The Mathemagician Quotes in The Phantom Tollbooth
“When they began to count all the time that was available, (…) it seemed as if there was much more than could ever be used. ‘If there’s so much of it, it couldn’t be very valuable,’ was the general opinion, and it soon fell into disrepute. People wasted it and even gave it away. Then we were given the job of seeing that no one wasted time again,” he said, sitting up proudly. “It’s hard work but a noble calling. For you see”—and now he was standing on the seat, one foot on the windshield, shouting with his arms outstretched—“it is our most valuable possession, more precious than diamonds. It marches on, and tide wait for no man, and—”
“‘Words and numbers are of equal value for, in the cloak of knowledge, one is warp and the other woof. It is no more important to count the sands than it is to name the stars. Therefore, let both kingdoms live in peace.’”
“Everyone was pleased with the verdict. Everyone, that is, but the brothers, who were beside themselves with anger.
“‘What good are these girls if they cannot settle an argument in someone’s favor?’ they growled, since both were more interested in their own advantage than in the truth.”
“It doesn’t make me happy to hold back the sounds,” she began softly, “for if we listen to them carefully they can sometimes tell us things far better than words.”
“But if that is so,” asked Milo—and he had no doubt that it was—“shouldn’t you release them?”
“NEVER!” she cried. “They just use them to make horrible noises which are ugly to see and worse to hear. I leave all that to Dr. Dischord and that awful, awful DYNNE.”
“But some noises are good sounds, aren’t they?” he insisted.
“That may be true,” she replied stubbornly, “but if they won’t make the sounds that I like, they won’t make any.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“And it’s much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer.”
“And remember also,” added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, “that many places you would like to see and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you’ll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.”
“I think I understand,” Milo said, still full of questions and thoughts; “but which is the most important—”
“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.”
“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.”