The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Chapter 12 : The Silent Valley | Summary



Their journey next takes the travelers into a silent valley where no sounds can be heard, no matter how loud they shout. The people living in the valley march with signs protesting the quiet. They are ruled by a Soundkeeper, who has banned all sounds. They ask Milo to help bring back sounds.

Milo visits the Soundkeeper and is relieved that he can hear his voice again. The Soundkeeper describes beautiful moments of silence to Milo, who thinks that she talks a lot "for someone who loves silence." She shows him the vault that holds "every sound that's ever been made in history," including the tune George Washington whistled while crossing the Delaware. Words and music are stored here, and even the sound of the ocean heard in seashells. The Soundkeeper explains that she has to withhold sound to prevent horrible noises like the ones made by Dr. Dischord and the DYNNE. Unfortunately this means that good sounds are also not heard. Milo is unable to change her mind about reinstating sound, so he leaves—but not without smuggling out a sound in his mouth.


This chapter contrasts with the one before. Milo, Tock, and the Humbug have gone from the dissonance of the city to the silence of Silent Valley. Juster offers a satirical look at the two extremes—overpowering sounds are no better than complete silence. As with other extreme views that characters express in the book—such as the brothers' puffed-up perspectives on the supreme importance of words or numbers—Juster's humor shows how silly dogmatic opinions can be. A balanced perspective, based on knowledge and understanding, makes the world livable and pleasant.

There is also another lesson to learn behind the complete silence here. People became too busy with their lives and stopped listening to—and noticing—the world around them. Sounds were ignored, and when a sound is not heard it "disappears forever and is not to be found again." This becomes a cautionary tale with a warning to take time to notice the things around you before you lose them.

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