaux's dad actually helps him go to the dungeon, and Chiaroscuro's parents wanted to sell him for money.
  • 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.
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  • Badass Bookworm: Despereaux
  • 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 / Parental 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).
  • The Corrupter: Botticelli, who encourages Roscuro's more evil and vengeful side and tells him that causing others pain is the meaning of life.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The king forbids eating soup in Dor after the queen dies.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Roscuro and Mig.
  • Karma Houdini: Botticelli.
  • 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.
  • Mouse World
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Despereaux to the other mice.
  • Princess Classic: Princess Pea.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Despereaux, if Timothy Basil Ering's illustrations are anything to go by.
  • Stealth Pun: Considering the thematic use of light and darkness, it's rather fitting the d'or is French for "golden".
  • You Dirty Rat!

Tropes found only in the film:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Composite Character: Gregory is a composite of the jailer from the book and Mig's father
  • Good Is Bad And Bad Is Good: Despereaux is not frightened by things that are intended to scare him (like carving knives) and draws a picture of a cat in his notebook, naming it "Fluffy". Such courage and appreciation for cute animals would be considered normal behaviour among humans, but his parents and teachers are shocked and horrified by all this.
  • Death by Adaptation: Botticelli
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The jailer regrets being so mean to Mig when he realises she's his daughter.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: See Nightmare Fetishist, below.
  • Evil Albino: Botticelli.
  • 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! Nightmare Fuel!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu
  • 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.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Despereaux.
  • 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
  • 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