The Phantom Tollbooth Chapter 18 Summary
by Norton Juster

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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 tricked, and the Senses Taker sneers at them.

His gift is making people sense things that are not there so that he can steal their senses of purpose and duty and destroy their sense of proportion. The sense of humor is the one thing he cannot take, so the sounds of laughter have saved their lives.

Just then the travelers race up the stairs as the demons attempt to seize them. The “dangerous stairs dance dizzily in the wind,” and the demons do not...

(The entire section is 792 words.)