The gifts Milo receives from the various people he meets, and how he ultimately uses those gifts, represent the learning process. As Milo travels through the Lands Beyond, meeting people and soaking up knowledge, people often give him a parting gift. From King Azaz he receives a box of all the words the king knows. From Alec Bings, Milo gets a telescope that lets him see things how they are. The Soundkeeper gives him a package of sounds, while the Mathemagician gives Milo a miniature magic staff (a pencil). When Milo receives these gifts, it represents his newfound understanding of an idea. He gets the words from King Azaz, for instance, after finally understanding how important language and spelling are; and he gets the telescope after realizing how important it is to look at things from various perspectives. After receiving each gift, Milo understands the idea associated with it—but, in order to achieve mastery of a given concept, he must take a test. Milo’s tests come as he outsmarts the demons in the Mountains of Ignorance. He’s able to outsmart the Terrible Trivium by using his magic staff (and math) to figure out how long it would take to perform some tedious tasks; and with the telescope, Milo discovers that a demon who insists he’s huge and frightening is actually small, cute, and nonthreatening. This represents Milo learning how to apply what he’s learned in the classroom in the real world. With his gifts—words, numbers, perspective, and sounds—and his mastery of various concepts, Milo is prepared to take on the world and think for himself in both the Lands Beyond and in the real world.
Gifts Quotes in The Phantom Tollbooth
“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.”
“Carry this with you on your journey,” he said softly, “for there is much worth noticing that often escapes the eye. Through it you can see everything from the tender moss in a sidewalk crack to the glow of the farthest star—and, most important of all, you can see things as they really are, not just as they seem to be. It’s my gift to you.”
“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.”
“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.