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The Phantom Tollbooth

Norton Juster

Chapters 9–11

Chapters 6–8

Chapters 12–13

Summary

Chapter 9

Motoring along in the electric car, Milo, Tock and the Humbug take in the scenery and stop to enjoy a panoramic view. When Milo comments that the view is beautiful, a strange voice counters that "[i]t's all in the way you look at things." Milo whirls around and sees a boy about his age floating several feet above the ground. "For instance," the floating boy continues, "If you happened to like deserts, you might not think this was beautiful at all."

Milo asks the boy how the boy is able to float in the air at the same time as the boy was about to ask Milo how Milo is able to touch the ground with his feet. In his family, the boy explains, everyone is born with their heads at the height they will be once they grow up; instead of growing steadily toward the sky, their legs grown down toward the ground. Milo explains that, where he comes from, the opposite is true.

The boy introduces himself as Alec Bings and claims that he has the power to see through things. In fact, the only thing he cannot see, Alec explains, "is whatever happens to be right in front of [his] nose." ilo is dazzled by this and wants to be able to see things as well. Alec tells him to simply start thinking like an adult and once Milo does, sure enough he begins to rise off the ground. Then he suddenly drops back to the earth and declares that he'd prefer to keep seeing things as a child since it is "not so far to fall."

Chapter 10

Alec, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug continue their walk in the forest, coming upon a large clearing in which lies a magnificent metropolis. The city, Alec says, is called Illusions and is really just a mirage. Its twin city, Reality, turns out to be all around the travelers. Alec explains that Reality was once as beautiful as Illusions, but people in Reality decided that things would be much more efficient if they went everywhere as fast as possible and didn't bother to stop and appreciate things along the way. As a result, the city withered away.

Alec next leads the group to an enormous open-air orchestra concert of over a thousand musicians, all conducted by Chroma the Great. Chroma waves his arms, and the musicians seem to be playing their instruments, although Milo doesn't hear anything. Alec explains that this orchestra is responsible for providing all the colors in the world. Milo meets Chroma, who talks about what a dull place the world would be without colors before Chroma hurries off to bed. Before he goes, Chroma asks Milo to keep an eye on the orchestra overnight and to wake him at 5:23 a.m. for the sunrise.

Chapter 11

Milo wakes up at 5:22 a.m. and decides that he should let Chroma sleep in and simply conduct the orchestra himself. The colors at first begin normally but Milo quickly loses control, causing all the colors to become wild and mismatched. Finally, after the sun has risen and set a full seven times, he gives up and drops his arms. It is 5:27 a.m., and it looks like night again. Chroma comes running up completely unaware that seven days have passed.

Alec escorts Milo, Tock, and the Humbug to the end of the Forest of Sight, where he bids them farewell and gives Milo a telescope as a gift so that he can "see things as they really are."

The three travelers pile back into the electric car and soon drive up to a carnival-style wagon bearing the sign "KAKOFONOUS A. DISCHORD, DOCTOR OF DISSONANCE." Within they find Dischord himself, a man with ears that are bigger than his head. As a purveyor of noise pills, racket lotion, clamor salve and hubbub tonic, Dischord mixes up a foul sounding substance that Milo and his companions refuse. Rather than waste it, the doctor summons Dynne, his terrible smoke-monster sidekick who gulps down the concoction. Dischord and Dynne talk for a bit about how wonderful noises are and how important they are to life before heading out to make their rounds. They bid Milo to be careful in the Valley of Sound.

Analysis

In this section, Juster forwards the theme of education as Milo learns his next set of lessons in the Lands Beyond. His teachers include Alec Bings, Chroma the Great, and even the wretched Dr. Dischord. From Alec Bings, Milo learns a great deal about perspective. Alec Bings has the unfortunate fate to have to look at things from the same perspective for his entire life. Rather than seeing things differently as he ages, like most people do, Alec will always have the same grown-up outlook. This relates to the motif of nonsense as Alec's unusual situation results in his ability to see everything but that which is right before his eyes. This seems contrary to common sense and creates quite a few problems for the floating boy as the smashes into trees and bushes whenever he tries to run through the forest. It is important to notice that despite the fact that he has only a single, ridiculous perspective, Alec Bings is aware of the multitude of perspectives that different people have. In fact, Milo first meets him because Alec comments that not everyone would think a forest vista is beautiful.

Milo's lesson on perspective continues in the twin cities of Reality and Illusions. Since the residents of Reality have decided to block out their perceptions by turning their heads down and hurrying from place to place, their city has become literally invisible. The city of Illusions is even worse; it does not even exist as anything but a mirage. Here Juster seems to be referring to the tendency of people to rush past the important things in everyday life. Remember that before coming to the Lands Beyond, one of Milo's biggest problems was his inability to appreciate the things around him. In the twin cities, we see what might have happened to poor Milo if he had not corrected his problem: the things around him would have become uninteresting, just as they did in the city of Reality.

Juster also presents the lesson of perspective through the characters Dischord and Dynne. This unlikable pair seems to think that noises are much more enjoyable to hear than beautiful sounds. Dischord seems to think that Milo's ability to appreciate sounds such as music is a "disease" that needs to be cured, much as we might think the same of Dischord. Here Milo is reminded of the well-known idiom that "one man's music is another man's noise" as he and Dischord differ over which sounds they prefer.

Milo learns another lesson in the Forest of Sight, this one from Chroma the Great—or rather Chroma's absence. Without the maestro of color around to set things in their proper order, Milo witnesses what sort of chaos would exist. Juster seems to be further the education theme here by illustrating how important Chroma's knowledge and experience are. Milo thinks that conducting the color orchestra will be easy because, to his untrained eye, it looks that way. When he takes to the podium, he learns just how difficult conducting really is and how unqualified he is to do it. Juster seems to be telling us that in order to color the world properly, one needs the education and experience of Chroma the Great.

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