At the top of the dungeon stairs, Despereaux peers down into the darkness. He’d already forgotten how dark the dungeon is, and the terrible smell of rats and suffering. But Despereaux feels strong, since his heart is filled with love for the Pea and his stomach is full of Cook’s soup. So, he begins to work the spool of thread down the stairs. To “make some light” for himself, Despereaux decides to tell himself a story. He says that once upon a time, there was a small mouse and a beautiful princess named Pea. The mouse was selected by fate to serve the princess and save her from a dark dungeon.
Together, Despereaux’s love for the princess and the nourishing soup in his belly give him the strength and the confidence he needs to face the dungeon’s darkness again. Deciding to “make some light” by telling himself a story shows that Despereaux has internalized Gregory’s earlier insistence that stories are light—they brighten up an otherwise dark world. Telling what sounds like his own story helps Despereaux make sense of what’s happening, and it helps him believe he might get a happy ending, too.
The story works to lift Despereaux’s spirits, and his eyes soon adjust to the dark. He works his way down the stairs, whispering a story to himself about a rat, a serving girl, a princess, a mouse, soup, and red thread—much like the story the reader is enjoying. It makes Despereaux strong, and he pushes the spool with a bit too much vigor. It rolls away from him and down the stairs, where it stops right in front of a rat’s paw. The rat, Botticelli Remorso, observes that this is red thread. This means one thing to rats. He puts his head up and sniffs. He smells soup—which is odd—and tears, which are delightful. He can also smell flour and oil, and under it all, mouse blood. Life just keeps getting better.
That the story makes Despereaux feel strong and capable confirms Gregory’s insistence that stories are important—it seems like an essential element to Despereaux’s success, provided he goes on to be successful in rescuing the princess. Botticelli, meanwhile, humorously smells what’s essentially fried mouse alongside soup and sadness, a combination that he finds wonderful. This is humorous, and it highlights the narrator’s earlier insistence that life is funny, even when it’s also dark and scary.