The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Chapter 3 : Welcome to Dictionopolis | Summary

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Summary

The Watchdog tells Milo to call him Tock. Milo says, "that is a strange name for a dog who goes tickticktickticktick all day." Tock explains that his brother is named Tick, but he goes "tock" all day. They come from a long line of watchdogs.

At last they reach Dictionopolis, which lies at the Foothills of Confusion and near the Sea of Knowledge. They are stopped by the gateman, who tells them they cannot enter the city without a reason. Milo is at a loss for words, so the gateman gives him a reason to enter: a medallion that says, "Why not?" Once inside the gate, they see a banner that reads, "Welcome to the Word Market." Five men appear, and they speak at the same time, using different words that mean the same thing: "greetings," "salutations," "welcome," "good afternoon," and "hello." They continue to speak in synonyms, explaining that "one word is as good as another," so they use all of them. They are the king's advisers, and they introduce themselves as the Duke of Definition, the Minister of Meaning, the Earl of Essence, the Count of Connotation, and the Undersecretary of Understanding. They tell Milo that words grow on trees in Dictionopolis, and the word market is where people come "to buy the words they need" or trade unused words.

Milo is cautioned to choose words carefully so that he can "say just what [he intends] to say."

Analysis

The author's playfulness with words here draws on opposites: Tick goes "tock" and Tock goes "tick." Juster also takes common expressions and gives them literal meanings, such as explaining that "money doesn't grow on trees" so words must, since something has to grow on trees. The phrase "a bump in the road" signifies something has happened to stall or slow one's progress. But in the story, Milo and Tock hit a literal bump in the road that causes Tock to fall and his alarm to ring. The same thing happens when the earl explains that choosing the right word is as "easy as falling off a log," at which point he literally falls off a log.

This chapter serves as a clever language lesson, explaining the importance of selecting the precise word to express exactly what one means, and highlighting how communication is dependent upon choosing the right words. The king's advisers, however, add verbal irony to the lesson because each one provides a different synonym for every spoken word instead of choosing the best word to use. Feiffer's delightful drawing of the advisers shows just how similar they all are. They are identical and walk in unison as they each state a synonym one after another.

Names are important throughout the novel, and they reflect the chapter's lesson. In this case, note that the Foothills of Confusion and Sea of Knowledge are linked by the city of Dictionopolis—so language and words move one from confusion to knowledge. The Word Market is the place where words are bought, sold, and traded.

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