Lessons from a Noble Mouse

If you’ve checked Amazon, Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Newbery Award Medal book, The Tale of Despereaux, receives lots of five-star reviews. It also receives a lot of one-star reviews.

The_Tale_of_Despereaux

I’m in the five-star camp. 5 star rating

Those who pooh-poohed the book didn’t like it that the author talks to her reader. I was enchanted by the technique. It works very well for a once-upon-a-time type story. AND in the process she teaches young readers new vocabulary words.

Critics consider the book too violent for the so-tender-psyches of their sensitive little munchkins. Oh. Is my sarcasm showing?

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Yes, the book contains evil characters. The evil characters are cruel. A minor character dies. But the good guys win, and they win without violence. They maintain their nobility, and that’s only one of the things I love about this story.

The King's Champion by atistatplay. Photo by Photography on the run

The King’s Champion by atistatplay. Photo by Photography on the run

I have no idea if Kate DiCamillo is a Christian or not, but I see so many Christian parallels in Despereraux’s story. In the interest of brevity, I offer you the following list:

  1. Despereaux, this tiny, insignificant mouse, has been born with a gift. You can call it a talent. I call it a spiritual gift.
  2. Despereaux chooses to follow his destiny, not conform to the crowd. Isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do? Isn’t our destiny, like Despereaux’s, to do good?
  3. The rest of the mice in the castle are like the world. Life is all about conforming and not making waves. Two of them remind me of Peter when he denied Christ and of Judas when he betrayed Him. (Can you guess who those characters are if you’ve read the book?)
  4. Like Jesus, the innocent Despereaux is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Like Jesus, he returns from the “grave.”
  5. The rats could be considered demons, but I think it more likely they should be compared to evil people, for one rat longed for the Light, but disappointment and harsh treatment made him bitter.
  6. As the mouse and the princess prevail, forgiveness is a prominent theme.
  7. The pureness of heart in both the princess and in Despereaux prove victorious.

I’ve given away a good portion of the story, but really, you know the themes, not the plot. The subtitle is: “being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.”

spaziolilla.blogspot.it

spaziolilla.blogspot.it

earlyoakreproductions.co.uk

earlyoakreproductions.co.uk

I never mentioned the soup or the thread, but I’ll give you a hint: all five nouns in the subtitle have to do with another major theme, Everything in Life Has a Purpose. The Bible has the same theme.

However this puts the fifth star in my rating, not just for The Tale of Despereaux but for any book: throughout the story, Despereaux and the princess live on hope, and by the end, each has discovered the power of unconditional, agapé love.

If you’ve read this little gem, let me know about other Christian parallels you may have noticed. And if you haven’t, add it to your To Read list, and let me know later.

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8 thoughts on “Lessons from a Noble Mouse

  1. I’ve never read it, mainly because we intensely disliked the movie. Now I’m curious – how do the two compare?

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    • I don’t know! If I like a book, I rarely watch the movie for I’m almost always disappointed. What did you hate about the movie?

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      • It’s been a very long time so my memory is hazy but in addition to just disliking the animation-style in general, we thought the movie was very dark, violent, and overall scary. Also nasty gross in the rats world. Our daughter was not-quite-5 when we saw it, too, so her youngness may have colored our perspective. Pluggedin liked it and I recall being rather upset how they glossed over those elements. (I don’t always agree with their reviews but I usually find them useful – they inform about the elements and I decide if they are something that bothers me or not.)

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  2. Sparks,
    I can see why the movie made the rats so gross. They are evil creatures in the book, but I think our own imaginations can make them less scary than what Hollywood chooses to make visual.
    I think the book keeps a lighter element to it as the author discusses troubling situations with the children reading her story. She lets her opinions be known: evil is a terrible thing, and nobility is a goal to be attained.
    When I read it, I have no doubts – there will be a happy ending to this story. I hope the movie allowed a happy ending.

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    • I know there was a happy ending but there was a lot of scary grossness. I seem to recall the princess almost getting fed to the rats in a Colosseum-type setting? Books are less scary oftentimes, I agree with that.

      As for the breaking the third-wall bit, that seems fairly common to me with older books? I’ve always liked that style.

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      • Sorry to be so late in responding. I’ve been out of town and out of touch for a week! Yes, breaking the third wall was common in centuries past. As for the princess being fed to the rats, that didn’t happen in the book. She is held captive, and they intend to kill her, but there is no graphic detail about that other than Despereaux realizing she will never be released.

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  3. Katie DiCamilo teaches at a Methodist College in The Twin Cities, Hamline University. Despereaux was a terrific novel for all the reasons you mentioned, but the narrator talking to the audience is a timeless trick in literature and theater. It’s called “Breaking the Fourth Wall” and when done well is exciting. You don’t see as much of this today as you do in 18th and 19th century western literature. One more notable use of this technique was done in the Lemony Snickett series. The narrator (Snicket) was written into the story. Snickett wasn’t the real author.

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    • I knew Di Camillo lived in Minnesota. I didn’t know she teaches as well as writes. Rule of thumb today is that Breaking the Fourth Wall is passé. However, rules (once you know them) are made to be broken if you have a good reason to do so. I’d say The Tale of Despereaux is an excellent example of how to engage a young reader in an adventure story.

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