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The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Chapter 18 : Castle in the Air | Summary



Milo, Tock, and the Humbug keep climbing in search of the Castle in the Air. The demons still watch them in the distance. At the top of the highest peak is a spiral stairway leading to the castle. In front of the first step sits the Senses Taker, writing in a ledger with a quill pen. He demands their names, then asks them dozens of questions such as their age, names of family members, schools attended, clothing sizes, number of books read and not read each year, how many ice cream cones eaten each week, and favorite color. Before letting them go, he shows Milo a circus in the distance, teases Tock with a new, pleasant smell, and attracts the Humbug with the sound of cheers and applause. They are all mesmerized and forget why they are there. Milo drops his bag of gifts, and the sounds escape, breaking the spell.

They are ready to escape just as new demons reach the top and try to seize them. They run up the narrow stairs, pass through the castle gate, and enter the great hall. Two sweet voices tell them to come in, saying "We've been expecting you." It is the princesses, dressed in white. Milo says they had been traveling for a long time because of all the mistakes he made. The princesses say the important thing is to learn what to do with what you learn. Milo says so many things seem useless to learn and he doesn't understand the purpose. Princess Pure Reason tells him that learning does have a purpose, and "whatever we do affects everything and everyone else." Princess Sweet Rhyme adds that "what you learn today ... will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow."

A loud chopping noise is heard, and the room shakes. The demons are at work below, chopping the stairway to make it collapse. The castle starts to drift away, so everyone climbs on Tock and they plunge "to the mountains and the monsters below."


The Senses Taker is another comic character, with a name that is a play on both census taker, a person who takes an official survey of a population, and senses, as in the five senses. His purpose is to stall Milo, Tock, and Humbug from getting to the castle, which he does by asking many pointless, unnecessary questions and by stealing their attention by distracting their senses.

The theme of the value of education is developed in the remarks of Rhyme and Reason. These are lessons that Milo needs to hear because he thinks that much of learning is useless. But the princesses explain that he needs to figure out what to do with the information he learns; he needs to understand that learning does have a purpose.

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