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The Tale of Despereaux
The Tale of Despereaux.jpg
First edition
Author Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator Timothy B. Ering
Cover artist Davis Right
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fantasy novel
Publisher Candlewick Press
Publication date
August 25, 2003
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 276
ISBN 0-7636-1722-9
OCLC 50693525
LC Class PZ8.D525 Tal 2003

The Tale of Despereaux is a 2003 children's fantasy book written by Kate DiCamillo. The main plot follows the adventures of a mouse named Despereaux Tilling, as he sets out on his quest to rescue a beautiful human princess from the rats. The book won the 2004 Newbery Medal award.


In 2007 the U.S. National Education Association listed the book as one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children", based on an online poll. Teachers also made it a summer reading project. In 2012 it was ranked number 51 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal – the second of three books by DiCamillo in the Top 100.


A noble mouse named Despereaux saves a princess named Princess Pea.

Book I: A Mouse Is Born

Book I tells a story about a small, sickly mouse named Despereaux who was born in a castle with his eyes open. Despereaux, unlike other mice, spends much time reading and particularly enjoys a book about how a knight saves a princess and they live happily ever after. One day while reading, he hears music that sounds like honey. He follows the sound and leads him to Princess Pea and King Philip. He sits at the king's feet to hear the music and falls in love with the princess and speaks to her, but the king leads the mouse away because mice are related to the outlawed rats. Furlough, Despereaux's brother, sees this and tells his father, Lester Tilling. Lester calls the mouse council; Furlough goes to collect Despereaux. The mouse council orders Despereaux to be sent to the dungeon because talking to a human is forbidden. When he goes into the dungeon, he meets Gregory, the jailer, who saves him because Despereaux tells him a story in which he says that its light and light is precious in the dark.

Book II: Chiaroscuro

Book II centers around a rat named Roscuro who loved the light and was less vicious and cunning than the other rats. He decided to go into the light. He climbed onto a chandelier, above a banquet. However, he fell into the queen's soup, and the queen, whose habit was to state the obvious, said, "There's a rat in my soup," before dying. The princess, now hostile to Roscuro, ordered him to leave. Roscuro, angry, desired revenge against the princess. The king, upset, banned the use of spoons, soup, bowls, and rats.

Book III: The Tale of Miggery Sow

Many years before Despereaux and Roscuro were born, a six-year-old girl named Miggery "Mig" Sow witnesses the death of her ill mother. Afterward, Mig is sold to work by her father for some cigarettes, a hen, and a red tablecloth to a man Mig calls "Uncle". Uncle often clouts Mig's ears, leaving her partially deaf. Mig decides, upon seeing the princess pass by on a horse, that she wants to be a princess. Mig is then sent to work in the castle by the King's soldiers, who tell "Uncle" that no human being is allowed to own another. In the castle, she gains a lot of weight. Only her head stayed small. Mig's main job is to go down to the dungeons to deliver Gregory the jailer his meal and, while there, she meets Roscuro and confesses to him that her greatest wish is to become a princess. Roscuro convinces Mig that if she helps him kidnap Princess Pea, he'll make her a servant girl so Miggery Sow can become a princess.

Book IV: Recalled to the Light

Despereaux escapes the dungeons on a tray of Gregory's that Mig brings back to the kitchen, where he hears her conversation with Roscuro. However, Despereaux is soon discovered by Mig and Cook. Cook, as a mouse-hating woman, orders Mig to kill Despereaux. She explains to Mig that her philosophy with mice is "kill 'em, even if they're already dead." When Despereaux is attempting to flee, Mig chops off his tail with a knife so that she can tell Cook that she got a part of the "meecy". Despereaux spends the night in pain, sleeping on a sack of flour. He dreams of the castle's knights in shining armor, darkness, and light. However, when the knight removes the helmet, the shining armor is empty. Despereaux begins to doubt "happily ever after" and everything he has read and starts to weep. Meanwhile, Roscuro leads Mig to Princess Pea's room with a knife in one hand and a candle in the other to lead Princess Pea to the dungeon.

The next morning, the castle is in a panic over the missing princess. Guards are sent to search the dungeon, only to find Gregory dead from terror. He was lost in the dark mazes because Roscuro has chewed the rope which secures him to the dungeon entrance. Despereaux is seen by the mouse council, who mistook him for a ghost because he is covered in flour from sleeping on the flour sack. Despereaux forgives his father, upon the father's request, for sentencing him to the dungeon, before mocking the rest of the council. Despereaux goes on to see the King. Despereaux tells the King that he knows that Pea is in the dungeon, but the King refuses to believe him because Despereaux is related distantly to the rats.

Despereaux then goes to Hovis, the thread master. Hovis gives him an entire spool of red thread and a sewing needle to serve as a sword for his quest to the dungeons. On his way, he runs into Cook, who has grown so anxious from Pea's disappearance she has resorted to breaking the law and making soup. Instead of attacking Despereaux, she offers him some soup before seeing him off. Mig, meanwhile, learns that Roscuro tricked her into helping him kidnap Pea and that she will never be a princess. Roscuro plans for Pea to remain locked in the dungeons so that he can marvel over her brightly colored dress, but Despereaux arrives to save Pea, and Mig chops Roscuro's tail off with the knife when he refuses to show them the way back. However, many rats arrive on the scene because they followed the smell of Despereaux, and the soup he recently ate. Despereaux threatens to kill Roscuro with the sewing needle. Roscuro, catching a whiff of the soup left on Despereaux's whiskers, realizes he does not truly want to hurt anyone and begins crying. Pea offers that if Roscuro lets her go, she will treat him with some soup. Roscuro agrees. Botticelli and the other rats are so disgusted by the happiness of all that is happening that they return to the darkness.

Despereaux and Pea become close friends. Because even in this strange world, a mouse and princess can not marry. Roscuro is allowed access into the upstairs of the castle, and reunites Mig's father, a prisoner in the dungeons, with his daughter. Mig's father promises that he loves Mig and will never leave her. But before this, however, Roscuro, Mig, the King, Pea, and Despereaux all get together for soup, as Despereaux's friend Hovis, his parents, and his brother watch in amazement behind the scenes.


Despereaux Tilling - The lonely character of the story, Despereaux was born as a castle mouse and the only living mouse of his mother's latest litter. Named for the despairs and sadness of that time, Despereaux is an oddball among the mouse community from birth, as he is born with a small body, giant ears, and open eyes. He grows up to be very different from the other mice, choosing to read books instead of eating them, and not learning to scurry like other mice. He becomes fascinated by a fairy tale about a beautiful princess and an armored knight and learns from ideas like chivalry and courage from it, which his fearful elders dismiss as absurd. Through his large ears, Despereaux is able to listen to the music that the king plays for his daughter Princess Pea, and because of this, he is able to meet and fall in love with the human princess. This behaviour, however, does not go undetected by the mice, and when he is sent to the dungeon Despereaux must rely on his wits, bravery, and inner strength in order to save himself and the princess.

Princess Pea - The Princess of Dor and the fifth child of the king and queen, Pea is a sharp-eyed and beautiful girl whom Despereaux grows to honour and love upon their first meeting and she also comes to adore the mouse. Though kind-hearted and loved by the people of the castle, Pea is often overcome with loneliness after her mother's death. Because of her title as a princess, Pea is not used to being told what to do and sometimes takes slight offense when someone does not appreciate her for her title. However, when her past actions cause her kidnapping, Pea comes to use her forgiveness, good nature, and place as royalty for the good of the other characters.

Chiaroscuro (known as "Roscuro") - Chiaroscuro was born innocent among the evil rats of the castle dungeon some years before Despereaux. Because of a match-related reprimand from the jailer, Roscuro did not act like a rat, afraid of the light. He comes to be fascinated by light and goodness, despite objections from fellow rats. However, his love of light causes the death of the queen, resulting in his plot to take revenge on the humans by kidnapping Princess Pea. In the end, it is through the actions of Despereaux and the princess and Roscuro's own true love for light that he finds his self-redemption.

Miggery "Mig" Sow - Born in the countryside of Dor, Miggery Sow was an often a mistreated child, since nobody around her cared much for what she wanted. Her mother died when she was very young and soon after, her father sold her to a man whom she was forced to call "Uncle". Miggery Sow had to work for the man to whom she was sold for many years with little or no thanks. The man would also give her "clouts to the ear," rendering her almost completely deaf. Despite her harsh life, Miggery remained a well-meaning albeit simple-minded child. On her seventh birthday, an accidental meeting with the royal family causes Miggery to dream of becoming a princess. When she turns twelve, she is rescued from slavery by the soldiers of the castle, and she is given the position of serving-maid in the castle itself, befriending Princess Pea but becoming an unintentional pawn in Roscuro's plan.

Botticelli Remorso - Botticelli is a very old one-eared rat who lives in the dungeon and is suspicious of Roscuro and his ability. Botticelli believes that the meaning of life is suffering, specifically the suffering of others and that Roscuro should take action and become a part of the rat community. He had taken a golden heart-shaped locket from a prisoner and hung it on a thin braided rope. Whenever he speaks, the locket moves. Botticelli is evil and wishes for the princess to die. Later in the book, he leads Despereaux to the princess in order to kill him later and intends on feeding the princess to his army of malicious rats.

Merlot - The sister of Despereaux.

Gregory the Jailer - When Despereaux tells Gregory a story he saves him from being killed by the rats. He wears a long rope that protects him from getting lost in the dark dungeon. Chiaroscuro chews up this rope and as a result, Gregory becomes lost in the darkness and eventually dies.

Furlough Tilling - One of Despereaux's many older brothers. He betrays Despereaux and sends him to the dungeon. He had previously tried to teach Despereaux to be afraid of things and hated him for his difference from other mice. He refuses to try to help his brother when he is banished. In the end, he is shown to be disgusted by Despereaux's well-being.

Lester Tilling - Lester Tilling is Despereaux Tilling and the rest of the Tillings' father. He sent his own son to the punishment of being exiled to the dungeon (though it was stated that he was weeping), where the rats would no doubt eat him. Later, after Despereaux escapes the dungeon on Gregory's tray, Despereaux pays a visit to the Mouse Council, which pronounced his sentence. Lester is forgiven for the perfidy he committed against his son.

Antoinette Tilling - Despereaux's French mother who arrived in Dor in a foreign diplomat's luggage. She cares too much about her appearance and is often picky. Although like most of Despereaux's family, Antoinette is inconsiderate of Despereaux, she is sad when he is thrown into the dungeon and defends him occasionally in the book.

Cook - The head cook of the castle who hates mice, but is shown to having secretly been making soup despite the ban.

King Philip - The king of Dor and Princess Pea's father. He was heartbroken after the queen died to eat a bowl of soup and banned soup, rats and instruments to make soup. He also did not believe in Despereaux when he tried to inform him of Princess Pea's kidnapping.



In 2008, the book was adapted as an animated film of the same name.

Stage musical

In 2018, the book was adapted into a musical by the PigPen Theatre Co.

Video game

On December 2, 2008, a video game for the Nintendo DS, Wii, and PlayStation 2 of the same name was released. On December 16, 2008, the game was also released for PC.

  • Griswold, Jerry, "'The Tale of Despereaux': A World Without sad Soup", The New York Times, 16 November 2003
Preceded by
Crispin: The Cross of Lead
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
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