What is dictionopolis?
Dictionopolis is the name of the fantastic city visited by our hero Milo in the first several chapters of The Phantom Tollbooth, written by Norton Juster (with awesome illustrations by Jules Feiffer).
At the beginning of the book, Milo receives a mysterious package with a toy tollbooth and a map of what is labeled the "Lands Beyond." Milo is a bored young fellow, diffident about the world and things in general. Warned by a sign on the strange map to have a destination in mind, he chooses Dictionopolis as his starting location. Much to his surprise, what he assumes to be a dull board game turns into a real place, and he is magically transported directly into the Lands Beyond.
But he doesn't go directly to Dictionopolis—first, Milo needs to learn a little bit about wisdom on Wisdom's Road. He gets lost in the colorless Doldrums, but he is rescued with help and advice from Tock, his watchdog and alarm clock for his journey.
Milo learns that Dictionopolis is one of two major lands here. The other land is called Digitopolis. Both lands are ruled by kings, who are brothers. And neither land has Rhyme or Reason, because Rhyme and Reason are the adopted younger sisters of the kings who have been banished to the Castle in the Air.
Dictionopolis is all about words, and here Milo learns a lot of lessons about words. "I never knew words could be so confusing," he says at one point. His advisor, Tock, tells him that words are only confusing when you use a lot of them to say a little.
In Dictionopolis, words are also very literal: "You must pick your words very carefully and be sure to say just what you intend to say." So, when the Earl of Essence says that choosing the right word is "as easy as falling off a log," he immediately falls off a log. The inhabitants have more to say to Milo as he wonders about this place:
"Dictionopolis is the place where all the words in the world come from. They're grown right here in our orchards."
"I didn't know that words grew on trees," said Milo timidly.
"Where did you think they grew?" shouted the earl irritably. A small crowd began to gather to see the little boy who didn't know that letters grew on trees.
"I didn't know they grew at all," admitted Milo even more timidly. Several people shook their heads sadly.
"Well, money doesn't grow on trees, does it?" demanded the count.
"I've heard not," said Milo.
"Then something must. Why not words?" exclaimed the undersecretary triumphantly. The crowd cheered his display of logic and continued about its business.
And even though King Azaz of Dictionopolis is responsible for banishing Rhyme and Reason, without Rhyme and Reason, the land is in shambles. Dictionopolis has too many words and not enough sense. Milo and Tock agree to go on a mission to rescue the princesses, and they head off for Digitopolis, the land of numbers, to get the permission of its king, the Mathemagician, to do this and to save the day.
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