Juster's story is about a boy who is not very interested in anything. Since most young people have, at some time or other, known someone much like the book's hero, Milo, who had too much time on his hands, or as the book describes it, "who didn't known what to do with himself," they should readily identify with the situation.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a book that makes learning fun. Like some young people, Milo does not care much for words or numbers. "I can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems," he says, "or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February." But meeting people who love learning, and who swear by its importance, makes him wonder. As he uses words and numbers in his adventure, he begins to realize that learning is vital and necessary. What he is taught in school does make sense. He sees what can happen when people use too many words to say something—or not enough. He can also see what happens when people waste time, or make excuses. These experiences cause Milo to become aware of the importance of education and applying himself, and they can make learning come alive for readers as well.
(The entire section is 210 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
A boy named Milo does not know what to do with himself, but only sometimes. He constantly wishes he were somewhere else doing something else; but when he is somewhere else doing something else, he is not content. Nothing important interests him and he feels as if everything is a waste of time. Walking home from school one day, Milo says that nothing he is studying in school has value. Since no one tells him anything different, Milo thinks “the process of seeking knowledge is the greatest waste of time of all.”
Despite the fact that he does not feel that any place he goes is worth going, he is always in a hurry to get there. Today he wonders why such a large world feels so small and empty sometimes. It contains nothing worth seeing and there is nothing he wants to do. He rushes home to his eighth-floor apartment and “flops dejectedly in to a chair.” Nothing he owns is interesting to him: books, tools, toys, games, bats, or balls. Suddenly he spies something he has never seen before, sitting next to the phonograph. It is a package, neither square nor round, neither large nor small; it has a blue envelope on the side that reads, “To Milo, who has plenty of time.”
Milo is both puzzled and excited. Though he probably will not like the gift, he certainly cannot give it back. To be polite, he opens the envelope and a letter explains that the gift is a “Genuine Turnpike Tollbooth” designed for those who have “never traveled to lands beyond.” The package contains a tollbooth, which must be assembled according to the directions; three precautionary signs; one map of natural and man-made elements; and one book of rules and traffic regulations, which must be followed precisely. At the bottom is a guarantee that if he is not completely satisfied (which is not guaranteed), his wasted time will be refunded.
Soon Milo unpacks the tollbooth and sets it on a stand. He inserts the windows, attaches the roof, and connects the coin box. It looks like every tollbooth he has ever seen, though it is smaller—and purple. It seems such an impractical gift since the sender did not also give him a highway; nevertheless, the boy sets out the three caution signs. One is a warning to slow down as a tollbooth is ahead; one is a reminder to have the fare ready; and one is a suggestion to have a destination in mind.
The map is beautiful and it shows roads, rivers, seas,...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Milo is driving on an unfamiliar country highway; he looks behind him and sees no sign of the tollbooth or his bedroom. Make-believe has become real. It is a clear, sunny day and everything is brighter than he has ever seen before. He sees a sign, welcoming him to Expectations, painted on a small house by the side of the road. The sign also offers cheerfully delivered predictions, advice, and information. If he is interested, he should park his car and blow his horn. Milo is interested.
A little man in a large coat comes rushing from the house and welcomes Milo to Expectations. He says everything twice and introduces himself as the Whether Man. Milo asks if this is the road to Dictionopolis, and the man says any road that goes to Dictionopolis must be the right road because “there are no wrong roads to anywhere.” The Whether Man wonders if it is going to rain.
The man explains that Expectations is the place all people must go before they get to where they are going. While it is true that some people never go beyond Expectations, the Whether Man’s job is to hurry them along their journey. Doubting the man’s sanity, Milo thinks he can find his own way. The repeating man is glad to hear that and, if Milo happens to find the Whether Man’s way, the man would like to have it back, as it was lost long ago. The Whether Man does not like to make up his mind about anything, and he believes that if he expects everything, the unexpected never happens.
Milo drives away just as a raincloud settles directly over the strange man; Milo is glad to be back on the road, realizing that staying in Expectations for very long would get him nowhere. Milo daydreams as he drives; that is why, when he reaches a fork in the road and the sign points to the left, he turns right. Suddenly the sky turns gray and the entire countryside has lost its color.
The road is a series of endless curves and the car, which has been going quite fast, now goes very slowly and finally comes to a complete stop. No matter how he tries, the car will not budge. He wonders aloud where he is, and a faraway voice wails that he is in the Doldrums. Milo looks around but sees no one; he loudly asks what the Doldrums are, and the answer comes to him from a tiny creature, which is sitting on his right shoulder. The Doldrums, says the creature, is where “nothing ever happens and nothing ever...
(The entire section is 744 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Welcome to Dictionopolis
Milo is thankful to have left the Doldrums and is thankful for the dog’s assistance. The dog is sure they will be friends and asks Milo to call him Tock. Of course the boy thinks it is odd for a dog that “goes tickticktickticktick all day” to be called Tock, so the dog explains the sad story.
His brother, the first pup in the family, was called Tick because everyone was sure that is the sound he would make; however, the unfortunate pup “went tocktocktocktocktocktock” all day. His parents tried to change his name officially but could not. When the Watchdog arrived, his parents assumed he would make the same sound and called him Tock, but of course that is not the case. Now both brothers are doomed to have the wrong names. After this disaster, his parents had no more children; instead, they devoted their lives to charity work.
Tock is a watchdog because his family has always been watchdogs. Once there was no such thing as time, something people found quite inconvenient. Time was invented to help people get to places and do things on time; however, because it seemed there was so much of it, people assumed it could not be very valuable. Suddenly people began to waste it and even give it away—until the watchdogs were assigned to make sure no one ever again wasted time.
As they drive, Tock explains the importance of time until they see the distant flags of Dictionopolis. Soon they arrive at the wall and then stand at the gate to the city, where they are greeted by a guard. Today is market day and the guard wonders whether Milo and Tock have come here to buy or to sell. When Milo searches for something to say, the guard volunteers to help him find a reason; he is certain he must have an old one Milo can use. He searches through an old suitcase full of reasons and finally holds up a small chain from which a medallion hangs. It says, “Why not?” The guard says this is a “good reason for almost anything,” even if it is a bit overused.
Milo and Tock enter the city and see a large banner welcoming them to the Word Market. Five very tall, thin gentlemen unroll royal scrolls and greet—welcome, hail, salute, acknowledge—them. (Everything one man says is repeated with synonyms by the other four.) They explain that if one word is as good as another, they might as well use as many as possible.
All words are grown in the orchards...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Confusion in the Market Place
At the market, Milo can see crowds of people pushing, shouting, buying, selling, trading, and bargaining. Carts are pouring in from the orchards, and caravans are preparing to leave for every part of the kingdom. Above all the other noises and activity is the call of the merchants trying to sell their goods. People from every imaginable place (“and some places even beyond that”) are sorting and choosing their words.
Milo and Tock marvel at the array of words as they walk the market aisles. Though Milo has never thought much about words before, he now longs to have some. Tock, however, is more interested in finding a bone than in shopping for a word. The boy hopes that if he buys some words, he can learn how to use them. The three he chooses are quagmire, flabbergast, and upholstery, though he has no idea what they mean.
Unfortunately, Milo has only the coin he needs to get back through the tollbooth, and of course Tock has nothing but time. They walk until Milo notices a wagon that is different from every other stall. On the side, it says, “DO IT YOURSELF,” and inside are twenty-six bins, one for every letter of the alphabet. The owner of the wagon says these letters are for people who want to create their own words. Milo nibbles on an A, and it tastes just as one would expect an A to taste. Z and X are rather dry and sawdusty from lack of use; the I is icy and the C is crunchy.
Milo spits the pits from a P and says he is not very good at spelling just as an enormous bee, twice his size, settles on the wagon. Though the Spelling Bee has only peaceful intentions, Tock hides under the wagon. Though the bee looks harmless enough, Milo is not too sure about him, either. He puts the Spelling Bee to the test, and the bee can spell nearly everything. He was once an ordinary bee but decided he had to get an education to become something exceptional.
The Spelling Bee’s story is interrupted by a large, formally dressed, beetle-like insect, who thunders, “BALDERDASH!” The creature demands an introduction to the boy, and the Spelling Bee reluctantly introduces Milo to the Humbug, “a very dislikeable fellow.” The bee warns Milo not to believe anything the Humbug says, but the Humbug waxes poetic about the nobility of his family tree. History, he...
(The entire section is 551 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
One of the salesmen shouts, “Done what you’ve looked!” He obviously meant “Look what you’ve done,” but the words are hopelessly mixed up now. The letters are swept into a large pile for sorting, amid the confusion and the mess. Spelling Bee flies off in a huff just as Milo gets to his feet and the entire Dictionopolis police force arrives—and he is blowing his whistle.
He is Officer Shrift, the shortest policeman Milo has ever seen; he is only two feet tall and twice as wide, wearing a blue uniform and a very fierce expression. He tells everyone he sees that they are guilty and finally stops in front of Milo. He tells the boy to turn off his dog, as it is impolite to sound an alarm in the presence of a policeman.
Shrift walks around and examines the damage, finally asking who is responsible for this mess. Most of the people did not see the incident happen, so no one speaks. Humbug is dusting himself off and Shrift thinks the creature looks suspicious. Humbug is startled and drops his cane before beginning a wordy excuse, which mentions the boy. The officer is eager to grab that excuse, as he thinks that “boys are the cause of everything.” When Humbug tries to explain that he was not exactly blaming Milo, Shrift silences him with a menacing glare.
Officer Shrift asks Milo what he was doing on the night of July 27. Milo is confused until the officer explains that July 27 is his birthday, and he makes a notation in his little book, saying boys always forget birthdays. Next he accuses Milo of the following crimes: “having a dog with an unauthorized alarm, sowing confusion, upsetting the applecart, wreaking havoc, and mincing words.” When Tock starts to complain, the policeman adds illegal barking to the list.
When Officer Shrift asks Milo if he is ready to be sentenced, Milo remembers that only a judge can sentence a person. Shrift agrees before taking off his hat and putting on a long, black robe. Shrift is now the judge and asks the boy if he would like a long sentence or a short sentence. Milo prefers short, and so does the judge. The sentence is “I am,” a fair sentence, and Milo must spend 6 million years in prison. Milo insists only a jailor can take him to the dungeon, so Shrift removes his robe and takes out a bunch of keys. He is now the jailer, and he leads boy and dog away. The dungeon is very dungeon-y, complete with slimy...
(The entire section is 750 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Faintly Macabre’s Story
This is the story Faintly Macabre tells Milo and Tock. The land is a barren and frightening wilderness, and evil creatures roam freely in this land, called Null. One day a small ship appears on the Sea of Knowledge; it is a prince, and he claims the land in the name of goodness and truth. When he begins to explore the country, the demons, monsters, and giants work together to drive away the prince.
There is a great battle, and all that remains for the prince in the end is a “small piece of land at the edge of the sea”; nevertheless, he builds his city here. Soon ships arrive with more settlers, and over time, the borders of the city expand. Though it is attacked every day, the prince’s city cannot be destroyed. Soon it grows from a small city into a kingdom, the kingdom of Wisdom.
It is dangerous outside the walls, and the new king is determined to take back the land that is rightfully his. Every spring he takes his army to battle, and each autumn he returns; his kingdom grows larger and more prosperous each year. He now has a wife and two young sons, to whom he teaches all his wisdom for the day they will rule. When the boys are young men, the king sends them out to expand the kingdom and establish new cities in the wilderness, for the kingdom of Wisdom must grow.
One son goes south to the Foothills of Confusion and builds Dictionopolis, the city of words; the other goes north to the Mountains of Ignorance and founds Digitopolis, the city of numbers. Both cities prosper and the enemy is driven even farther back; new cities and towns are founded. Now the evil creatures are relegated to the farthest reaches of the country, waiting to strike any who venture near them.
The brothers are suspicious and jealous; since each of them strives to best the other, soon their cities rival Wisdom “in size and grandeur.” One is certain numbers are more important than wisdom; the other is certain words are the most important. Their animosity grows, but the king is unaware of it. He is old now, and he spends his days walking and thinking in his royal gardens. His only regret is that he had no daughters, but one day, he finds two tiny baby girls who had been abandoned in the grape arbor. They become the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and the Princess of Pure Reason.
When the king dies, his kingdom is divided between his sons, and they are now...
(The entire section is 708 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
The Royal Banquet
Milo and Tock arrive at the royal palace, a place that looks like a giant book standing on end with the door at the bottom of the binding. Inside, they hurry down a long hallway glittering with chandeliers and mirrors. They are late and the banquet hall is full of people talking and arguing loudly. Gold plates and linen napkins line the long table, and an attendant stands behind each chair. On the wall is the royal coat of arms with the royal flags of Dictionopolis on each side.
Milo recognizes many of the guests from the marketplace. The letter man is explaining the history of the W to some people, while the Spelling Bee and the Humbug are in a corner arguing about nothing. Officer Shrift is walking around the room pronouncing everyone guilty; he brightens when he sees Milo and exclaims that time passes quickly.
The banquet-goers are relieved to see the tardy guests, as everyone has been waiting for them. The Humbug informs Milo that he is the guest of honor and must of course choose the menu. Milo is surprised but willing; as he thinks about that, a page announces the arrival of King Azaz the Unabridged. He is a large man and “settles his great bulk onto the throne” as he tells everyone to sit.
King Azaz is the largest man Milo has ever seen. His gray beard reaches his waist and he wears a signet ring, a small crown, and a robe embroidered with the letters of the alphabet. He asks about the boy and the dog, and Milo introduces himself and Tock before thanking the king for inviting them to the banquet and complimenting him on his palace. The king asks the boy what he can do to entertain them, but Milo has nothing to offer.
The king says Milo is quite an ordinary little boy, especially compared to his cabinet members, who can “make mountains out of molehills,” “split hairs,” “make hay while the sun shines,” “leave no stone unturned,” and “hang by a thread.” All Milo can do is count to a thousand, but the king says they never use numbers in his kingdom unless it is absolutely necessary.
When asked what he would like to eat, Milo remembers his mother’s advice to eat lightly when one is a guest, so that is what he suggests: a light meal. Waiters arrive carrying large serving platters; when Milo lifts the covers, light dances everywhere. The Humbug says that while this is a beautiful meal, it is not...
(The entire section is 674 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The Humbug Volunteers
All the guests have finished eating. Suddenly the king leaps to his feet and shouts for everyone’s attention by pounding on the table. The king did not need to give the command, for everyone but Milo, Tock, and the Humbug rushes from the room the moment he begins speaking.
His guests are already outside of the palace when the king addresses the nearly empty room. Milo politely reminds King Azaz that all the others have left, but the king was hoping no one had noticed. This happens every time: all the guests go to dinner as soon as they have eaten at the king’s banquet. This seems ridiculous to Milo and the king agrees: by royal command, from now on all guests must eat dinner before the banquet.
They all agree that things are quite confusing in this kingdom but no one seems to know quite what to do about it. Milo has been waiting for such an opportunity and gently suggests that perhaps it is time for Rhyme and Reason to return. King Azaz wishes they would return; even if they were a bother at times, things always ran more smoothly when they were here. But the king is afraid they cannot be brought back.
The Humbug suggests it would be a simple task for a brave boy, a loyal dog, and a serviceable vehicle. The boy would merely have to travel miles of harrowing terrain until he reached Digitopolis and persuade the Mathemagician to release the princesses, which the leader will never agree to do. Then, if he did get the princesses, all Milo would have to do is enter the Mountain of Ignorance (a land full of evil and from which few return) and climb the two-thousand-step circular stairway (without railings, at night, in a high wind) to the Castle in the Air. After that, all Milo would have to do is chat pleasantly with Rhyme and Reason before returning through the harrowing crags full of devouring monsters. Upon his arrival, Milo would attend a triumphal parade followed by cookies and hot chocolate for everyone.
The Humbug is quite satisfied with his simple plan, and the king agrees that he never thought it could be that simple to restore Rhyme and Reason. Milo thinks it all sounds quite dangerous—and now the Humbug agrees with him, in his effort to agree with everyone. There is one more serious problem, but the king cannot reveal what it is until Milo returns from his trip.
The king claps his hands and suddenly they all find...
(The entire section is 700 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
It’s All in How You Look at Things
As Dictionopolis disappears behind them, all the strange and unknown lands between the kingdom of words and the kingdom of numbers stretch before them. The Humbug is “happily resigned to the trip,” and soon they arrive at the edge of a dense forest. A large road sign says, “This Is the Scenic Route: Straight Ahead to Point of View.” The travelers see nothing but more trees, and the forest grows denser as they continue until they can no longer see the sky above them.
The forest ends abruptly and the road ends on a broad promontory; below them they can see the land they had just traveled. Milo exclaims that it is a beautiful sight, and a strange voice says that it is all in the way one looks at things. When the boy turns around, he sees a pair of polished brown shoes suspended three feet off the ground; wearing the shoes is a young boy about Milo’s age.
The boy continues, saying that if one prefers the desert, for example, this would not be such a beautiful sight. The Humbug quickly agrees; he does not like to contradict anyone whose feet are that far off the ground. Milo asks how the boy manages to stand so far off the ground. The boy is surprised that a boy as young as Milo is standing on the ground.
In the boy’s family, everyone is born in the air, so his head is at the exact height it will be when he is an adult. As they grow, each person’s feet get closer to the ground until they are all grown down. He says a few of them never have their feet touch the ground, of course, but that is probably true of someone in every family. Milo explains that the opposite is true in his family, and none of them ever knows how far they will grow up until they actually get there. It is a confusing concept for the floating boy, for it means that perspectives will change as people grow up. Milo has never thought of it before, but he agrees that this is what happens.
The floating boy and his family always see things from the same angle, and it is much less troublesome. A young child can never hurt himself by falling down or get in trouble for leaving scuff marks on the floor if he floats above the ground. Tock thinks this makes sense and wonders how the dogs in this family like this way of doing things.
When the boy tells Milo exactly what he ate for breakfast, knows that Tock is always worried about people wasting time, and...
(The entire section is 699 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
A Colorful Symphony
The travelers run through the forest until the Humbug suggests they might be lost. Alec is sitting on a high branch above the rest; he says they are not lost because they are right here, and he has no interest in being anywhere he is not. The travelers are confused by his logic. Alec points to a small house nestled between two of the largest trees and says they can ask the giant what he thinks. The nameplate reads “The Giant,” and the man who opens the door is perfectly ordinary in size and greets them graciously. He is the smallest giant in the world.
Milo asks the giant if they are lost, and the giant suggests they go around to the back of the house and ask the midget, Milo and Tock do as he suggests and find an identical door at the back of the cottage with a nameplate that reads “The Midget.” A man who looks exactly like the giant answers their knock; he is the tallest midget in the world. Milo asks the midget if they are lost, and the midget suggests they go to the side door of the house and ask the fat man.
The side door is similar to both the front and the back doors. They are warmly greeted by a man who could be the midget’s twin; he explains that he is the thinnest fat man in the world. If Milo and Tock have any questions, they should go to the other side of the house and ask the thinnest man in the world. As they expect, that door is the same and is opened by a man who looks exactly like the other three men.
When Milo insists that all four men in the house are actually the same, the man tells Milo not to ruin everything. To tall men, he is a midget and to short men he is a giant; to skinny men he is fat but to fat men he is thin. Because of this, he can hold four jobs at once. He is really quite ordinary. However, there are so many ordinary men that no one asks their opinions about anything.
Milo again asks if the man thinks they are lost. The man explains that sometimes where a person is going is where he is; on the other hand, where a person has been is often not at all where he ought to have gone. He suggests they go back to someplace they have never left and then decide if they should or should not have gone there. If they have any more questions, they should ask the giant.
The group arrives at a large clearing. Many people in the forest live in a large city called Reality. Off to the left is a city where rooftops...
(The entire section is 806 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Dischord and Dynne
At exactly 5:22 (Tock’s clock is very accurate), Milo sees the sky is still black, dark blue, and purple, though the sun will rise in just a moment. The others are still asleep. Milo must wake Chroma. Suddenly Milo wonders what it would be like to conduct the orchestra and color the world. He thinks it cannot be too difficult because the musicians undoubtedly know what to play, and it would be a shame to wake Chroma so early. Besides, this might be his only opportunity to try such a thing. The musicians are already poised to play, and he would only direct them for a short time.
Milo stands on tiptoe and makes the tiniest gesture to the orchestra at 5:23. A single piccolo trills a note, one tiny ray of light appears, and Milo is thrilled; he makes a slightly more noticeable gesture and a few more instruments play as several more rays of light dance into view. Soon every instrument is playing and the entire forest is washed in color.
Milo is overjoyed and signals for the musicians to stop so he can wake Chroma. Unfortunately, the musicians continue playing even louder than before until the colors are so brilliant that Milo can hardly bear to look. A curious thing happens when Milo shields his eyes with one hand and desperately waves to the musicians. The sky slowly turns a deep red and flurries of light-green snow begin to fall as the foliage turns a brilliant orange. The flowers are now black, the gray rocks turn chartreuse, and Tock is no longer brown but ultramarine. Nothing is the color it should be and the more Milo tries to repair the damage, the worse it becomes.
Now he wishes he had not started the music. In just a few minutes, the sun rises and sets seven times. Milo is exhausted and drops his hands; when he does, the orchestra stops. It is 5:27 a.m., and it is dark once again. Now Milo runs to wake Chroma. Then the day begins exactly as it should have under Chroma’s direction. No one knows about those disastrous four minutes except anyone who happened to be awake.
Before the travelers leave him, Alec gives Milo a telescope through which he can see things as they really are. Milo drives into a valley and in the distance they see a carnival wagon parked at the side of the road. The wagon reads, “Kakofonous A. Dischord: Doctor of Dissonance.” Milo timidly knocks on the door and immediately hears what sounds like an entire set of dishes...
(The entire section is 802 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
The Silent Valley
Milo thinks the valley looks quite pleasant and believes Dr. Dischord was exaggerating about the Valley of Sound. As soon as he drives through a heavy stone gateway, however, everything changes. Everything looks and smells the same, but it sounds quite different. It takes him a moment to find the difference, but Milo suddenly realizes there is absolutely no sound—not even the ticking of Tock. It is an unnerving sensation and Milo begins to slow the car.
The travelers realize they have driven into a large crowd of people marching along the roadway. They are singing (although their song cannot be heard) and carrying signs such as “Down with Silence,” “It’s Laudable to Be Audible,” and “Hear Here.” When the car stops, the citizens approach the car and one of them begins to write their story of silence on a large blackboard.
Nearby is a great fortress in which the ruler of the land, the Soundkeeper, lives; she was appointed the guardian of all sounds and noises (past, present, and future) by the old king of Wisdom. For years she ruled wisely, releasing each day’s new sounds at sunrise and gathering the old sounds at sunset so they could be catalogued and stored in underground vaults.
Everyone in the valley had all the sound they could ever use: singing, pots bubbling, axes chopping, owls hooting, and many more. Everyone lived in peace and flourished and the sounds were neatly catalogued for future reference. Soon, though, more people came to the valley, bringing with them sounds of every kind, both good and bad. Everyone was busy and no longer had time to listen to any sounds—and everyone knows that a sound that is not heard disappears forever and cannot be found again.
The beautiful sounds began to grow ugly. It became difficult to hear anything pleasant, so everyone eventually stopped listening for them. The Soundkeeper grew disconsolate, and the citizens determined that all their troubles began at the same time Rhyme and Reason were banished.
One day Dr. Dischord and Dynne came to the valley and promised to cure everyone of everything; the Soundkeeper allowed the doctor to try, and he did have some success. Every adult and child took his medicine and it did cure them—of everything but noise. This infuriated the Soundkeeper, who then proclaimed that the Valley of Sound must be silent because no one appreciated sound. All...
(The entire section is 778 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
When Milo returned to town, everyone wonders where the sound is. Because he cannot speak, Milo writes on the chalkboard that the sound is on the tip of his tongue. The crowd is elated and they push the cannon into place, loading it with gunpowder. Milo stands on his toes, leans into the mouth of the cannon, and opens his mouth. The tiny sound drops silently to the bottom. Someone lights the fuse and it begins to sputter.
Just as Milo is hoping no one gets hurt, the cannon shoots and the sound of a tiny little word—but—flies toward the wall. The sound lands lightly, and almost immediately there is a “blasting, roaring, thundering smash, followed by a crashing, shattering, bursting crash, as every stone in the fortress comes toppling to the ground and the vaults burst open, spilling the sounds of history into the wind.”
Every sound, from the beginning of time, rises from the debris in a cacophony of sound. Sneezes, coughs, laughter, cries, and hums all rise at the same time, joining old speeches, gunshots, waterfalls, and automobile horns. It is a deafening confusion for a short time, but soon the sounds disappear over the hill. Everything is normal again, and the people begin to live their normal talkative lives. Only Milo, Tock, and the Humbug remain. When the smoke clears, they see the Soundkeeper sitting on the pile of rubble.
Milo apologizes, but the Soundkeeper is sad, not mad. She knows it will take years to collect every sound again and even longer to organize them. She knows it is her fault, though, because sound cannot be improved by maintaining complete silence. What is important is learning to use each at the proper time.
As the Soundkeeper talks, they hear Dynne plodding his way over the hill, dragging a heavy sack behind him. He asks if anyone needs the sounds he collected on the other side of the hill; none of these sounds are awful enough for him. The Soundkeeper looks into the bag and is shocked to find all the sounds that had escaped from the vaults. She thanks Dynne for returning them and invites him and Dr. Dischord to dinner once her fortress is repaired. Dynne is horrified at the thought and runs away in a panic.
If Rhyme and Reason were here, the Soundkeeper is certain everything would improve. Milo tells her that is the mission he and his friends are on, and the Soundkeeper gives him a small...
(The entire section is 796 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
The Dodecahedron Leads the Way
The road ahead of the travelers divides into three branches, and an enormous road sign points in all three directions giving the distance to Digitopolis in miles, rods, yards, feet, inches, and half-inches. The Humbug wants to travel by miles because it is shorter, but Milo prefers half-inches because it is quicker. All Tock knows is that which road they take must make a difference.
A peculiar little man appears and tells them it does, indeed, matter which road they take. The man is constructed of lines and angles, marked with capital and small letters, connected together into a solid, many-sided shape. He introduces himself as the Dodecahedron, a mathematical shape with twelve faces. Just as he says this, eleven other faces appear, one on each of the Dodecahedron’s surfaces, and each one wears a different expression.
Milo introduces himself, and the figure notes that Milo only has one face; that is not a bad thing, but the Dodecahedron is afraid Milo will wear out his one face by using it for everything. He wonders if everyone with one face is called Milo, but the boy assures him that people are called by many names. The Dodecahedron exclaims that it must be so confusing to live that way. Here, everything is called exactly what it is because everything in Digitopolis is quite precise.
The travelers ask the figure for help deciding which road to take, and immediately the Dodecahedron recites a complicated word problem which should help them determine the proper course. Milo figures frantically but is still unsure of the correct answer, as he is not very good at such problems. Numbers are quite useful, according to the Dodecahedron, for they always give an accurate answer, even if the question is wrong.
Tock has been doing the math and now announces that all three roads will get them to Digitopolis at the same time. The Dodecahedron concurs and offers to take them there. The road is bumpy and every time they hit a bump, the Dodecahedron bounces up and lands on one of his many faces. They climb higher and higher into a barren land of rocks and stones when suddenly the creature is bounced completely out of the car, landing sad-face-up at the mouth of a cave.
Numbers are mined, not made, but Milo says he does not think numbers are very important. The Dodecahedron explodes and asks how anyone could have tea for two, or three blind...
(The entire section is 732 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
This Way to Infinity
Seven of the strongest miners bring a huge, bubbling cauldron into the cave, and soon a tantalizing aroma fills the space. The travelers watch hungrily as each miner fills his bowl from the steaming pot. The Mathemagician gives each of the travelers a heaping bowlful, and all three of them eat every bit of what they had been given. The Mathemagician fills their bowls again and again and again, and Milo wonders why he grows hungrier with every portion he eats.
Milo eats nine servings, Tock eats eleven, and the Humbug eats twenty-three without ever looking up from his bowl. The Mathemagician blows his whistle and the pot is removed from the cave and the miners return to work. The Humbug is now twenty-three times hungrier than he was before and thinks he is starving. The Dodecahedron says they just ate the specialty of the kingdom, subtraction stew.
In Digitopolis, the more one eats, the hungrier one gets; the citizens have their meals when they are full and eat until they are hungry. This way, if a person does not have anything at all, he always has more than enough. It is a simple thing: the more one wants, the less one gets, and the less one gets, the more one has. It is simple math. The Mathemagician finds it curious that Milo only eats when he is hungry and wonders if he then only sleeps when he is tired.
Suddenly the travelers are transported to the Mathemagician’s workshop; he explains that the best way to get from one place to another is to erase everything and begin again. It is a strange, circular room with sixteen tiny arched windows which correspond exactly with the sixteen points of the compass. Everything is numbered by its height, weight, width, and depth. Any tool used for measuring hangs from the ceiling next to a giant notepad set on an easel.
Milo asks if the Mathemagician always travels that way, and their host says he usually takes the shortest distance between two points. If, however, he has to be in several places at once, he simply multiplies. He shows his guests how to make things disappear by a mathematical formula whose answer is zero, and Milo asks to see the biggest number there is. He shows Milo the largest number he has ever seen: a giant number 3, twice as tall as the Mathemagician. Milo says he meant the longest number ever, and the Mathemagician shows him a huge number 8, nearly as wide as the 3 is high....
(The entire section is 663 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
A Very Dirty Bird
Milo climbs the stairs to Infinity but realizes he is no closer to the top than when he began—and not much farther from the bottom than when he started. He says he is certain he will never get there. A voice says he would not like Infinity much anyway; it is a very poor place that can never manage to make ends meet.
Milo looks up to see a half a child, neatly divided from top to bottom, standing next to him. Milo says he has never seen half a child before. The boy says it is .58 “to be precise.” His family is quite average: mother, father, and 2.58 children. He is the .58, of course.
The boy is never lonely because every family has a .58 for him to play with. Milo objects that averages are not real, but the boy says they are quite useful. For example, if Milo had no money and was with four friends who each had ten dollars, each of them would have an average of eight dollars. The boy gives more examples, but they only confuse Milo.
The boy patiently explains that one of the best things about mathematics (and many other things one learns) is that many things that can never be, are. Infinity is like that. Everyone knows it is there but no one knows quite where it is; not being able to reach it does not mean it is not worth looking for, either.
Milo walks back down the stairs. As he leaves he smiles warmly, something he does an average of forty-seven times a day.
Milo thinks everyone in Digitopolis knows more than he does; he will have to get much better at thinking before he will be able to rescue the princesses. At the workshop, Milo explains that everything in Digitopolis is much too difficult for him, and the Mathemagician gently assures him that the only thing that can be done easily is to be wrong, which is “hardly worth the effort.”
Milo wonders why even things that are correct do not always seem to be right, and the question makes the Mathemagician sad. He tells Milo things have been this way ever since Rhyme and Reason were banished. Suddenly he is furious, blaming the stubborn King Azaz for everything. He sent Azaz a letter just last month and never received a reply. Milo looks at the letter and sees that it is nothing but a series of numbers; he suggests that perhaps Azaz does not understand numbers.
Everyone understands numbers, claims the Mathemagician, because they mean the same thing in every...
(The entire section is 804 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
The Humbug is whistling happily as he works for he loves a task that does not require him to think. It has been days, and the hole he is digging is scarcely the size of his thumb. Tock has been working steadily, but the full well is still almost as full as it was when he began, and Milo’s new pile of sand can barely be called a pile.
Milo thinks it is strange that he has been working steadily for a long time but does not feel tired or hungry. He thinks he might be able to go on like this forever, and the gentleman yawns and says perhaps he will.
Milo uses his magic staff to calculate how long their tasks will take them; at the rate they are currently working, they will finish their work in eight hundred thirty-seven years. When he tells the gentleman this news, the man is completely unconcerned and says they had better keep working, then. When Milo suggests that their tasks do not seem particularly worthwhile, the now-menacing gentleman says it is his intention that they continue doing unimportant things so they will never get where they are going.
The gentleman is Terrible Trivium, the “demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.” All three travelers slowly back away as he explains that doing easy and useless jobs keeps one from doing the important and more difficult ones. There is always something trivial to do that consumes valuable time that could be spent doing what really must be done.
He slowly advances on the three workers and whispers an invitation for them to come and stay with him. They will have fun together: filling and emptying, taking away and bringing back, picking up and putting down, and so many other useless pursuits. If they stay with him, they will never have to think again.
Just as they are being mesmerized into Terrible Trivium’s clutches, someone shouts at them to run, and they do. Finally they clamber to the top of the ridge, Terrible Trivium just a few steps behind them.
The voice calls them over to one side, and they unhesitatingly wallow through the ooze, which is soon up to their waists. Terrible Trivium hurls curses at them but does not follow them. They continue to follow the directions given by the voice but are soon at the bottom of a deep, murky pit. They have been following the voice of a “long-nosed, green-eyed, curly-haired, wide-mouthed,...
(The entire section is 788 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Castle in the Air
The travelers climb higher and the demons move ominously closer. Suddenly, straight ahead of them is a “spidery spiral stair” that leads directly to the Castle in the Air. A little round man wearing a frock coat is sleeping on a large, worn ledger. He is stained with ink blobs, has a quill behind his ear, and wears a thick pair of eyeglasses. They try to step around the man, but he wakes up and demands to know their names as he opens the book and waits to write.
As Milo, Tock, and the Humbug each give their names, the man writes them in his book. He is the official Senses Taker and has to gather some information before he can take their senses. His questions are many and outrageous such as when they were born, how old they will be in a little while, the schools they have not attended, their hat sizes, and the names and addresses of six people who can verify everything they say.
The process is tortuously slow, and Milo can see the first of the demons beginning to scale the mountain. When all of them have answered his questions, they ask to leave. The Senses Taker tells them they may go as soon as they each answer another set of outrageous questions such as the number of books they read a year, where they go on vacations, and how far it is from their houses to the barbershop. Once they do that, they must fill out three copies of a stack of forms and applications—and if they make even one mistake they must start from the beginning.
Milo knows they will never be able to outrun the demons who are swarming up the mountain, but they fill out the paperwork and submit it. The little man thanks them, shuts his book, and then falls asleep again. The Humbug wakes him when he tries to step past him, and the Senses Taker distracts them from their goal by showing them something they will each find tempting. Milo sees a wonderful circus, Tock is distracted by a delicious aroma, and the Humbug is absorbed by the sound of an enormous crowd, all cheering for him.
The travelers are in a trance as the demons come within one minute of overtaking them. The little man has done exactly what he was supposed to do, and the travelers’ demise seems imminent until Milo’s backpack slips off his shoulder to the ground. The box of sounds pops open and the air is suddenly filled with great peals of laughter, a sound that breaks the spell. The travelers realize they have been...
(The entire section is 792 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
The Return of Rhyme and Reason
The group clinging to Tock sails past the tall mountain peaks and the grasping arms of the demons before reaching the ground with a jolt. Now they must run for their lives, and Tock takes the lead with the princesses on his back. They are followed by “all the loathsome creatures who choose to live in Ignorance” and who have been impatiently waiting for them. They are still running through thick, dark clouds; when Milo looks back he can see the awful creatures getting closer.
On the left are the Triple Demons of Compromise—“one tall and thin, one short and fat, and the third exactly like the other two.” These demons always settle their differences by compromising on something none of them wants, so they rarely make any progress. The Horrible Hopping Hindsight is an unpleasant creature who is jumping clumsily from rock to rock. His ears are in the rear and his rear is in the front; he usually leaps before he looks and does not care “where he is going as long as he knows why he shouldn’t have gone to where he’d been.” Directly behind them both are the terrifying Gorgons of Hate. They look like giant snails and inch along more quickly than one might think, leaving a trail of slime behind them.
On the right is the Overbearing Know-it All, a huge body atop spindly legs that barely support him. His greatest weapon is his mouth, as he is ready to offer misinformation on any subject to whomever will listen. He falls often, which is more dangerous to the one on whom he falls than to himself.
Near him is the Gross Exaggeration. He is grotesque in every way, and his wicked teeth are used only to mangle the truth. Riding on the back of whomever will carry him is Threadbare Excuse. He is a small, pathetic figure dressed in tatters who continuously mutters a string of lame excuses. He seems harmless; however, once he latches on, he rarely ever lets go.
All of them—travelers, princesses, and demons—are racing wildly through the darkness. Now the Gelatinous Giant and the Terrible Trivium are in the rear, urging their comrades on with glee. Suddenly the ugly Dilemma is part of the group, waiting to find someone he can catch on the ends of his long, pointed horns. The Humbug is exhausted and just as he says he does not think he can go on, lightning slashes the sky and a bolt of thunder steals his words.
Just as the demons rise...
(The entire section is 797 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Good-by and Hello
As he drives home, it suddenly occurs to Milo that he must have been gone for weeks, and he hopes no one has worried too much about him. The road starts to look more familiar and soon he arrives at the tollbooth, a welcome sight to the young boy. He deposits his coin and drives through; almost immediately he is sitting in the middle of his own room again.
Yawning, he notes it is only six o’clock and then realizes it is still today. He has only been gone for one hour and is amazed at how much he accomplished in such a short time. Milo is much too tired to talk or eat, so he goes to bed as soon as he can and drifts “into a deep and welcome sleep.”
The next day school goes by quickly, but Milo thinks only about getting home so he can see what new adventure the tollbooth has for him today. He arrives home and is excited to begin another journey and to see his friends again; however, when he gets to his room he is stunned to see nothing where the tollbooth was just last night. Although he searches frantically, he cannot find it. It has vanished as mysteriously as it came, and all he finds is another bright-blue envelope addressed very simply: “For Milo, who now knows the way.”
The letter inside says that Milo has completed his journey with the help of the Phantom Tollbooth. The writer hopes Milo will understand that there are many other boys and girls waiting to use it, so it cannot stay with him. There are many other lands for him to visit (some of which are not even on any map) and wonderful things for him to see (some of which have not even been imagined). If he really wants to see them, he will certainly find a way to reach them by himself. The signature on the letter is blurred, so Milo does not know who wrote it.
Milo settles into a large armchair and feels quite lonely as he thinks about his recent adventures. He misses all the friends he made and knows he will remember them always. Even as he thinks about these things, however, he looks outside his window and sees how beautiful everything is. There is so much for him “to see, and hear, and touch.” He has walks to take, hills to climb, nature to observe, things to hear and smell. Even in his own room there are things to read, build, break, play, and learn.
Suddenly everything seems new to him and worth doing. He hopes to make another trip one day, but there are so many things...
(The entire section is 473 words.)