The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

by

Kate DiCamillo

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Tale of Despereaux can help.

Despereaux Tilling Character Analysis

The protagonist of the novel, Despereaux is a tiny mouse who lives in a castle. From the moment he’s born, Despereaux doesn’t fit in with his fellow mice: he’s the only baby in his litter to survive, he has unusually large ears, and he’s born with his eyes open (normally, mice are born blind). With his open eyes, Despereaux can see a spot of light from Antoinette’s mirror reflected on the ceiling—and this begins Despereaux’s obsession with light and beauty. As Despereaux grows, he remains small and sickly, and he also struggles to fit into mouse society. Rather than expressing interest in crumbs, scurrying, or nibbling paper, Despereaux becomes enchanted by the light coming through stained-glass windows, reading a story about a knight who rescues a beautiful maiden, and music. His love of music in particular leads him to break several rules of mouse conduct when, in order to listen to the human King Phillip playing the guitar and singing for his daughter the Princess Pea, Despereaux shows himself to humans. When Despereaux allows the Princess Pea to touch him, he falls deeply in love with her and breaks the most important mouse rule forbidding mice from speaking to humans. For this, Despereaux is banished to the dungeon, where the rats are guaranteed to eat him. This causes Despereaux to question everything he knows, specifically whether “happily ever after,” like in the story he loves, actually exists. The jailer Gregory helps rescue Despereaux from the dungeon. In the 24 hours after returning upstairs, the serving girl Mig cuts Despereaux’s tail off, and she and the rat Roscuro kidnap the Pea and imprison her in the dungeon. Though Despereaux searches for a knight to rescue the princess, he ultimately decides that he must be brave and be a knight himself. With the threadmaster’s gift of a spool of thread and a needle, as well as some nourishing soup from Cook, Despereaux returns willingly to the dungeon. The story ends with Despereaux and the Pea as friends—and Despereaux seemingly living happily alongside her, rather than with the other castle mice.

Despereaux Tilling Quotes in The Tale of Despereaux

The The Tale of Despereaux quotes below are all either spoken by Despereaux Tilling or refer to Despereaux Tilling. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Good vs. Evil Theme Icon
).
Chapter 1  Quotes

While Antoinette touched up her eye makeup, the mouse father put Despereaux down on a bed made of blanket scraps. The April sun, weak but determined, shone through a castle window and from there squeezed itself through a small hole in the wall and placed one golden finger on the little mouse.

Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

He was staring at the light pouring in through the stained-glass windows of the castle. He stood on his hind legs and held his handkerchief over his heart and stared up, up, up into the brilliant light.

“Furlough,” he said, “what is this thing? What are all these colors? Are we in heaven?”

“Cripes!” shouted Furlough from a far corner. “Don’t stand there in the middle of the floor talking about heaven. Move! You’re a mouse, not a man. You’ve got to scurry.”

“What?” said Despereaux, still staring at the light.

Related Characters: Despereaux Tilling (speaker), Furlough Tilling (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.

Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Reader, you may ask this question; in fact, you must ask this question: Is it ridiculous for a very small, sickly, big-eared mouse to fall in love with a beautiful human princess named Pea?

The answer is … yes. Of course, it’s ridiculous.

Love is ridiculous.

But love is also wonderful. And powerful. And Despereaux’s love for the Princess Pea would prove, in time, to be all of these things: Powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous.

Related Characters: Despereaux Tilling, The Princess Pea
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Do not speak to her!” thundered the king.

Despereaux dropped his handkerchief. He backed away from the king.

“Rodents do not speak to princesses. We will not have this becoming a topsy-turvy, wrong-headed world. There are rules. Scat. Get lost, before my common sense returns and I have you killed.”

Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“Did you break them?”

“Yes, sir,” said Despereaux. He raised his voice. “But…I broke the rules for good reasons. Because of music. And because of love.”

“Love!” said the Head Mouse.

“Oh cripes,” said Furlough. “Here we go.”

“I love her, sir,” said Despereaux.

“We are not here to talk about love. This trial is not about love. This trial is about you being a mouse,” shouted the Most Very Honored Head Mouse from high atop the bricks, “and not acting like one!!!”

Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

How, he wondered, had things gone so terribly wrong? Wasn’t it a good thing to love? In the story in the book, love was a very good thing. Because the knight loved the fair maiden, he was able to rescue her. They lived happily ever after. It said so. In the book. They were the last words on the page. Happily ever after. Despereaux was certain that he had read exactly those words time and time again.

Lying on the floor with the drum beating and the mice shouting and the threadmaster calling out, “Make way, make way,” Despereaux had a sudden, chilling thought: Had some other mouse eaten the words that spoke the truth? Did the knight and the fair maiden really not live happily ever after?

Related Symbols: The Knight in Shining Armor
Page Number: 57-58
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

“Why would you save me, then?”

“Because you, mouse, can tell Gregory a story. Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”

Related Characters: Despereaux Tilling (speaker), Gregory (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes

He dreamt of the stained-glass windows and the dark of the dungeon. In Despereaux’s dream, the light came to life, brilliant and glorious, in the shape of a knight swinging a sword. The knight fought the dark.

And the dark took many shapes. First the dark was his mother, uttering phrases in French. And then the dark became his father beating the drum. The dark was Furlough wearing a black hood and shaking his head no. And the dark became a huge rat smiling a smile that was evil and sharp.

Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 36 Quotes

And while the mouse slept, Roscuro put his terrible plan into effect. Would you like to hear, reader, how it all unfolded? The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But stories that are not pretty have a certain value too, I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light.

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 39 Quotes

“It will be all right,” said Louise.

Cook brought the hem of her apron up to wipe at her tears. “It won’t,” she said. “It won’t be all right ever again. They’ve taken our little darling away. There ain’t nothing left to live for without the princess.”

Despereaux was amazed to have exactly what was in his heart spoken aloud by such a ferocious, mouse-hating woman as Cook.

Related Characters: Louise (speaker), Cook (speaker), Despereaux Tilling, The Princess Pea, Chiaroscuro “Roscuro”
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

He put a nervous paw up to his neck and pulled at the red thread, and suddenly his dream came flooding back to him…the dark and the light and the knight swinging his sword and the terrible moment when he had realized that the suit of armor was empty.

And then, reader, as he stood before the king, a wonderful, amazing thought occurred to the mouse. What if the suit of armor had been empty for a reason? What if it had been empty because it was waiting?

For him.

Page Number: 214-15
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 45 Quotes

Cook smiled. “See?” she said. “There ain’t a body, be it mouse or man, that ain’t made better by a little soup.”

Related Symbols: Soup
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 51 Quotes

Despereaux held his trembling needle against Roscuro’s heart. The mouse knew that as a knight, it was his duty to protect the princess. But would killing the rat make the darkness go away?

Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

And the smell of soup crashed through his soul like a great wave, bringing with it the memory of light, the chandelier, the music, the laughter, everything, all the things that were not, would never, could never be available to him as a rat.

Soup,” moaned Roscuro.

And he began to cry.

[…]

“Kill me,” said Roscuro. He fell down before Despereaux. “It will never work. All I wanted was some light. This is why I brought the princess here, really, just for some beauty…some light of my own.”

Related Symbols: Light and Dark, Soup
Page Number: 262-63
Explanation and Analysis:

I think, reader, that she was feeling the same thing that Despereaux had felt when he was faced with his father begging him for forgiveness. That is, Pea was aware suddenly of how fragile her heart was, how much darkness was inside it, fighting, always, with the light. She did not like the rat. She would never like the rat, but she knew what she must do to save her own heart.

And so, here are the words that the princess spoke to her enemy.

She said, “Roscuro, would you like some soup?”

Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Tale of Despereaux LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Tale of Despereaux PDF

Despereaux Tilling Character Timeline in The Tale of Despereaux

The timeline below shows where the character Despereaux Tilling appears in The Tale of Despereaux. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Love, Forgiveness, and Absurdity Theme Icon
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...is one of her favorite words. The mother, Antoinette, sighs that she’ll name the baby Despereaux, though she’s certain he’ll die like the others in the litter. She then asks for... (full context)
Chapter 2 
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Despereaux Tilling survives, but everyone in the mouse community thinks he’s odd. His aunt Florence tells... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Furlough tries to teach Despereaux “the art of scurrying.” He demonstrates how a mouse should move side to side, always... (full context)
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Next, Merlot takes Despereaux into the castle library. Light streams in through the tall windows, but Merlot ignores it.... (full context)
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Merlot is shocked and confused. She says their father is right, and Despereaux isn’t well. Once she scurries angrily away, Despereaux reaches out and touches the words in... (full context)
Chapter 4
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It doesn’t take long for Despereaux’s siblings to give up on educating him, which gives Despereaux the freedom to do what... (full context)
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Despereaux sticks an ear out of the hole to hear better, and soon he’s all the... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The Princess Pea looks down at Despereaux and smiles as King Phillip plays a song about purple night falling over a garden.... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Lester tells Antoinette that Despereaux definitely can’t be his son—this must all be Antoinette’s fault, since she’s French. Antoinette rolls... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Furlough misses the worst of Despereaux’s behavior. While the mouse council drumbeat sounds through the castle walls and as King Phillip... (full context)
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...King Phillip is done playing music, the Princess Pea announces that she’s going to keep Despereaux as a friend. The king, however, says that Despereaux is a rodent and tells his... (full context)
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Despereaux begs the Princess Pea to not cry and offers her his handkerchief. King Phillip shouts... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...listen to Lester detail what Furlough saw. The Mouse Council listens openmouthed as Lester describes Despereaux letting the Princess Pea touch him. When Lester is done, the Most Very Honored Head... (full context)
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The Head Mouse says Despereaux needs to go to the dungeon and to the rats. He announces a vote and... (full context)
Chapter 9
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The Mouse Council sends Furlough to fetch Despereaux. Furlough finds Despereaux reading the huge book in the library aloud to himself. He desperately... (full context)
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Furlough finally calls for Despereaux. When Despereaux comes out of his trance enough to notice his brother, he says he’s... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...The Mouse Council sits on top of three stacked bricks, and they all wait for Despereaux. Finally, Furlough shouts that he has Despereaux. He pushes through the crowd, and a few... (full context)
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Someone in the crowd shouts that Despereaux should be sent immediately to the dungeon, but the Most Very Honored Head Mouse calls... (full context)
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The Head Mouse calls for silence and then asks if Despereaux broke the rules of mouse conduct. Despereaux says he did—but he did it for love... (full context)
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The Most Very Honored Head Mouse says that Despereaux will have the option to renounce and repent, or say he’s sorry for his actions.... (full context)
Chapter 11
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As Despereaux comes to, he can hear Lester beating an ominous rhythm on the drum. Mice continue... (full context)
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Despereaux whispers “happily ever after” to himself as the threadmaster and his spool of red thread... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Muttering, the burly mice lead Despereaux over Antoinette’s unconscious body. The crowd chants, the drum beats, and just as Despereaux is... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Despereaux and his guards travel down through the castle. When Despereaux tugs on the tight red... (full context)
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...means. It’s certainly becoming an increasingly appropriate word as the story progresses, and it’s on Despereaux’s mind as he and the guards stand at the top of the dungeon stairs. Furlough... (full context)
Chapter 14
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At the bottom of the dungeon stairs, Despereaux discovers that none of his bones are broken. As he gets to his feet, though,... (full context)
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Despereaux decides to be a knight in shining armor for the Princess Pea. He decides the... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Despereaux wakes up in a big, calloused human hand, staring at a big human eye that... (full context)
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Despereaux asks if he might get down. Gregory says that Despereaux doesn’t want to get down.... (full context)
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Despereaux protests that he can’t die—he must live. Gregory deems that a lovely sentiment and asks... (full context)
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Gregory says that instead of love, they should talk about Despereaux’s life, and how Gregory might save it. Despereaux asks how Gregory could save him, and... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...the day that a rat named Chiaroscuro, nicknamed Roscuro, is born in the dark dungeon. Despereaux will be born upstairs in the light in a few years. Chiaroscuro, the narrator explains,... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...bright copper pots. Readers should also imagine that just as Chiaroscuro steps into the light, Despereaux is born. The two will meet much later. For now, Roscuro is just delighted to... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...make the Princess Pea suffer for what she did. As Roscuro plans down below, upstairs Despereaux hears music for the first time. The music will lead him to the princess, and... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...backward before it can go forward. Miggery Sow is born years before either Chiaroscuro or Despereaux. She’s born far away from the castle and is named after her father’s favorite prizewinning... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...failing at her work, down in the dungeons Chiaroscuro is plotting his revenge, and upstairs Despereaux is falling in love with the Princess Pea. There will absolutely be consequences. (full context)
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...way to mess this up. Cook watches Mig go down the dungeon stairs—the same stairs Despereaux fell down yesterday. Mig has a candle on her tray, and she smiles back at... (full context)
Chapter 34
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When Gregory wrapped Despereaux in his napkin and placed him on Mig’s tray, he whispered, “back to the light.”... (full context)
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Despereaux picks his head up and admires how beautiful the light streaming in through the windows... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Despereaux is sitting on a bag of flour in the pantry, wondering what he’s going to... (full context)
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The sun sets, and Despereaux dreams about stained-glass windows and the dungeon. The light suddenly comes to life and becomes... (full context)
Chapter 36
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While Despereaux sleeps, Roscuro puts his plan into action. It’s not a pretty story, as there’s violence... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...his name, while Cook dreams that she lost the recipe for the queen’s favorite soup. Despereaux is asleep not far away from Cook, in the pantry, dreaming of knights, darkness, and... (full context)
Chapter 39
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The sun rises, “shed[ding] light on what Roscuro and Miggery Sow had done.” Despereaux wakes up to hear Louise and Cook shouting: they don’t know what happened to “her,”... (full context)
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...will ever be right again. There’s nothing to live for without the princess, she says. Despereaux is shocked, as he never expected to hear someone like Cook speak what’s in his... (full context)
Chapter 40
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Despereaux checks the throne room first and then, on his way to the Pea’s room, he... (full context)
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Lester seems to have aged years since Despereaux went to the dungeon, though it’s only been a few days. He calls for the... (full context)
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...think that a son could forgive his father for sending him to his death? But Despereaux tells Lester that he forgives him. He does this because he realizes that this is... (full context)
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Despereaux realizes he’s a different mouse than he was the last time he stood in front... (full context)
Chapter 41
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Despereaux finds King Phillip in the Pea’s room, sobbing and holding the tapestry of her life... (full context)
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Despereaux tries again to get the king’s attention. He doesn’t know how to address a king,... (full context)
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...his ears, says that rats are illegal, and that they don’t exist in his kingdom. Despereaux tries to tell the king about Roscuro, but the king hums and says that since... (full context)
Chapter 42
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Despereaux finds the threadmaster sitting on his spool of thread, eating celery. When he notices Despereaux,... (full context)
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The threadmaster asks what Despereaux is going to do with the thread. Despereaux says he needs it to save the... (full context)
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Despereaux thanks the threadmaster, touches the spool, and then asks the threadmaster for his name. The... (full context)
Chapter 43
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As Despereaux rolls his thread through the castle, the narrator asks readers to think about the fact... (full context)
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Despereaux rests his head against the spool of thread, smelling Hovis’s celery smell. Hovis believes in... (full context)
Chapter 44
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Cook asks who’s there again, but Despereaux stays quiet. To herself, Cook says she’s just afraid of being caught making soup. Relieved,... (full context)
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Again, Cook whirls around and asks who’s there. Despereaux hides behind the spool of thread as Cook lifts her candle, approaches, and asks whose... (full context)
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Despereaux is so afraid that he can’t move. He sits on the kitchen floor and cries.... (full context)
Chapter 45
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After stirring the soup, Cook turns back to Despereaux and tells him this is the only time he’ll pass through her kitchen unharmed. The... (full context)
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Cook asks how the soup is, and Despereaux says it’s perfect. Smiling, Cook says that soup can make anyone, mouse or man, better.... (full context)
Chapter 46
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At the top of the dungeon stairs, Despereaux peers down into the darkness. He’d already forgotten how dark the dungeon is, and the... (full context)
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The story works to lift Despereaux’s spirits, and his eyes soon adjust to the dark. He works his way down the... (full context)
Chapter 47
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Still on the steps, Despereaux trembles. His thread is gone, and he realizes he’s in grave danger. He’s a tiny... (full context)
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At the bottom, Botticelli steps out to meet Despereaux and says he’s been waiting for the mouse. Despereaux puts his hand on his needle,... (full context)
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Botticelli confirms that in order to save the princess, Despereaux must first find her. He asks what would happen if he showed Despereaux exactly where... (full context)
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Readers should already know that Botticelli wants others to suffer, and he especially wants Despereaux to suffer. He plans to do this by taking Despereaux right to the princess, and... (full context)
Chapter 48
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...headed to their death, it’s awful to have only a rat tail to hold. But Despereaux holds onto Botticelli’s tail, and soon, his eyes adjust to the dungeon’s dark. It’d be... (full context)
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What’s behind Despereaux is even worse. The dungeon’s rats form a “happy, hungry, vengeful parade” that follows Despereaux... (full context)
Chapter 50
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Despereaux shouts for the Princess Pea that he’s come to save her. The Pea looks up... (full context)
Chapter 51
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...in pain and turns to look at where his tail once was. As he does, Despereaux puts the needle point to Roscuro’s heart and threatens to kill him. Amused, Botticelli howls... (full context)
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...a rat. He begins to sob, and the other rats hiss at him. Roscuro begs Despereaux to kill him and says he just wanted some light. He kidnapped the princess because... (full context)
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...Roscuro, the princess puts a hand on her heart. She’s likely feeling the same thing Despereaux did when Lester asked him for forgiveness. That is to say, the Pea realizes how... (full context)
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The gathered rats say they still want to eat Despereaux, but Botticelli says the flavor is already ruined—there’s been too much forgiveness, and that’s disgusting.... (full context)
Chapter 52
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Despereaux doesn’t marry the princess, so that version of happily ever after doesn’t come to pass... (full context)
Coda
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The narrator asks if readers remember when Despereaux was in Gregory’s hand and whispering a story in Gregory’s ear. The narrator would love... (full context)