"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo

A more "grown up" fairy tale
Kate DiCamillo
Inspired by a friend's son who wanted DiCamillo to write a story about "an unlikely hero...with exceptionally large ears," The Tale of Despereaux is both dark and joyful. It is a story of fear, hate,sadness, greed and the awful things of life as well as being the story of love, kindness, pity and courage.

There are many vocal detractors of this book on this site. I am not one of them. I am not entirely happy with the book (For example, no one mourns the jailer and the rat is essentially pardoned for his death for it is not brought up at the end of the book.) but I don't hate it - its many strengths greatly outweigh its weaknesses.

For those that don't like its themes of abuse, servitude and death I would refer you to this lengthy, but appropriate comment from C.S. Lewis:

"Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can't bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the...atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."

I'd rather my daughter know that danger exists and it is up to us - the little mice of the world to go out and rescue the princess. As the book notes, there is no knight coming to the rescue. It's also useful to know that there are people easily misled and used (Mig) and those who commit evil because they feel they are justified in doing so (the rat).

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on December 23, 2008.

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