The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is divided into four sections, each focusing on a different character. The first section, “A Mouse is Born,” begins with the birth of a tiny mouse within the walls of a castle in the Kingdom of Dor. The mouse is the last of his litter and the only one born alive. Certain he will die too, his mother, Antoinette Tilling, names him Despereaux, for despair. Unlike most mice, Despereaux is born with his eyes open. The other mice comment on this, all sure the baby will perish. However, Despereaux lives, although his tiny size and unusually large ears are a constant concern among the castle mice.
Even worse, Despereaux seems uninterested in normal mouse activities—namely, eating. Instead, Despereaux is intrigued by the music he hears throughout the castle and dazzled by the sunlight streaming through the windows. When one of his siblings shows him how to chew on a book, Despereaux discovers he can read, and he becomes enthralled with the fairy tale of a knight rescuing a beautiful princess.

Despereaux particularly loves to listen to King Phillip playing his guitar and singing to his daughter, Princess Pea, every night. Caught up in the music, Despereaux breaks a basic “mouse rule” and reveals himself to the humans. When the princess—or "the Pea", as the author often refers to her—sees the mouse, he comes even closer, and Pea picks him up. Despereaux realizes she looks exactly like the picture of the princess in the fairy tale he adores, and he falls instantly in love. Pea wants to keep the mouse, but her father refuses. Then Despereaux breaks an even greater “mouse rule”—speaking to the humans. He tells the princess not to cry and gives her his name before he runs off.
Unbeknownst to Despereaux, his brother Furlough has witnessed the first moments of Despereaux’s meeting with Pea. Furlough runs to tell their father, Lester, who immediately calls a Mouse Council meeting. At the meeting, the Most Very Honored Mouse declares that something must be wrong with Despereaux, and that his behavior is a threat to all of the mice. The entire Mice Council, including Lester, votes to send Despereaux to the dungeon to be eaten by rats. First, however, Despereaux is called before the Council and given an opportunity to repent.

When Despereaux appears before the Council, he refuses to say he is sorry for what he has done and continues to proclaim his love for the princess. The threadmaster mouse arrives with a spool of red thread and ties a piece around Despereaux’s neck; this mark of death seals Despereaux’s fate. However, the threadmaster whispers words of encouragement in Despereaux’s ear and reveals himself to be a lover of fairy tales as well.

Now wearing the “red thread of death,” Despereaux is pushed down the stairs that lead to the dungeon. He begins to tell himself a story to keep up his courage. The jailer, Gregory, hears him and picks him up. Gregory says he has never saved a mouse before, but he promises to save Despereaux, as long as the mouse tells him a story. Stories, Gregory says, are “light,” and light is “precious” in the darkness of the dungeon. Despereaux begins to tell his story as the first section of the novel ends.

Section two, “Chiaroscuro,” begins a few years before Despereaux’s birth, with the birth of a rat named Chiaroscuro and called Roscuro. As a young rat, Roscuro nibbles on Gregory the jailer’s rope, and to deter the rat, Gregory lights a match in Roscuro’s face. While most rats avoid light, Roscuro stares straight into the flame until the light “danced around inside him.” From then on, he becomes obsessed with light, convinced it is the only thing that gives life meaning.

Roscuro’s friend, Botticelli Remorso, counters that for rats, the purpose of life is to make others suffer. When a new prisoner is brought to the dungeon, Roscuro, following Botticelli’s urgings, attempts to make the man suffer. First, Roscuro talks to the prisoner in an attempt to gain his trust. The man tells Roscuro of the great guilt he feels for selling his daughter for a red tablecloth, a handful of cigarettes and a hen, then leaving her without even looking back. Roscuro steals the prisoner’s one remaining possession—the very same red tablecloth—but finds the act does not satisfy him. Thus, he decides to go upstairs and seek the light.
When Roscuro wanders through the castle, he discovers a party in process and is enchanted by how happy and bright the revelers look, including King Phillip, Queen Rosemary, and Princess Pea. Roscuro decides to watch the party from a chandelier, but he slips and falls into the queen’s bowl of soup.

Soup is Queen Rosemary’s favorite food, and she eats it at every meal. When she sees the rat in her soup, and the rat even says “I beg your pardon,” the queen dies instantly of shock. Roscoro runs off but looks back at the Pea. Her expression full of repulsion and rage, the princess tells the rat to go back to the dark, “where you belong.” Her harsh treatment breaks Roscuro’s heart.

Determined to have something beautiful, Roscuro picks up the queen’s discarded soup spoon, and with it he returns to the dungeon. His thoughts turn to revenge, and his heart mends, but “in a crooked and lopsided way”—he is now obsessed with hurting the princess because she hurt him.

Distraught with grief, the king outlaws soup and all utensils used to make and eat it. The king’s men collect such utensils from all citizens in the Kingdom of Dor and pile the refuse in the dungeon. The king also orders his men to kill every rat in the kingdom, but as this proves impossible, he settles for declaring all rats to be outlaws. Meanwhile, back in the dungeon, Roscuro begins plotting to make Princess Pea suffer—and that is where the second section ends.
Section three, “Gor! The Tale of Miggery Sow,” focuses on the girl of the title, often referred to as “Mig.” Mig is six when her mother dies, and soon after, her father sells his daughter as a slave in exchange for a handful of cigarettes, a red tablecloth and a hen. In fact, her father is the same prisoner Roscuro met in section two.

Mig is sold to an unkind man she calls “Uncle” who constantly clouts her on the ears until her ears look like “pieces of...

(The entire section is 2577 words.)

Chapters 1-2 Summary

Inside the walls of a castle, a mouse is born. He is unusually small, and he is the only mouse in his litter who does not die at birth. When his mother, Antoinette, sees the tiny newborn, she assumes that he will not live. “All of that work for nothing,” she says.

Antoinette is a French mouse who arrived at the castle a long time ago in the luggage of a visiting diplomat. She gives her new mouse baby a French name, Despereaux, because her life is full of sadness and despair. Then she stops paying attention to him. She calls for her mirror and make-up bag because she looks “a fright.”

Despereaux’s older brothers and sisters gather around to get a look at their new sibling. His brother Furlough points out that his eyes are open. Normally a newborn mouse does not open his eyes for a long time, but Despereaux is different. He stares at the sunlight shining on the ceiling and on his mother’s shard of mirror. “There’s something wrong with him,” says his father, Lester. He tells the older mice to leave the baby alone. Antoinette declares then that she will not have any more babies. Babies disappoint her and ruin her good looks. Lester seems to accept this decision, adding, “And he’ll be dead soon. He can’t live. Not with his eyes open like that.”

But Despereaux’s father is wrong. The little mouse lives. As he grows older, all the mice in his community gawk at him. His aunt Florence calls him “ridiculous” because he is so small—smaller than any other mouse she has ever seen. His uncle Alfred says his ears are too big, “like donkey ears.” Nobody believes that Despereaux was born with his eyes open. They all agree that is impossible.

Despereaux does not defend himself when people make fun of him. He knows that everything his aunt and uncle say is true. He small and big-eared and sickly. Worse is that he cannot bring himself to act like a proper mouse. For example, he finds it impossible to think constantly about food.

One day when Despereaux goes out foraging with his family, he hears a beautiful sound. He describes it as being “” Everyone laughs at him for saying this. They explain that he should be smelling for food, not listening for it. His mother tells him to eat more and get fat: “You are such a skinny mouse. You are a disappointment to your mama.” Despereaux apologizes, but he does not do what he is told. He keeps listening to the honey sound instead.

Chapter 3 Summary

As Despereaux gets older, his big brothers and sisters try to teach him to act like a proper mouse. His brother Furlough tries first; he takes Despereaux through the castle to show him how to scurry. Furlough leads Despereaux to a wide room with a large, open area and explains how important it is to move quickly through such a space and to watch for danger.

Despereaux does not listen, nor does he watch the detailed demonstration of proper scurrying technique. Instead he looks at the beautiful light shining through the castle’s stained-glass windows. He asks, “What are all these colors? Are we in heaven?”

When Furlough sees Despereaux standing out in the open, he shouts at him to move. “You’re a mouse, not a man. You’ve got to scurry.” But Despereaux cannot tear himself away from the sight of the beautiful stained-glass window. Eventually Furlough gives up and slips out of the room through a mouse-sized hole in the wall. He leaves his little brother behind.

On another day, Despereaux’s sister Merlot tries to show him how to eat books in the castle library. As she points out how crunchy and tasty books are, Despereaux looks at the “squiggles” on the paper, and a strange thing happens. The squiggles appear to him as words, spelling out the “delicious and wonderful” beginning “Once upon a time....” He immediately grasps that the words tell a story, and he refuses to eat the book for fear of ruining it. Merlot, who is not aware that books have anything to do with stories, stares at him like he is crazy. She says their father is right; there is something terribly wrong with Despereaux. She, too, runs away and leaves him behind.

Despereaux knows that Merlot will tell his parents he has failed at another simple mouse task, but he does not mind. He lingers in the library to read the story in the book. It is about a beautiful princess and a brave knight.

The story’s narrator pauses to say that Despereaux will soon need as much bravery as the knight in the story. Unbeknownst to the little mouse, there is a dungeon below the castle, and it is full of big, awful rats. In a little while he will have to go there and face the rats because he refuses to conform. According to the narrator, an interesting future awaits anyone—“mouse or man”—who refuses to do as others do.

Chapters 4-5 Summary

Soon Despereaux’s brothers and sisters give up trying to help him learn the skills that most mice know by instinct. Without their lessons to occupy his time, he is free to do as he pleases. He wanders around the castle staring at stained glass windows or rereading the story about the knight and the princess. Often he hears the special “honey-sweet sound,” and one day he learns that it is music.

Every night before Princess Pea goes to sleep, her father, King Phillip, plays his guitar and sings to her. When Despereaux learns this, he hides in a hole in the princess’s bedroom wall to listen. The music makes his “soul grow large and light inside of him.” The sound overcomes him, and he feels compelled to go closer. Slowly he creeps out of his hole, moving closer and closer to the king and the princess and the guitar. Even for him, this is abnormally reckless. He knows he should not let humans see him, and usually he avoids them as best he can. But the music pulls him like a magnet.

Princess Pea soon spots Despereaux and points him out to her father. The king, who has bad eyesight, says that Despereaux must be a bug; he is too tiny to be a mouse. The Pea insists that she is right, and when she sees that Despereaux is frightened, she asks her father to play more music. The king complies, and Despereaux cannot stop himself. He slowly tiptoes closer and closer to the sound until he is sitting at the foot of the king.

As the king plays, Princess Pea reaches down and strokes Despereaux’s head. Despereaux stares up at her, thinking that she looks just like the princess in the story about the knight. She smiles at him, and he smiles back. At that moment, he falls in love.

At this point, the narrator pauses to admit that it is ridiculous for a mouse—especially an abnormally small, unhealthy, big-eared mouse like Despereaux—to fall in love with a princess. “Love is ridiculous. But love is also wonderful. And powerful.” Despereaux’s love for the Princess Pea is all three.

At this exact moment, Furlough happens to scurry past the princess’s room. When he sees his little brother sitting with the king, letting the princess pet him, he shouts, “Oh, cripes! He’s nuts! He’s a goner!” He runs off—scurrying properly, as a proper mouse should even in the worst of circumstances—to tell his father exactly what Despereaux is up to now.

Chapters 6-7 Summary

Lester, Despereaux’s father, is horrified when he hears what his son has done. He clutches his whiskers, plucking them out in his agony and fear. He blames Despereaux’s behavior on Antoinette, saying that her French blood must have made the boy crazy. He wails that his son will bring the mouse community to ruin.

Antoinette is not quite so upset. In fact, she seems more interested in examining her nails than in discussing her youngest son. She agrees that Despereaux is a disappointment, but she insists that his failure is as much Lester’s fault as her own. Besides, she says, a tiny mouse like Despereaux cannot do nearly as much damage as Lester thinks.

Lester refuses to listen to her. He says:

If there is one thing I have learned in this is that mice must act like mice or else there is bound to be trouble.

He says the Mouse Council must hold a meeting to decide what should be done about Despereaux’s misbehavior. To call his fellow council members, he takes out a drum made from a thimble with a piece of leather stretched taut over the opening. Holding it high, he beats out a special rhythm.

While all this is going on, Despereaux continues listening to the king’s music. The Pea picks him up and scratches his big ears, which she says are like velvet. Despereaux, who has never before heard his ears complimented, nearly faints with happiness.

The Pea tells her father she wants to keep Despereaux as a pet. At this, the king looks at the mouse more closely and orders the Pea to put him down. “Mice are rodents.... They are related to...rats,” he says. He does not explain exactly why this is so terrible, but he hints at a sad history involving Pea’s mother and a rat. He tells Pea that, as royalty, she has a responsibility not to befriend the distant cousins of her kingdom’s enemies.

At the king’s urging, the Pea puts Despereaux down. The king tries to make Despereaux run away, but the little mouse stays close. When he sees tears begin to fall from the princess’s eyes, he breaks the ancient mouse rule against speaking to a human being. He offers the princess his handkerchief and asks her not to cry.

The king shouts at Despereaux: “Do not speak to her!” He stamps his foot near Desepereaux’s head, and Despereaux has no choice but to back away. He drops his handkerchief and escapes to the hole in the wall. Before he leaves, however, he tells the princess his name, and he promises that he honors her. The king says rodents cannot understand honor, but he is wrong. Despereaux understands honor perfectly. The princess meets his eyes, and he can see that she knows this as well as he does.

Chapters 8-9 Summary

At the Mouse Council meeting, Lester explains that Despereaux sat at the king’s feet, that he let the princess touch his head, and that he appeared unafraid. The members of the council listen with their mouths open and their whiskers sagging. They are horrified.

When Lester’s speech is finished, the Most Very Honored Head Mouse says that something is very wrong with Despereaux:

His behavior endangers us all. Humans cannot be trusted. We know this to be an indisputable fact.

He lists off Despereaux’s crimes, shuddering in disgust when he gets to the part about a mouse letting a girl touch him. He says that the mouse community cannot trust a mouse who would do...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

All the castle mice gather inside the ballroom wall for Despereaux’s trial. When Despereaux arrives, the crowd begins to whisper about how he was born with his eyes open. Some of the mice recoil, disgusted; others push close to touch him. Furlough leads the way through the masses, shouting for everyone to make room. Despereaux has to cling to his brother’s tail to make his way through.

When they get to the front, where the Mouse Council awaits them atop three piled bricks, Furlough makes his brother let go of his tail. The mice in the crowd call out for Despereaux to be sent to the dungeons immediately, but the Most Very Honored Head Mouse silences them, demanding that everyone act civilized. He tells Despereaux to...

(The entire section is 439 words.)

Chapters 11-12 Summary

Despereaux awakes from his faint to hear his father beating a drum in a slow, threatening rhythm. Despereaux looks at the ceiling and wonders what could have gone so wrong. In the book about the knight and the princess, love makes people happy. It inspires them to be brave and honorable. He thinks of the words “happily ever after” and wonders whether this is the real ending of the book. Maybe there was another, darker ending, and some other mouse ate it. Maybe happy endings do not exist.

A mouse comes forward with a spool of red thread and asks Despereaux to stand up on his hind legs. When Despereaux complies, this other mouse—known as the threadmaster—pauses to thank him. The threadmaster snips off a bit of...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Chapters 13-14 Summary

The big mice in black hoods escort Despereaux through the castle toward the rat-infested dungeon. On the way, they pass all the beautiful things Despereaux knows he is leaving behind. They pass all the places where he might have a chance to glimpse the princess—but she does not appear. Despereaux cannot stand the idea that he is just going to disappear and that the Pea will never know what has happened to him. Turning to the mice in black, he asks if they will take him to speak to her one last time.

The mice in black stop, shocked that Despereaux would want to speak to a human. One of them says, “You can’t learn, can you?” and Despereaux recognizes his voice. One of the mice taking him to the dungeon is his...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

Despereaux awakes from his faint to find himself in the hand of a man. The man holds a match in his other hand, and it sheds a little light on the mouse and his red thread necklace. He lights a candle and shows Despereaux a rope tied around his own ankle. The man says that his rope saves him, whereas Despereaux’s “red thread of death” will kill him.

Hearing this, Despereaux’s heartbeat quickens, but he does not faint again. He asks who the man is and learns he is Gregory, the jailer. Gregory has been keeping watch over the dungeon for many years, and in some ways he is a prisoner himself. Despereaux asks if Gregory will let him go, and Gregory says there is no freedom in the dungeon. Those who wander the maze of...

(The entire section is 441 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

The story shifts back in time to a day several years before Despereaux’s birth, when a rat called Chiaroscuro is born. Chiaroscuro refers to a mixture of light and darkness, but rats do not like light. His parents, who like all rats have a sense of humor, give their son this name as a joke. However, Chiaroscuro—who is soon nicknamed Roscuro—surprises everyone by developing an abnormal interest in light.

One day Roscuro finds a rope on the floor of the dungeon. He begins to chew it, and a human hand comes down and picks him up by the tail. The hand belongs to Gregory, who demands to know what Roscuro is up to. “Who wants to know?” asks Roscuro because rats cannot help being sassy. Gregory tells Roscuro...

(The entire section is 476 words.)

Chapters 17-18 Summary

Soon a new prisoner is to arrive in the dungeon. Botticelli takes Roscuro to watch him enter, and Roscuro promises to make the man suffer. Some soldiers open the door at the top of the stairs, and a huge patch of light bursts in. Botticelli hides his face, but Roscuro looks up into it. He gasps and watches as a person at the top of the stairs throws a red blanket down through the shaft of light and into the dungeon. At the bottom of the stairs, Gregory picks up the cloth and hands it to the prisoner, warning him that he will need the warmth.

Afterward, Botticelli says the light was “hideously ugly,” but Roscuro calls it beautiful. He says he wants to go upstairs. “I must see more light. I must see all of it,” he...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Chapters 19-20 Summary

Roscuro, who has spent all his life in the darkness of the dungeons, creeps upstairs into the light. At that moment, in the upstairs walls, Despereaux is being born. They are destined to meet eventually, but not today.

Today Roscuro walks “light-bedazzled” through the castle halls. Amazed with the beauty of everything he sees, he declares that he will never go back to the dungeons. He decides he does not want to torture prisoners or live in suffering ever again. He belongs upstairs.

Soon Roscuro finds the banquet hall, where King Philip, Queen Rosemary, and the Princess Pea are presiding over a gathering of noble people and minstrels and army men. Roscuro, who has never seen happy humans before, is...

(The entire section is 402 words.)

Chapters 21-22 Summary

The Queen adores soup. She loves it so much that she orders it for every meal and every banquet at the castle. Cook, who loves the queen almost as much as the queen loves soup, has worked hard to raise soup “from the level of mere food to high art.” On the day Roscuro falls into the queen’s bowl, Cook has done an especially brilliant job. The ingredients in the soup go together perfectly, and the contents of the bowl taste so good that Roscuro stops to sip it and compliment the chef.

The Pea leaps from her chair and points, shrieking, at the rat in her mother’s soup. All around her, people stop juggling and playing music and eating. The queen looks down at Roscuro, who is not pretty even under the best of...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

Every action is followed by a consequence. When Roscuro, as a young rat, gnaws on Gregory’s rope, Gregory lights a match in his face. The match in his face sets his soul on fire, causing him to journey up the stairs into the light. There he is spotted by Princess Pea, who utters the word rat and makes him understand how awful it is to be what he is. This realization makes him fall into the queen’s bowl of soup, which shocks and ultimately kills the queen. In this way, causes and effects link every action to every other action.

The king is heartbroken over the queen’s death. After she dies while eating soup, he outlaws soup. He outlaws every implement used to make or eat soup, and so all the bowls and...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

Chapters 24-25 Summary

Several years before Despereaux begins his adventures, even before Chiaroscuro begins his, a girl named Miggery Sow is born. She comes into life far away from the castle, and her parents name her after her father’s best pig. When she is six years old, her mother grows very sick. Miggery stands by the bedside anxiously watching. She says she does not want her mother to go away, and her mother says, “Ah, child, and what does it matter what you are wanting?” These are her final words; she dies as soon as she finishes saying them.

Soon afterward, Miggery’s father takes her to the marketplace and sells her as a servant. In exchange, he receives some cigarettes, a hen, and a red tablecloth. Miggery begs him not to go...

(The entire section is 404 words.)

Chapters 26-27 Summary

On Miggery Sow’s seventh birthday, she does not get any cake or presents. She tells Uncle that it is her birthday, but he just shouts at her and gives her a clout on the ear. Then he sends her out to tend the sheep.

While Mig is out in the fields, she sees something that glitters and seems to glow. At first she thinks it is the sun, but she looks around and sees that the sun is sinking in the west, as it should. She turns back to the other, more unusual shining thing and watches as it draws closer. It turns out to be a royal procession.

King Philip, Queen Rosemary, and Princess Pea ride up the road on horses. Each one wears a golden crown, and they all wear flowing jeweled robes that reflect the light. Men...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Chapter 28 Summary

Mig spends several more years scrubbing Uncle’s hut and tending his sheep. Over that time, he hits her on the ears more times than she can count. Every day at sunset, she goes out to the fields and looks, hoping to see the royal family pass by again. She dearly wants to see the little princess again. And just as dearly, she wants to become a princess herself.

In a strange way, Mig’s first wish is granted when King Philip outlaws soup. A soldier pounds on the door of Uncle’s hut and says that soup is now against the law. He says nobody is allowed to eat or talk about soup ever again, and he demands that Uncle hand over his kettle, bowls, and spoons. Uncle has not yet heard of King Philip’s law, so he is shocked...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Chapter 29 Summary

On Miggery Sow’s first day as a castle servant, she has to deliver a spool of red thread to the princess. Her boss, Louise, tells her sternly that she has to curtsy. Mig takes the thread and joyfully makes her way up a golden staircase, telling herself how lucky she is to be going to see the princess so soon. When she gets to the door, she suddenly wonders whether she is supposed to curtsy before giving over the thread or after. After a great deal of thought, she decides the curtsy should come first.

Mig knocks on Princess Pea’s door three times, but her ears are so bad that she does not hear when the princess calls out to her to enter. Just when she decides the princess must not be home, the door swings open, and...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Chapter 30 Summary

At the castle, Mig gets enough to eat for the first time in her life. She eats a great deal, and she quickly grows fat. Unfortunately, she does not do well in her work. The narrator explains that Mig is “the tiniest bit lazy.” She adds, too, that the girl is “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

Louise, the head servant at the castle, has a hard time finding a job Mig can do. Mig cannot be a lady in waiting because she tries on the dresses instead of helping noblewomen put them on. She cannot be a seamstress because she accidentally sews the clothing to her frock. She cannot be a chambermaid because she stands around gasping at the beauty of the rooms rather than cleaning them.


(The entire section is 412 words.)

Chapter 31 Summary

When Mig lived with Uncle, he sometimes missed his mark when he hit her on the ears. Sometimes one of his clouts landed on her poor nose instead. Because of this, Mig’s sense of smell is almost as badly damaged as her hearing is. In her ordinary life this is usually a disadvantage, but in the dungeon it is a good thing. It makes her unaware of “the overwhelming stench of despair and hopelessness and evil.”

Mig chatters to herself as she walks down the stairs. When she sees how dark it is, she does not allow herself to feel daunted. She tells herself that if she were a princess, she would be “so glittery lightlike” that nowhere would seem dark anymore. The staircase is long, so on the descent she entertains...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Chapters 32-33 Summary

Gregory takes his food from Miggery, complaining that there is no soup. In his opinion, the law against soup is “too foolish to be borne.” Mig watches as he gobbles down his chicken, swallowing even the bones. This impresses her so much that she decides to announce she will one day be a princess.

Roscuro is still at Mig’s feet, and he does a dance of joy. When he catches Gregory watching him, he slips beneath Mig’s skirts. Gregory does not tell Mig he is there. He just says that everyone has “a foolish dream.” He comments that he has such a dream himself; he wants soup to be legal again. He finishes his food and gives the tray back to Mig.

Mig takes the tray, happily chattering that it will be...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Chapters 34-35 Summary

Back in the castle kitchen, Mig begins to clear the dishes off her tray. When she touches the napkin that is hiding Despereaux, he falls into Cook’s measuring cup, which is full of oil. Cook shrieks in outrage at the sight of a mouse in her kitchen. She demands that Mig fish him out of the cup and kill him. Mig grabs him and picks up a knife, but she seems a little sorry for him. When he slips out of her fingers and falls to the floor, she seems glad he has a chance to live.

Because she does not want to kill Desperaux, Mig tells Cook that the shock of his fall probably killed him already. Cook says to kill him anyway:

That’s my philosophy with mice. If they’re alive, kill them. If...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Chapter 36 Summary

As Despereaux sleeps, Roscuro sets to work on his terrible plan for revenge on the princess. The narrator warns us that this part of the story is a horrible one, full of violence and evil. However, she explains, dark stories have their own kind of value. The world is not perfect, and not everything can be “sweetness and light.” So she moves forward, intent on telling even the worst part of this story, and inviting her readers to come along and hear it.

Roscuro’s first action in enacting his plans is to chew through Gregory’s rope, finishing the job he started when he was just a young rat. Without his rope to guide him home, the jailer gets lost in the dungeon. Then, in the middle of the night, Miggery Sow climbs...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Chapter 37 Summary

The Pea is asleep, dreaming about her mother. The queen is eating soup. She gives the princess a taste, and it is wonderful. The princess asks for more, but the queen says no. She says she only wanted to give the Pea a little so she would remember. She disappears, and then the princess hears someone calling to her to wake up.

Opening her eyes, the princess sees Miggery Sow with a knife and a candle. Mig tells the princess to come along if she does not want to get hurt. The princess, who is not used to being ordered around, refuses to move. Roscuro crawls out of Mig’s pocket and tips his spoon at the princess. He explains that she should do as Mig suggests because Mig has a knife and is not afraid to use it. At first,...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Chapters 38-39 Summary

Mig and Roscuro lead the princess down the golden stairs at knifepoint. In the whole castle, they are the only people awake. The only light is the candle in Mig’s hand. Everyone else is asleep and dreaming in the dark. King Philip dreams about his wife. Cook dreams about a lost recipe for soup, and Despereaux, as we already know, dreams about a knight fighting darkness.

We already know a great deal about the hearts of Despereaux and Roscuro and Miggery Sow. Now we learn a bit about the heart of the princess. Like most people’s hearts, it is complicated, with dark parts and light parts. The dark parts are a “burning coal of hatred for the rat who was responsible for her mother’s death” and a spot of grief from...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Chapter 40 Summary

Despereaux goes to the throne room, but he does not find the king. He slips through a hole and travels through the wall to look in the princess’s room instead. On the way, he sees the thirteen members of the Mouse Council in the middle of an important meeting. The Most Very Honored Head Mouse, who is in the middle of a speech, looks up and sees him watching.

Despereaux has lost his tail. He is coated in oil and covered in flour, and the red thread is still tied around his neck “like a thin trail of blood.” The Head Mouse thinks he is a ghost. He cries out in fear, and the other members of the council cower. Only Lester, Despereaux’s father, seems glad to see him.

Just a few days have passed since...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Chapter 41 Summary

The king is in the Pea’s room, crying so hard a puddle of tears has formed at his feet. It is scary to see a king cry. A king is powerful, and it is hard to accept that he is weak and human as well. Despereaux is terrified, but he knows he has to tell the king what he knows.

Like everyone in the world, the king has some faults. His eyesight is not good. He makes “ridiculous, unreasonable, difficult-to-enforce laws,” and—like Miggery Sow—he is not very smart. However, he is an amazing man in his way. Unlike most people, he can love others with “the whole of his heart.” He loved the queen this way, and the Pea too. He cannot bear that she has been taken away.

Despereaux steps forward and shouts...

(The entire section is 439 words.)

Chapter 42 Summary

Despereaux finds the threadmaster sitting on his spool of red thread and eating celery. The threadmaster does not seem terribly surprised when he sees Despereaux. He comments that his master would say he had done a poor job tying “the red thread of death.” However, he is quite certain he did his job properly because the thread he tied is still secure around Despereaux’s neck.

Without greeting or preamble, Despereaux announces that he needs the rest of the thread. The threadmaster refuses. He does not personally think that the red thread is sacred, as most other mice do, but he must respect tradition anyway. He cannot simply give thread away to anyone who asks for it.

Despereaux explains that he needs...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

Chapters 43-44 Summary

Most mice weigh about four ounces. Despereaux, who is far smaller than the average mouse, weighs a little more than two. He rolls his spool of thread—which also weighs about two ounces—through the many long hallways of the castle and down three flights of stairs. There is, practically speaking, no chance he will be able to of push this spool all the way through the dungeons and actually find the princess at the end. However, he is in love. And love, as we already know, is silly but extremely powerful—“capable of moving mountains. And spools of thread.”

By the time he reaches the kitchen, Despereaux is extraordinarily tired. His muscles ache, and his paws are shaking. He still must go through the kitchen, down...

(The entire section is 503 words.)

Chapter 45 Summary

Cook continues stirring her soup, muttering to herself that it needs something. After a moment, she notices that Despereaux is still there, still frozen in place. She holds up her candle to see him better and tells him to go on and run away. He will never have another chance to enter her kitchen and leave without being hurt.

The smell of soup wafts toward Despereaux again, and he sniffs it, whiskers trembling. Cook explains that she is indeed cooking soup, illegal soup. She explains that the princess is missing, “not that you would know or care.” She says that soup can help during terrible times. When Despereaux agrees, she shakes her head and buries her face in her hands. She has made a wonderful soup, but she has...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Chapters 46-47 Summary

As Despereaux stands at the top of the dungeon stairs, he sees how dark the dungeon is, and he smells rats and suffering. However, he is full of love and soup, and so he feels brave enough to try the long descent. Instead of despairing, he sets right to work moving the spool down the stairs.

The trip down is long, slow, and dark. As he travels, Despereaux cheers himself up by telling his own story like a fairy tale. He tells all about the cunning rat and the fat servant and the beautiful princess. The story makes the descent feel faster, and it makes Despereaux feel strong. He gives the spool of thread an enthusiastic shove, and it bounces forward out of his grip. Despereaux scrambles after it, but he cannot catch up....

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Chapter 48 Summary

Despereaux makes his way into the dungeon clinging to Botticelli Remorso’s tail. Holding the tail of a rat is extremely unpleasant. Even in the best of times, it is a lot like holding a snake. In the worst possible scenario, when you are depending on the rat to keep you alive—and when you are half sure he is going to kill you—holding a rat’s tail is the most disgusting feeling in the world. But Despereaux has to do it, so he holds on tight.

The rat and the mouse work their way deep into the dungeon. Despereaux’s eyes adjust quite quickly, but this is a bad thing. Everything he sees either frightens or disgusts him. He sees a floor covered with fur, red thread, and mouse skeletons. The little white bones seem...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Chapter 49 Summary

The story here skips a few hours back in time, to the princess’s arrival in her holding cell deep in the dungeon. Roscuro tells Mig to chain the princess up. Surprised, Mig points out that the princess will have a hard time learning to be a serving maid if she is tied up. Roscuro says to do it anyway, and Mig suggests that they switch clothes first.

Roscuro lets Mig put on the princess’s crown. It is too big for her, and it slides down and lands painfully on the ears that have received so many clouts in her life. In spite of the discomfort, she does not take it off. She asks how she looks, and Roscuro says she looks “ridiculous” and “laughable.” He goes on to say that she has no chance of looking like a...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Chapters 50-51 Summary

The Pea recognizes Despereaux immediately and shouts out his name. To the little mouse, this is the sweetest sound in the world. It makes all his struggles—his first trip to the dungeon, his lost tail, his decision to come back into the darkness—worth it. He runs to the princess, but Roscuro stands in his way.

Mig lashes out with her knife, trying to cut off Roscuro’s head, but she misses and cuts off his tail instead. Roscuro screams out in pain and looks around at his hindquarters. While he is distracted, Despereaux draws his needle and points it straight at Roscuro’s heart. He tells Roscuro he will kill him, and Botticelli erupts in laughter, delighted at the ridiculous idea that a mouse thinks he could kill...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Chapter 52 Summary

The question now is whether all the characters of this story live happily ever after. They do, more or less, but their lives are not perfect. The characters experience lives that are too strange and difficult—too real—to be perfectly happy.

Of all the characters, Roscuro has the most struggles after the story ends. The princess gives him the right to go back and forth between the castle and the dungeon, but for the rest of his life he never really seems to belong in either place. This, the narrator says, is “the sad fate...of those whose hearts break and then mend in crooked ways.” Nevertheless, he redeems himself somewhat when he manages to make someone else’s life a little happier.

Roscuro tells...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Summary and Analysis


Book the First: A Mouse Is Born
Despereaux Tilling, a tiny mouse with enormous ears, is born in a castle to his father, Lester, and his mother, Antoinette. Because Despereaux is born with his eyes open, everyone assumes that there must be something terribly wrong with him. As Despereaux grows up, he remains unlike other mice: he and his sister, Merlot, find a book to eat, but Despereaux instead begins reading the words in the book, and while reading, he hears music playing and is mesmerized. He follows the sound into Princess Pea's bedroom, sees the king playing the guitar to his daughter, and promplty falls in love with Pea after speaking to her.

His brother, Furlough, sees the...

(The entire section is 2691 words.)