The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth

by

Norton Juster

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Terrible Trivium Character Analysis

The Terrible Trivium is the first demon Milo and his friends encounter in the Mountains of Ignorance, though he doesn’t initially look like a demon. Rather, he looks like a well-dressed man—but one without a face or any features. He holds up Milo, Tock, and the Humbug by assigning them tasks that will take years to complete, such as digging a hole with a needle. His entire purpose in life is to distract people with pointless tasks like this and keep them from getting anything meaningful done. Milo discovers that the way to beat the Trivium is to use math and his magic staff to calculate how long these pointless tasks will take—that, the novel suggests, will impress upon people how much time they could be spending on tasks that aren’t pointless.

Terrible Trivium Quotes in The Phantom Tollbooth

The The Phantom Tollbooth quotes below are all either spoken by Terrible Trivium or refer to Terrible Trivium. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bullseye Books edition of The Phantom Tollbooth published in 1988.
Chapter 17. Unwelcoming Committee Quotes

“But why do only unimportant things?” asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.

“Think of all the trouble it saves,” the man explained, and his face looked as if he’d be grinning an evil grin—if he could grin at all. “If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you should really be doing, and if it weren’t for that dreadful magic staff, you’d never know how much time you were wasting.”

Related Characters: Milo (speaker), Terrible Trivium (speaker), Tock, The Humbug, The Mathemagician
Related Symbols: Gifts, Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
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Terrible Trivium Character Timeline in The Phantom Tollbooth

The timeline below shows where the character Terrible Trivium appears in The Phantom Tollbooth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 17. Unwelcoming Committee
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Milo gasps, and the man finally introduces himself: he’s the Terrible Trivium, the demon of worthless jobs and petty tasks. He orders Milo and Tock not to... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...run. They wade into a puddle of ooze that turns out to be waist-deep; the Trivium finds a mound of pebbles to count and doesn’t follow. The voice tells Milo and... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...hysterics. He sets the travelers down and runs away. By this point, the Wordsnatcher, the Trivium, and the Demon of Insincerity know about Milo, Tock, and the Humbug, and they’ve told... (full context)
Chapter 19. The Return of Rhyme and Reason
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...can see light and safety ahead as the demons close in behind him. The Terrible Trivium and the Gelatinous Giant urge their fellows on—and the Dilemma looks ready to catch someone... (full context)