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The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Chapter 6 : Faintly Macabre's Story | Summary



Faintly Macabre tells the story of how the Kingdom of Wisdom was built by a prince who arrived by ship on the Sea of Knowledge. The prince had two sons, and when they were older he told them to grow the kingdom. One son built Dictionopolis and the other son "went north to the Mountains of Ignorance and built Digitopolis." They were the cities of words and numbers. The two brothers were "suspicious and jealous. Each one tried to outdo the other." They argued over which was more important―words or numbers.

The king had always wanted a daughter. One day, he discovered a basket holding two baby girls with golden hair. He named them Rhyme and Reason, and he and the queen raised them as their own. After the king died, the two sons were responsible for taking care of the two princesses. The sons became known as Azaz the Unabridged, who was the king of Dictionopolis, and the Mathemagician, who was the ruler of Digitopolis. The princesses had the ability to "settle all controversies fairly and reasonably," and people came from other lands to ask for advice. The two sons sought their advice as well, since the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and the Princess of Pure Reason could solve any problem. The princesses decided that words and numbers were of equal importance, declaring that both kingdoms should live in peace. This angered the two brothers, and they banished the princesses to the Castle in the Air, leaving the kingdom with "neither Rhyme nor Reason."

Faintly Macabre tells Milo and Tock that they can leave jail whenever they want, and shows them the button on the wall that opens the door. They escape and are invited to the royal palace by the king's advisers.


Names are again cleverly constructed in this chapter. "Diction" refers to a choice of words, and "digits" are numbers—making Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the perfect names for the city of words and the city of numbers, respectively. "Rhyme and reason" is a common phrase referring to logical reason or order—fitting names for the characters who are able to resolve disputes peacefully. The characters Rhyme and Reason show that both language and math are important; one should not be seen as more important or better than the other. But because of the brothers' rivalry, they're unwilling to take this sensible viewpoint. Whereas the princesses Rhyme and Reason act "fairly and reasonably," their brothers act unfairly and unreasonably. Living without rhyme or reason—or Rhyme and Reason—is foolish and reckless.

Milo expresses an interest in rescuing Rhyme and Reason from their Castle in the Air. This becomes the main conflict in the book and sets in motion the plan to rescue the princesses.

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