This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse. The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.
I picked up The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo at the library, in the Italian translation by Angela Ragusa. I had seen it popping up a number of times in various book blogs, but I didn't know it was a fairy tale, and didn't expect I would love it so much.
The Tale of Despereaux begins with the birth of our hero, Despereaux: a small, big-eared mouse who lives in a castle where soup and rats are prohibited. Despereaux isn't a normal mouse: he doesn't care about scouting crumbs. He loves reading, listening to music, and dreams that he will be a knight in a shining armour one day. One evening, drawn to the music the king his playing for his daughter, Despereaux comes near the king and Princess Pea. He also speaks to the Princess, and promptly falls in love with her. When the Council of mice learns that he has broken the rules and spoken to a human being, they decree that he shall be sent to death: he is to be consigned to the dungeons where the evil rats will eat him alive.
In the dungeons we also meet a rat who doesn't fit in with the other rats. Chiaroscuro, nicknamed Roscuro, is a rat who craves the colour and light he is denied.
We also meet a slow, dense girl, Miggery Sow. Her mother's dead, and her father cares so little about her that he sells her to another man in exchange for a red tablecloth, a hen, and some cigarettes. Miggery Sow is slapped by her "owner" so many times that she develops cauliflower ears and loses most of her hearing. Her dream, however, is to become a princess
When Miggery Sow becomes a servant in the castle, Roscuro persuades her to kidnap Princess Pea and hide her in the dungeons. Despereaux, who has managed to save himself from the rats, is now on a mission to rescue Princess Pea.
Beautifully written, this book is about love and hate, light and darkness, good and evil. The narrator often addresses the Reader directly, and I loved these parts. I especially loved the beginning:
The world is dark, and light is precious.
Come closer, dear reader.
You must trust me.
I am telling you a story.