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The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Chapter 13 : Unfortunate Conclusions | Summary



Milo returns from his visit to the Soundkeeper and says that he has sound on the tip of his tongue. A cannon is aimed at the fortress wall, and Milo drops a small sound from his tongue into the cannon. It's the soft sound of "but." The sound hits the wall and a thundering crash is heard. The fortress crumbles, and the vaults burst open, releasing all the sounds in the world. When the smoke clears, the Soundkeeper is seen sitting on a pile of rubble. She is very sad but realizes silence is not the solution to controlling sound.

The DYNNE appears carrying a huge sack filled with sounds that escaped from the vault. The sounds are not terrible enough to interest him so he returns them to the Soundkeeper. Milo tells her that he is on his way to rescue Rhyme and Reason. She gives Milo a package filled with sounds so that he doesn't get lonely.

Milo drives along the shoreline and sees an island with palm trees in the distance. First the Humbug leaps from the car and sails toward the island, then Tock disappears. The same thing happens to Milo, and he joins the others on the island. They meet a man named Canby who is confused about his own identity. Milo asks him to describe himself, and he says he is as tall and short as can be, and as generous and selfish as can be. He continues to describe himself in opposite terms. He tells them that they are on the Island of Conclusions, and they got there by jumping. However, leaving is more difficult because one can't jump away from Conclusions, and the island is very crowded. The only way off the island is to swim back.

Milo, Tock, and the Humbug manage to swim back to the car and resume their trip to the mountains.


Having snuck a sound out of the fortress by closing his mouth before saying it, Milo literally and figuratively has something on the tip of his tongue. This is a playful take on the expression, "it's on the tip of my tongue," which is what people say when they are trying to remember something that they know but just can't quickly. This is another literal play on a figurative expression, as the word Milo smuggled is loaded into a canon and used as a weapon. Feiffer's illustration is also very funny as Milo puts the tip of his tongue into the mouth of the canon. Finally, the expression "jump to conclusions" is similarly used to create humor. The expression is turned into a literal depiction of jumping to get on the Island of Conclusions. Of course, the pun doesn't work in reverse, so there is no easy way to get off the island.

The use of opposites again provides humor in this chapter. Canby is a man of opposites: he's always asking others who he is, having forgotten, and he claims to be both tall and short and generous and selfish. While he knows a lot about jumping to conclusions, he's lost sight of his own identity.

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