The Phantom Tollbooth Questions and Answers
by Norton Juster

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In The Phantom Tollboth, why does Faintly Macabre only have punctuation marks left to eat?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Faintly Macabre—or Aunt Faintly, as she encourages Milo to call her—has been cast into a dungeon. This is her punishment for causing an almighty collapse in the Word Market. In her official position as Official Which, Faintly tried very hard—too hard, as it turned out—to make sure that people used the correct word for the correct situation. Over time, however, she encouraged the use of fewer and fewer words until, eventually, everyone stopped talking. When her great-nephew the king found out about this, he was furious, and so confined her to a dungeon.

In Dictionopolis, in the world outside the dungeon walls, people have now gone to the other extreme of using too many words. Faintly Macabre, however, is not allowed to have any words, given the absolute mayhem she caused when she was the Official Which. All she has left is a box of sugar-coated punctuation marks.

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lbryant21 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Poor Faintly was cast into the dungeon after causing disaster in Dictionopolis in her job as Official Which. Since her job was to help people choose which words to use, she took her job quite seriously, and her self-made signs warned people to use words wisely and economically. The result was that the sale of words in the marketplace fell and caused havoc in the kingdom. Since it was her own unwisely used words that were responsible for the problems, she was forbidden to have any at all, and thus was forced to eat only the punctuation marks.

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