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The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Chapter 8 : The Humbug Volunteers | Summary



After the meal is over the king calls for everyone's attention and all the guests rush out of the hall to eat dinner. Milo cannot understand how they can eat at the banquet, then eat dinner. The king resolves to do something about that, and Milo takes the opportunity to ask if Rhyme and Reason can return. The king says it is not possible, but the Humbug volunteers that Milo and Tock could do it. He explains how Milo can accomplish the task by traveling through the "harrowing and hazardous countryside," entering the Mountains of Ignorance, which are "full of perilous pitfalls," and climbing up a steep stairway "without railings in a high wind" to reach the Castle in the Air. The return trip would take Milo over "chaotic crags" filled with fiends ready to tear him "limb from limb and devour him." The king is delighted to hear that it's that simple to do.

The king offers Milo special protection to accomplish the rescue. He gives him a box filled with every word he will ever need to know. He also volunteers the Humbug to guide him.


The descriptions of the perilous hypothetical journey here provide a comic effect. The author is using scary images as a means of persuading Milo to agree to attempt the rescue. As frightening as it sounds, the Humbug keeps saying Milo can do it. It is also humorous to think that a box of words will be enough to protect Milo from danger given what the Humbug has described.

But the real message is that knowledge and communication will save us from the pitfalls of ignorance. Words can be powerful weapons in the face of idiocy, so the words that King Azaz gives him are a symbol of the power of knowledge, as are other gifts Milo will receive during his journey. The right words can empower and protect us.

Juster continues to use opposite ideas for comic effect. The people wave and cheer when Milo leaves because the crowd didn't care about arrivals. They were only "pleased to see someone go."

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