That night Despereaux rolled the thread from the threadmaster’s lair, along innumerable hallways and down three flights of stairs…
Reader, allow me to put this in perspective for you: Your average house mouse (or castle mouse, if you will) weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of four ounces.
Despereaux, as you well know, was in no way average. In fact, he was so incredibly small that he weighed about half of what the average mouse weighs: two ounces. That is all. Think about it: He was nothing but two ounces of mouse pushing a spool of thread that weighed almost as much as he did.
Honestly, reader, what do you think the chances are of such a small mouse succeeding in his quest?
Zip. Zero. Nada.
But you must, when you are calculating the odds of the mouse’s success, factor in his love for the princess. Love, as we have already discussed, is a powerful, wonderful, ridiculous thing, capable of moving mountains. And spools of thread.
This is another thing the book does so well that’s undercut in the movie: Emphasizing the sheer enormity of his task in light of his tiny body. In addition to inserting quite a bit of bravado into Despereaux’s character, the movie also downplays his size, and even depicts it as something of a benefit, having him hang-glide with his ears a la Dumbo, besides having other magical friends to carry him around. He’s just so much more relatable in the book.
Even with the love and purpose in his heart, Despereaux was very, very tired when he reached the door to the castle kitchen at midnight. His paws were shaking and his muscles were jumping and the place where his tail should be was throbbing. And he still had a very, very long to go, into the kitchen and down the many stairs of the dungeon, and then, somehow, someway, through the rat-filled darkness of the dungeon itself, not knowing where he was going . . . and oh, reader, when he stopped to consider what lay ahead of him, Despereaux was filled with an icky feeling of despair.
He leaned his head against the spool of thread, and he smelled celery there and he thought of Hovis and how Hovis seemed to believe in him and his quest. So the mouse raised his head and squared his shoulders and pushed the spool of thread forward again, into the kitchen, where he saw, too late, that there was a light burning.
Cook was in the kitchen. She was bent over the stove. She was stirring something.
Was it a sauce? No.
Was it a stew? No.
What Cook was stirring was . . . soup. Soup, reader! In the king’s own castle, against the king’s law, right under the king’s very nose, Cook was making soup!
And this is the most unlikely ally of all for Despereaux, but he, too, is breaking the king’s orders now, too, since he was told to abandon his search for the princess.
But he had to go through Cook’s kitchen to get to the dungeon door. And he had no time to waste. Soon daylight would dawn and the whole castle would be awake and a mouse would have no chance at all of pushing a spool of thread across the floor without attracting a great deal of attention. He would have to sneak past the mouse-hating Cook now.
And so, screwing his courage to the sticking place, Despereaux leaned against the spool of thread and set it rolling across the floor.
Cook turned from the stove, a dripping spoon in her hand and a frightened look on her face, and shouted, “Who’s there?”
Until next time…