“I will be brave.”

The dungeon, reader, stank. It stank of despair and suffering and hopelessness. Which is to say that the dungeon smelled of rats.

And it was so dark. Despereaux had never before encountered darkness so awful, so all-encompassing. The darkness had a physical presence as if it were a being all its own. The mouse held one small paw up in front of his whiskers. He could not see it, and he had the truly alarming thought that perhaps he, Despereaux Tilling, did not even exist.

He’s in a truly dark place, abandoned by his family (I was tempted for a moment to say, “family and friends,” before I realized he didn’t really have any friends to begin with…) to die a horrible death. And in such darkness, it’s awfully common to question your own existence.

“Perfidy,” said Despereaux, just to hear his voice again, just to assure himself that he did exist.

“Pea,” said Despereaux, and the name of his beloved was immediately swallowed up by the darkness.

He shivered. He shook. He sneezed. His teeth chattered. He longed for his handkerchief. He grabbed hold of his tail (it took him a long, frightening moment to even locate his tail, so absolute was the darkness) to have something, anything to hold on to. He considered fainting. He deemed it the only reasonable response to the situation in which he found himself, but then he remembered the words of the threadmaster: honor, courtesy, devotion, and bravery.

I think those four words from the threadmaster were changed to be part of the storybook in the movie, and they’re repeated so often that they almost lose all meaning. Again, I’m not generally a stickler for book loyalty in an adaptation, but the changes they made in this particular adaptation rarely added anything to the story.

Here, however, he finds encouragement in these words, resolving once more to be brave for the princess.

How best for him to be brave?

He cleared his throat. He let go of his tail. He stood up straighter. “Once upon a time,” he said out loud to the darkness. He said those words because they were the best, most powerful words that he knew and just the saying of them comforted him.

He takes heart…until he realizes he’s not alone in the darkness.

“Once upon a time?” boomed a voice from the darkness. “A knight in shing armor? What does a mouse know of such things?”

That voice, the loudest voice that Despereaux had ever heard, could only, he assumed, belong to the world’s largest rat.

Despereaux’s small, overworked heart stopped beating.

And for the second time that day, the mouse fainted.

Next time: Light…

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