The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth

by

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth: Chapter 13. Unfortunate Conclusions Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Milo hurries back to the car, his mouth shut tight. He writes on the protestors’ chalkboard that his sound is on the tip of his tongue. The protestors position the cannon and then, very carefully, Milo spits the word into the cannon. Moments later, the cannon goes off and the “but” strikes the fortress’s door. Immediately, there’s a huge crash. The fortress crumbles and all the sounds in the vaults spill out. As all the sounds fly out together, it’s confusing—but once they clear, things return to normal. Only Milo, Tock, and the Humbug notice the Soundkeeper sitting on some rubble.
Milo’s ability to help here again shows how far he’s come. He now feels comfortable doing things to help others, rather than just trying to understand what’s going on around him. Note that when the cannon knocks down the fortress and restores sound to the valley, things don’t become perfect. Rather, things go back to normal. With this, the novel suggests that normalcy is something worth striving for—life doesn’t have to be flashy or flawless to be desirable.
Themes
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
Milo apologizes to the Soundkeeper and Tock says they had to do it. The Soundkeeper says this is all her fault—“you can’t improve sound by having only silence.” Rather, you must “use each at the proper time.” Presently, the DYNNE marches over the hill and asks if anyone wants the sounds in his bag; they’re not bad enough for him. The Soundkeeper is ecstatic and invites him and Dr. Dischord to come listen to music one night. Horrified, the DYNNE runs away. Tock tells the concerned Soundkeeper that the DYNNE only likes terrible sounds. She sighs that lots of people like unpleasant sounds, and unpleasant sounds do have their place—they’re how you know that other sounds are pleasant. She muses that things would be better if Rhyme and Reason were here.
The Soundkeeper advocates for balance: silence is what makes sound so beautiful, and vice versa. And as she engages with the DYNNE, they show that bad sounds are what make nice sounds so pleasant. This also has implications for Azaz and the Mathemagician’s argument over the importance of words or numbers: perhaps both are important and necessary. When the Soundkeeper invites Dr. Dischord and the DYNNE to visit, it symbolically shows that people on opposite sides of an argument can coexist (if both sides are willing to cooperate, of course).
Themes
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Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Milo announces that he’s going to rescue the princesses, so the Soundkeeper gives him a small wrapped gift. She says there are sounds in the package; a lot of the sounds are laughter. She then tells him how to get to Digitopolis. Milo, Tock, and the Humbug drive away in their car. Everything seems to be going well—until the Humbug says that nothing can go wrong now. At this, he flies out of the car to a little island off the shore. Tock says they’ll have plenty of time and flies away with the bug; Milo says the day couldn’t be nicer and inexplicably flies to join his friends.
The Soundkeeper’s gift again symbolizes that Milo has learned another lesson: that all types of sounds are worth paying attention to and appreciating, and that it’s necessary to have balance in life. Recall that in Dictionopolis, the Humbug made it clear that this journey was going to get even harder between Dictionopolis and the Mountains of Ignorance—he as much as said that things can go wrong. So, saying that things can’t go wrong reads as naïve and misleading.
Themes
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
From the shore, the island was beautiful. Now it looks dead and awful. Milo asks the first man he sees where they are, but in return, the man asks who he is. After a brief huddle, Milo asks the man to describe himself. The man says he’s “tall as can be,” “short as can be,” “strong as can be,” and “smart as can be.” The Humbug says it’s simple, and Milo says the man is Canby. Canby is ecstatic.
The island—and Canby—seem to reinforce the lesson Milo learned earlier about not judging people or things until he’s had the time to think about them carefully and critically. Milo, Tock, and the Humbug didn’t do that when they flew to this island—instead, they made assumptions.
Themes
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Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
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Tock asks where they are. Canby says this is the Island of Conclusions; they got here by jumping to conclusions (this happens when you decide something without reason). Milo says it’s very unpleasant as more people fly onto the island. The Humbug says he’s going to jump back, but Canby says you can’t jump from Conclusions. You have to swim back. Nobody likes doing it, he says, but it’s the only way—and some people swim through the Sea of Knowledge and still come out dry on the other side. Canby excuses himself to go greet newcomers.
Canby confirms that Milo, Tock, and the Humbug didn’t think through their assessments of how their journey is going to go. And the fact that they end up on this island and then have to figure out how to get back suggests that jumping to conclusions, just like jumping to the fantastical Island of Conclusions, wastes time. It may take some time to think things through, but the novel suggests that doing so will actually save time in the end.
Themes
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Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug all make the difficult, cold swim. The Humbug emerges on the beach dry and says it wasn’t so bad, but Milo says he’s not going to waste any more time jumping to Conclusions. They all get back in the car and drive for Digitopolis.
The Humbug comes out of the Sea of Knowledge dry because he’s essentially impervious to learning new things—he doesn’t change or learn much over the course of the novel. This suggests that he’ll be back to Conclusions at some point (representing the idea that he figuratively jumps to conclusions), since he rejects critical thought.
Themes
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