The Phantom Tollbooth Chapter 5 Summary
by Norton Juster

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Chapter 5 Summary

Short Shrift

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 stone walls and cobwebs.

Officer Shrift says Milo will be able to visit with the witch before telling him he will see the boy in 6 million years. The cell is dark and empty, and Milo laments that a person can get in trouble for mixing up words or...

(The entire section is 750 words.)