The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth

by

Norton Juster

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The Humbug is Milo’s second companion along his journey to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason. He’s a giant beetle-like bug dressed smartly in a coat, hat, pants, and spats. He also carries a cane. Despite his distinguished appearance and occasionally flowery language, though, the Humbug is self-involved, and his only goal in life is to be right—he’s at home on either side of an argument until, of course, an obvious correct position appears. When he makes observations or offers opinions, he’s often wrong. Because of this, the Humbug provides most of the comic relief as he, Milo, and Tock travel along. Most of the lessons that Milo and Tock learn don’t necessarily register with the Humbug; at the end of the novel, he remains unchanged from his initial state.

The Humbug Quotes in The Phantom Tollbooth

The The Phantom Tollbooth quotes below are all either spoken by The Humbug or refer to The Humbug. 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 8. The Humbug Volunteers Quotes

“In this box are all the words I know,” he said. “Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is use them well and in the right places.”

Related Characters: King Azaz the Unabridged (speaker), Milo, Tock, The Humbug
Related Symbols: Gifts
Page Number: 98-99
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10. A Colorful Symphony Quotes

“No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.”

Related Characters: Alec Bings (speaker), Milo, Tock, The Humbug
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

“You see what a dull place the world would be without color?” he said, bowing until his chin almost touched the ground. “But what a pleasure to lead my violins in a serenade of spring green or hear my trumpets blare out the blue sea and then watch the oboes tint it all in warm yellow sunshine. And rainbows are best of all—and blazing neon signs, and taxicabs with stripes, and the soft, muted tones of a foggy day. We play them all.”

Related Characters: Chroma (speaker), Milo, Tock, The Humbug, Alec Bings
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12. The Silent Valley Quotes

“Slowly at first, and then in a rush, more people came to settle here and brought with them new ways and new sounds, some very beautiful and some less so. But everyone was so busy with the things that had to be done that they scarcely had time to listen at all. And, as you know, a sound which is not heard disappears forever and is not to be found again.

“People laughed less and grumbled more, sang less and shouted more, and the sounds they made grew louder and uglier. It became difficult to hear even the birds or the breeze, and soon everyone stopped listening for them.”

Related Characters: Milo, Tock, The Humbug, The Soundkeeper
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13. Unfortunate Conclusions Quotes

“But it’s all my fault. For you can’t improve sound by having only silence. The problem is to use each at the proper time.”

Related Symbols: The Castle in the Air
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14. The Dodecahedron Leads the Way Quotes

“What a shame,” sighed the Dodecahedron. “[Problems are] so very useful. Why, did you know that if a beaver two feet long with a tail a foot and a half long can build a dam twelve feet high and six feet wide in two days, all you would need to build Boulder Dam is a beaver sixty-eight feet long with a fifty-one-foot tail?”

“Where would you find a beaver that big?” grumbled the Humbug as his pencil point snapped.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” he replied, “but if you did, you’d certainly know what to do with him.”

“That’s absurd,” objected Milo (…)

“That may be true,” he acknowledged, “but it’s completely accurate, and as long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong? If you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself.”

Related Characters: The Dodecahedron (speaker), The Humbug (speaker), Milo (speaker), Tock
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15. This Way to Infinity Quotes

“How did you do that?” gasped Milo.

“There’s nothing to it,” they all said in chorus, “if you have a magic staff.” Then six of them canceled themselves out and simply disappeared.

“But it’s only a big pencil,” the Humbug objected, tapping at it with his cane.

“True enough,” agreed the Mathemagician; “but once you learn to use it, there’s no end to what you can do.”

Related Characters: Milo (speaker), The Mathemagician (speaker), The Humbug (speaker), Tock, King Azaz the Unabridged
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16. A Very Dirty Bird Quotes

“I hope you found what you were looking for.”

“I’m afraid not,” admitted Milo. And then he added in a very discouraged tone, “Everything in Digitopolis is much too difficult for me.”

The Mathemagician nodded knowingly and stroked his chin several times. “You’ll find,” he remarked gently, “that the only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that’s hardly worth the effort.”

Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

“I’m the demon of insincerity,” he sobbed. I don’t mean what I say, I don’t mean what I do, and I don’t mean what I am. Most people who believe what I tell them go the wrong way, and stay there, but you and your awful telescope have spoiled everything. I’m going home.” And, crying hysterically, he stamped off in a huff.

“It certainly pays to have a good look at things,” observed Milo as he wrapped up the telescope with great care.

Related Symbols: Gifts
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18. Castle in the Air Quotes

“But what about the Castle in the Air?” the bug objected, not very pleased with the arrangement.

“Let it drift away,” said Rhyme.

“And good riddance,” added Reason, for no matter how beautiful it seems, it’s still nothing but a prison.”

Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19. The Return of Rhyme and Reason Quotes

“That’s why, said Azaz, “there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn’t discuss until you returned.”

“I remember,” said Milo eagerly. “Tell me now.”

“It was impossible,” said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.

“Completely impossible,” said the Mathemagician, looking at the king.

“Do you mean—” stammered the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.

“Yes, indeed,” they repeated together; “but if we’d told you then, you might not have gone—and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”

Related Characters: King Azaz the Unabridged (speaker), The Mathemagician (speaker), The Humbug (speaker), Milo (speaker), Princess of Sweet Rhyme, Princess of Pure Reason
Related Symbols: The Castle in the Air
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Phantom Tollbooth LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Phantom Tollbooth PDF

The Humbug Character Timeline in The Phantom Tollbooth

The timeline below shows where the character The Humbug appears in The Phantom Tollbooth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4. Confusion in the Market Place
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...speaker is a finely dressed, beetle-like insect. The Spelling Bee introduces the newcomer as the Humbug, “a very dislikable fellow.” (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
The Humbug says everyone loves him, including the king. The Spelling Bee insists that the Humbug hasn’t... (full context)
Chapter 5. Short Shrift
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...turn off his alarm and then asks who’s responsible for the mayhem. He says the Humbug looks suspicious. As the Humbug defends himself, he points to Milo. (full context)
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...just as he expected, “boys are the cause of everything.” Officer Shrift won’t let the Humbug elaborate and turns to interrogate Milo. He wants to know where Milo was on July... (full context)
Chapter 7. The Royal Banquet
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...Everyone inside is talking and arguing; Milo recognizes many faces from the market place. The Humbug and the Spelling Bee are arguing in a corner, while Officer Shrift mutters “Guilty” as... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
With Milo, Tock, and the advisors in attendance, it’s time for the banquet. The Humbug says Milo, as the guest of honor, must choose the menu. As Milo is thinking,... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...this, King Azaz tells him to never mention numbers here. Then, King Azaz and the Humbug ask Milo what they should eat. Remembering that his mother says to eat lightly when... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...to go first. Timidly, Milo starts a speech, but the king cuts him off. The Humbug goes next. His speech is simply, “roast turkey, mashed potatoes, vanilla ice cream.” Other speakers... (full context)
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
The Humbug says the half-baked ideas are tasty, but not always agreeable. He hands a cake to... (full context)
Chapter 8. The Humbug Volunteers
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
Everyone is extremely full. As people lick their spoons, the Humbug remarks that the meal was elegant. Then, he suddenly asks Milo to find him water... (full context)
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Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...dinner before the banquet in the future. Milo insists that’s just as bad, but the Humbug corrects Milo: it’s just as good, if Milo looks on the bright side. Milo admits... (full context)
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...Azaz says that would be nice, but it’s impossible because it’d be too difficult. The Humbug, who is “equally at home on either side of an argument,” agrees with King Azaz—and... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
King Azaz walks Milo to his car and says that the Humbug will accompany Milo and Tock. The Humbug is shocked, but the king insists the Humbug... (full context)
Chapter 9. It’s All in How You Look at Things
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
...He tells Tock that Tock is worried about people wasting time, and he tells the Humbug that the Humbug is almost never right—if he’s right, it's usually an accident. Tock and... (full context)
Chapter 10. A Colorful Symphony
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
As Milo, Tock, and the Humbug follow Alec through the forest, the light becomes increasingly beautiful. Alec struggles to run, as... (full context)
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...are, so Alec defines them as things that aren’t actually there, but are visible. The Humbug is extremely confused, but Alec explains that sometimes it’s simpler to see things that aren’t... (full context)
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
...tells Milo that they’re right in the middle of Reality’s Main Street. Tock and the Humbug see nothing, but Alec leads them down the street and points out invisible sights and... (full context)
Chapter 11. Dischord and Dynne
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug drive through the countryside until they reach a deep valley. At the bottom, Tock and... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
The voice says that Milo, Tock, and the Humbug all look unwell. Milo notices that the voice is coming from a man busy mixing... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug all refuse the medicine, and Tock insists that a lack of noise isn’t an illness.... (full context)
Chapter 12. The Silent Valley
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug think the valley is lovely and have no idea what Dr. Dischord was so upset... (full context)
Chapter 13. Unfortunate Conclusions
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug all make the difficult, cold swim. The Humbug emerges on the beach dry and says... (full context)
Chapter 14. The Dodecahedron Leads the Way
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...and the sign says how far away Digitopolis is in various units of measurement. The Humbug suggests they travel by miles, while Milo suggests it’d be shorter to go by half... (full context)
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...cars going at different speeds along different routes will arrive at their destination first. The Humbug shouts that the answer is 17, while Milo can’t figure it out and admits he’s... (full context)
Chapter 15. This Way to Infinity
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...with a huge, bubbling cauldron. It smells delicious. The Mathemagician offers Milo, Tock, and the Humbug something to eat. They all quickly finish their bowls. The Mathemagician keeps serving them again... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...walks Milo through how this works with a math exercise and then assures the ravenous Humbug that he’ll be full in time for dinner later. Milo muses that he only eats... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Milo gasps, but the Mathemagician says it’s easy with “a magic staff.” The Humbug snaps that it’s only a big pencil—but the Mathemagician says that still, you can do... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
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...him to a flight of stairs. Milo bounds up the stairs, asking Tock and the Humbug to wait for him. (full context)
Chapter 16. A Very Dirty Bird
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Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
The Mathemagician transports Milo, Tock, and the Humbug to the edge of Digitopolis. Ahead is a narrow path leading to the mountains. Milo... (full context)
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
...The bird says folks here are worse, but he’s from a place called Context. The Humbug suggests the bird go back home, but the bird shudders—he spends “almost all [his] time... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug continue to climb until they come across an elegant gentleman leaning against a dead tree.... (full context)
Chapter 17. Unwelcoming Committee
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
After hours and hours, neither Tock, Milo, nor the Humbug have made much progress. Milo finds this strange—especially since he’s not hungry or tired. He... (full context)
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Milo, Tock, and the Humbug are transfixed—until someone shouts for them to run. They all run, each thinking the other... (full context)
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Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
Tock and the Humbug are scared, but Milo now knows that people aren’t always what they say they are.... (full context)
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Milo, Tock, and the Humbug travel until they reach a mountain, where they stop to make plans. But then, the... (full context)
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Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...the Wordsnatcher, the Trivium, and the Demon of Insincerity know about Milo, Tock, and the Humbug, and they’ve told the other demons. Now, the demons begin to pursue the travelers so... (full context)
Chapter 18. Castle in the Air
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Milo, Tock, and the Humbug climb higher and higher, the demons behind them. Milo catches sight of the Castle in... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
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...and his favorite color. He also gives the travelers forms to fill out. Milo, the Humbug, and Tock fill out the forms as fast as possible and then start up the... (full context)
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The demons get closer and closer, but Milo, Tock, and the Humbug don’t notice.  Milo is so engrossed that his bag of gifts slips off his shoulder... (full context)
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Seeing the demons, the Humbug leads the others up the stairs. The demons are right behind them now. Finally, they... (full context)
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...to carry everyone down. Rhyme and Reason climb onto Tock’s back, while Milo and the Humbug can hold onto his tail. The Humbug asks what they’ll do with the Castle in... (full context)
Chapter 19. The Return of Rhyme and Reason
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...urge their fellows on—and the Dilemma looks ready to catch someone on his horns. The Humbug is ready to give up when lightning and thunder steal his words. Suddenly, just as... (full context)
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Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
...and Reason will reign again in Wisdom. The scroll also designates Milo, Tock, and the Humbug as heroes, and it declares a three-day carnival holiday. Messengers spread the word throughout the... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...but he’s sad to leave. Milo looks around at his new friends and asks the Humbug and Tock to come with him, but they refuse. Milo thanks his friends, and then,... (full context)
Chapter 20. Good-by and Hello
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Sad, Milo curls up in his armchair. He thinks of Tock and the Humbug, Rhyme and Reason, and his other friends. But though he’s sad, he also notices how... (full context)