The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth

by

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth: Chapter 11. Dischord and Dynne Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At 5:22, Milo opens his eyes. Everything is still dark, and Milo knows he must wake Chroma for the sunrise. But Milo also wonders what it’d be like to conduct the orchestra himself. He reasons that it can’t be too hard; the musicians know what to do, and anyway, it’s too early to wake someone up. So Milo steps onto the podium and, at 5:23, raises his index finger. A piccolo starts to play some yellow light. A few more join in as more light appears on the horizon. Cellos make the hills turn red. Milo is thrilled and decides to go get Chroma. He signals for the musicians to stop.
Prior to coming to the Lands Beyond, Milo wasn’t at all curious about the world around him. But after only being here a little while, he’s becoming more curious and interested in his surroundings. Deciding to try conducting the sunrise himself shows just how curious and engaged Milo now is. It’s not enough to sit back and watch others try things—it’s now more fun to try things himself.
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But the musicians don’t stop—instead, they play louder. The colors grow bright and brilliant. Then, odd things start to happen. The sky turns magenta, green snow falls, and the trees become orange. Milo tries to conduct the musicians to fix the odd colors, but everything keeps getting worse. Nothing works. The musicians play faster and faster. Within a minute, the sun sets and rises again—seven times. Finally, exhausted and upset, Milo drops his hands. The orchestra stops and night falls again. Milo announces that it’s time for sunrise just as Chroma walks up, ready to conduct the sunrise. Milo says nothing. Only a few people know about the lost week.
The tone of the narration here, as Milo’s sunrise goes awry, is essentially that there was no real harm done. This is somewhat interesting, given that the novel insists that time is a person’s most important possession—and a week of it just passed by in a flash. More broadly, this suggests that it’s okay to try things and fail. Going forward, Milo will no doubt take this experience with him and either be more cautious or ask for help the next time he decides to try something.
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Tock’s alarm goes off and he says they need to go. Alec accompanies the party back through the Forest of Sight, sad to see his new friends go. But he says there’s a lot to see elsewhere if they keep their eyes open. Once they reach Milo’s car, Alec hands Milo a gift: a telescope. It will allow Milo to “see things as they really are, not just as they seem to be.” Milo puts it in the glove compartment, shakes Alec’s hand, and gets in the car. 
The telescope is a physical representation of the novel’s insistence that it’s essential to think critically about what one encounters, not just take things at face value. The telescope will encourage Milo to look long and hard at something and decide whether what he’s hearing about it is true—or whether his ears or his eyes are playing tricks on him.
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Related Quotes
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug drive through the countryside until they reach a deep valley. At the bottom, Tock and Milo notice a carnival wagon on the side of the road. It’s red and “KAKOFONOUS A. DISCHORD, DOCTOR OF DISSONANCE” is written on the side. Milo parks so he can ask for directions. When he taps on the door, he leaps back immediately—a crash comes from inside, and a bright voice asks if Milo has ever heard a set of dishes dropping onto a stone floor. The voice is happy when Milo says he hadn’t heard that until now, and then it invites Milo and his friends in.
The simple fact that Milo stops to ask for directions shows that he’s learning the importance of forming a community and getting to know people. He can’t go through life all on his own. The man in the wagon, though (presumably Dr. Dischord), seems far more interested in these loud noises than in helping Milo find his way. Milo is also learning more new things as he encounters this shockingly loud noise.
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The voice says that Milo, Tock, and the Humbug all look unwell. Milo notices that the voice is coming from a man busy mixing ingredients from apothecary jars and boxes. He wears a lab coat, and his ears are as big as his head. When Milo asks if the man is a doctor, the man introduces himself as Kakofonous A. Dischord, Doctor of Dissonance. The A stands for “as loud as possible.” As he speaks, screeches and bangs come seemingly from nowhere. The doctor asks to examine his new patients and deems that they’re suffering from a lack of noise. Then, he mixes a medicine from bottles labeled as “Loud Cries,” “Bangs,” “Swishes,” and “Miscellaneous Uproar.”
Everything about Dr. Dischord is silly and ridiculous, from his loud ears to insisting that a lack of noise is an illness. Even his name is a play on the words “cacophony” and “discord,” which refer to loud, chaotic noises. Dr. Dischord also demonstrates a skill that the novel suggests is important and useful: curiosity. Milo might not find Dr. Dischord’s loud noises particularly pleasant, but the man still obviously takes pleasure in coming up with the noises. His reason for doing so is, however, still a mystery.
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Milo isn’t excited to try this medicine, so he asks what kind of a doctor Dr. Dischord is. Dr. Dischord says he’s a noise specialist, and he creates the sound of “a square-wheeled steam roller rid[ing] over a street full of hard-boiled eggs” to demonstrate his craft. Milo doesn’t understand why anyone wants to hear these terrible noises, but the doctor says the noises are very popular today. People seem to want nothing else. As he works, he explains that years ago, he didn’t have much work except for when people went to war. But when people built big cities, suddenly they needed the sounds of honking horns, shrieks, and gurgling drains. People would be very unhappy if they didn’t have his medicine—just a little bit every day and the user won’t have to listen to beautiful sounds again.
Finally, the narration reveals that Dr. Dischord is responding to the rise of the big cities and the increasing speed and volume of modern life. This passage encourages readers to see that although big cities might seem exciting to live in, there are aspects of them—like disruptive noises—that are unappealing. The way that Dr. Dischord talks about the people who take his medicine mirrors what happened in Reality: they tuned out beautiful noises, just as the people in Reality ignored the city until it disappeared outright.
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Milo, Tock, and the Humbug all refuse the medicine, and Tock insists that a lack of noise isn’t an illness. Dr. Dischord agrees, but he says that that’s exactly why it’s a hard illness to cure. He only treats illnesses that don’t exist so he doesn’t get in trouble if he can’t cure someone.
This passage could be a reference to pseudoscientific fads that purport to heal illnesses that don’t exist, or to heal in ways that are impossible. Milo, Tock, and the Humbug use critical thinking here to avoid getting drawn in—they don’t take Dr. Dischord at face value.
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Since nobody will take the medicine, Dr. Dischord says he’ll give it to the DYNNE for lunch. He uncorks a bottle and a deafening rumble comes from it. Then, blue smog comes out and coalesces into a cloud of smog with hands, feet, and yellow eyes. He drinks the potion and bellows that it was great. Dr. Dischord introduces the smog as his assistant, the DYNNE. As Dr. Dischord explains that he found the DYNNE orphaned and trained him as an assistant, the DYNNE makes bad jokes and laughs thunderously.
Smog and air pollution is another symptom of the rise of big cities (especially at the time the novel was published in the early 1960s, before emissions standards had been put in place). So while the DYNNE himself is fantastical, his existence nevertheless encourages the reader to ask what would happen if the smog in their city was alive with a personality. The DYNNE is framed as an undesirable being, if not an outright antagonist, in much the same way that smog can harm people.
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Milo, confused, asks what a DYNNE is. Dr. Dischord says everyone’s heard of the DYNNE—whenever someone plays too loudly, others complain about “that awful din.” Suddenly sobbing, the DYNNE chokes out that he doesn’t understand why Milo hates noise—he heard an explosion last week, and it was so beautiful he cried. The DYNNE collapses in hysterics and Milo comments that he’s quite sensitive. Dr. Dischord agrees, but he says the DYNNE is right—noise is the most valuable thing in the world.
Here, Dr. Dischord explains that the DYNNE isn’t just physical air pollution; he’s also a physical embodiment of the terrible noises in cities. Making the DYNNE so humorously emotional when it comes to city sounds begs the question of who actually likes noises like explosions. Are they an unfortunate reality of modern living, or are they, as the DYNNE and Dr. Dischord suggest, actually enjoyable to some?
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When Milo points out that according to King Azaz, words are the most valuable, Dr. Dischord points out that when people (or things) want something, they make noise to ask for whatever it is. The doctor insists it’s simple and then sends the DYNNE off on his noise-collecting rounds. When he hears that Milo is headed for Digitopolis, the DYNNE offers his condolences—Milo will have to go through the Valley of Sound.
Dr. Dischord may technically be right that people or things use sound to ask for what they need. But again, he misses the novel’s main point: that time is more important than words, numbers, or sounds. So, Dr. Dischord becomes another figure who is so caught up in his area of expertise that he fails to see the bigger picture.
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