The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The main character of The Phantom Tollbooth is Milo. As the story begins, he is not interested in anything at all, and consequently, he is not very interesting himself. King Azaz, for example, mutters, "What an ordinary little boy," when Milo admits that he cannot sing, or tell stories, or do anything to entertain. However, as Milo continues to experience surprises, the reader can see that he is actually intelligent and perceptive. He has simply been unwilling to apply himself. By the close of the book, Milo has completed the quest set for him, and all of his good qualities have been revealed: intelligence, determination, honesty, resourcefulness, and love. Through his experience in the Kingdom of Wisdom, Milo becomes a complete and much more interesting person.

The two characters that accompany Milo through most of his trip are the ticking watchdog, Tock, and the lovable Humbug. Tock is a watchdog in every sense of the word; although he has four feet, a dog's head, and a tail, his body is a loudly-ticking alarm clock. Tock teaches Milo many lessons, beginning with how to escape from the Doldrums, where Milo has driven without thinking, and it is Tock whom Milo misses most when he prepares to leave for home. Milo's other companion, the Humbug, is a large, beetle like insect who wears fancy clothes and a derby hat. The Humbug is a long-winded fellow, sure of himself and dense as a brick, but somehow he is impossible to dislike, and Milo develops a real affection for him during their adventures. The reader, too, will discover how first impressions can be mistaken, for the Humbug is not very appealing at first glance, but grows more lovable as the story unfolds.

King Azaz the Unabridged and the Mathemagician are the authority figures in the book. Although their quarreling over whether words or numbers are more important puts them in a bad light, they are essentially good people. After the rescue of the wise and beautiful princesses. Rhyme and Reason, the two kings are able to settle their differences, revealing that even people with deep seated disagreements can compromise and work together. In addition, a number of whimsical minor characters appear, including Faintly Macabre, the Not-So-Wicked-Which; the Spelling Bee, a huge insect who...

(The entire section is 577 words.)