The Tale of Despereaux – Literature – Setting

As in a typical fairy tale, the adventures of Desperaux and his companions, are set in a castle. The reader is instantaneously confronted with the common type of fairy tale setting. But what makes the castle such a significant showplace in The Tale of Desperaux? Why does the author stick to common location?

First of all, the castle is the place where everything clashes together. Contrasted by its dungeon, it is multifaceted by the people living and working there, but also as setting itself. Light and darkness, mice and rats, royalty and servants all convene in this one setting. The continuous appearance of the motifs of light and dark as well as good versus evil, can be seen as two sides of the same coin: two contradictory ideas showing divergence on the hand, but also affiliation on the other. It is the contrast between the delightful side of the castle colliding with the evil side – the dungeon, that tightens the tension and makes the common setting so special.

Every happening that is decisive for the sequence of event is marked by a certain place within the castle. Thus, there is a strong connection between what turns up where and why. For instance, the library is place of comfort and safety, a shelter where Desperaux pursues his passion of reading. But it is also a place where he can be himself in his uniqueness without being labelled as an outsider. To sum up, the library is a place of hope, where the motif of light is present. In contrast to the peaceful, safe place of learning that is the library stands the kitchen. The kitchen depicts a place of labor: stressful, chaotic and more dangerous. It proves particularly dangerous for our intrepid hero, Desperaux, as this is where he loses his tail. (In this particular scene, the narrator’s play on words can be enjoyed: the tale/tail of Desperaux.) The narrator also references the fairy tale genre with her tongue-in-cheek description of Desperaux as a  “knight in shining armour”. To go further, the representation of the kitchen (and the all of the servants who work behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running of the castle) is a clear narrative choice that often is ignored in traditional fairy tales. In this story, we do not just see the cultured and academically-inclined aristocrats, but also the working class laborers who make the royal life possible. In this way, DiCamillo is able to offer a more socially conscious critique than a traditional fairy tale.