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The Phantom Tollbooth | Study Guide

Norton Juster

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The Phantom Tollbooth | Quotes


He regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all.

Narrator, Chapter 1

Milo lacks any interest in the things around him. He especially finds school a total waste of time. This not only describes how Milo feels, but it introduces one of the themes of the novel, the value of education.


There's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go ... hardly anything worth seeing.

Milo, Chapter 1

This quotation explains Milo's lack of excitement about the world around him. It also sets up the events that follow as Milo drives his car through the phantom tollbooth and discovers places to go and things to see.


People who don't pay attention often get stuck in the Doldrums.

Lethargarians, Chapter 2

This statement has a double meaning. Literally it means that anyone who doesn't pay attention to things will end up in this place called the Doldrums. Milo did not pay attention to the road he was traveling on and ended up in the Doldrums. Figuratively, this quote means people who are inattentive will end up stagnant, despondent, or listless.


Then one day I realized that I'd never amount to anything without an education.

Spelling Bee, Chapter 4

Here, the Spelling Bee states one of the themes of the novel—the importance of an education. This is a lesson that Milo learns throughout his trip.


They can never see what they're in too much of a hurry to look for.

Alec Bings, Chapter 10

Alec Bings here describes the people of the city of Reality—and also one of the lessons of the book. Some people are too busy and uninterested to really notice what is going on in the world. It is important to pay attention to things that are happening around you.


There's a lot to see everywhere, if only you keep your eyes open.

Alec Bings, Chapter 11

Alec tells Milo there is more to see in the Forest of Sight. But the lesson is meant to be much broader and is a reminder to Milo to pay attention to his surroundings.


See things as they really are, not just as they seem to be.

Alec Bings, Chapter 11

Alec expects Milo to use his gift of the telescope to really look at things around him. He wants Milo to see things as they are and not in a superficial way.


Numbers are the most beautiful and valuable things in the world.

Dodecahedron, Chapter 14

Milo scoffs at math and problem solving, but math skills and numbers are important to know and understand. This is part of the main theme of the book—the importance of education.


Everyone here knows so much more than I do.

Milo, Chapter 16

This is a turning point in Milo's development. Initially Milo is bored by everything and doesn't seem to care about learning. Acknowledging that he realizes there is a lot he doesn't know shows that Milo is beginning to care about learning. This is a big change for him.


Everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best.

Milo, Chapter 16

This refers to the feud between the two brothers that led to the banishment of Rhyme and Reason. One brother believes words are the most important thing, and the other brother believes numbers are more important. Their narrow worldviews are at the root of many of the problems that have developed in the Lands Beyond.


There's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.

Terrible Trivium, Chapter 17

As the Terrible Trivium demonstrates, if you only do the things that are easy or useless, you will never have time to do the important things. It's easy to waste time. Instead, you should focus on the important things.


In other words, let's keep things as they are—changes are so frightening.

Gelatinous Giant, Chapter 17

If one is fearful of change, like the Gelatinous Giant, one won't grow and learn. It's easier to keep things as they are than to work at changing them—but it's important to be open to new ideas.


Never feel badly about making mistakes as long as you ... learn from them.

Reason, Chapter 18

The princess explains to Milo that one learns sometimes by making mistakes. Self-reflection and a commitment to learning are important lessons Milo learns during his journey.


Things I'm supposed to know seem so useless ... can't see the purpose in learning them.

Milo, Chapter 18

Sometimes you can't see the purpose of learning something, but there is a purpose. As Milo learns, it's important to continue to learn new things even if the purpose isn't apparent now.


So many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible.

King Azaz, Chapter 19

After Milo rescues the princesses, King Azaz, along with the Mathemagician, tell him that they believed his mission was impossible. If you think something is impossible, you might not try it. In this case, Milo would not have even tried to save the princesses if he had believed the quest was impossible.

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