The knight in shining armor symbolizes Despereaux’s coming of age. When Despereaux first encounters the story in a library book about a brave knight who rescues a beautiful maiden, he believes wholeheartedly in the fairytale’s happily-ever-after ending. The knight, he believes, is capable of any good deed—and happy endings are all but guaranteed. Furthermore, the story leads Despereaux to believe that other people will always be there to help those in need. This naïve outlook symbolizes Despereaux’s youthful innocence, and it provides a starting point from which he can mature.
Despereaux begins to question the concept of “happily ever after” and the knight’s power when the Mouse Council banishes him to the dungeon, where Despereaux will be eaten by rats. But even after Despereaux is rescued from the dungeon and returns upstairs, he continues to feel hopeless because he learns that Chiaroscuro has kidnapped the Princess Pea and imprisoned her in the dungeon. At this time, Despereaux also dreams about the knight, but the suit of armor in his dream turns out to be empty. Despereaux takes this to mean that the knight and the principles he stands for aren’t real or powerful. However, as Despereaux tries and fails to find someone to help him rescue the Pea, he eventually comes to the realization that perhaps the suit of armor is empty so that Despereaux himself can wear it and be a knight himself. This gives Despereaux the confidence he needs to return to the dungeon to rescue the Pea, and as Despereaux bravely faces his fears, he comes of age. The suit of armor, then, shows Despereaux that he cannot naively wait around for other people—or knights—to do things for him and to spread good in the world. Rather, he must be willing to take action himself.
The Knight in Shining Armor Quotes in The Tale of Despereaux
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?