Reader, do you know the definition of the word ‘chiaroscuro’? If you look in the dictionary, you will find that it means the arrangement of light and dark, darkness and light together.
Let me tell you a few things you already know:
Sometimes light and darkness take up residence in the same heart.
Sometimes those who love the light the most find themselves plunged into the deepest darkness.
And sometimes even those capable of the darkest deeds find themselves drawn into the light.
To all such souls, I heartily recommend The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo.
There are plenty of reasons to love this book – its candor and wit, the way it dignifies the reader, its bite-size chapters that are perfect for family reading. There’s the unlikely hero and the sympathetic villain. There is romance, and betrayal, and illegal soup. And then there’s that Newbery Medal business to consider.
But what I love most about The Tale of Despereaux is that it speaks hope to those of us who have struggled with the juxtaposition of darkness and light in the world — and in our own hearts.
Like others of DiCamillo’s stories, The Tale of Despereaux does not shrink from portraying the darkness. Mothers die, fathers abandon, heroes hate. Some wounds never heal.
But some do. Sometimes a faint-hearted mouse finds the courage to walk alone into a dungeon’s blackness. Sometimes a rat – despite his species’ propensity for darkness – refuses to stay in it. Even when it’s the hard choice, sometimes flawed creatures choose the light. More than that, they learn that loving the light will mean shedding light of their own into the dark places of the world.
And how do they do this? By forgiving, and by loving. By choosing courage in the face of an impossible task. By telling a story:
Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.
Recently my five-year-old daughter – typically a very compliant child – had a bad day. After she repeatedly disobeyed me, I asked her what was going on. She said, “I think I have good in me and bad in me. I think they’re chasing each other around, trying to see which one can come out first. I don’t like having bad in me. I have to beat it.”
She had no idea she had just paraphrased Romans 7. It’s the struggle familiar to us all — this chiaroscuro of the heart.
It might just be time for my daughter to hear the story of a brave little mouse with obscenely large ears, and the rat named Chiaroscuro who was destined to follow the light.
- Dear Daughter: On Outrage and its Remedy - June 20, 2022
- Rodents, Romans, and Chiaroscuro:Why We Love The Tale of Despereaux - August 28, 2019
- Rodents, Romans, and Chiaroscuro:Why We Love The Tale of Despereaux - November 15, 2017
Loren Eaton says
There is romance, and betrayal, and illegal soup.
Ah, the soup. The soup is pure awesome.
S.D. Smith says
I love this. Thanks, Alyssa. Your daughter’s words! Wow, so true.
Alyssa Ramsey says
Thanks, Sam. I know, I was floored when she said that. Dropped into my lap, that opportunity was.
James Witmer says
Now I want to read it again…
Jen Rose says
Wonderful Alyssa. Your daughter is quite wise. Also, I love love love this book!
Alyssa Ramsey says
Kimberlee Conway Ireton says
Wow. Your daughter is so wise…and articulate!
I love Edward Tulane–he breaks my heart every time–but I’ve not read Despereaux. I think it’s time.
Paula Nix says
I have loved this story ever since I first read it to my eldest. Now we are reading it again for the sake of my middle daughter and I love it even more. Her ability to show the beauty of the struggle through great storytelling is a gift.
Janna Barber says
Great reminders here. Thanks for sharing, Alyssa!