The Phantom Tollbooth
Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"How are you going to make it [the wagon] move? It doesn't have a – "
"Be very quiet," advised the duke, "for it goes without saying."
And, sure enough, as soon as they were all quite still, it began to move quickly through the streets, and in a very short time they arrived at the royal palace. (6.55-57)
In one of the cleverest moments in the book, the duke tells Milo how the king's cabinet uses their wagon to travel: it "goes without saying." Ha! So, the wagon doesn't need gas or manpower to run – just wordplay. It turns out that the car that "goes without saying" is author Norton Juster's "favorite [pun]" in the whole book, as he told Salon.com's Laura Miller in an interview.
"Do you want to ruin everything? You see, to tall men I'm a midget, and to short men I'm a giant; to the skinny ones I'm a fat man, and to the fat ones I'm a thin man. That way I can hold four jobs at once. As you can see, though, I'm neither tall nor short nor fat nor thin. In fact, I'm quite ordinary, but there are so many ordinary men that no one asks their opinion about anything. Now what is your question?" (10.33)
The man described here has built his entire identity on a clever joke. He's totally "ordinary." But, because he was ordinary, he didn't feel special. So, by putting his ordinary-ness in a variety of different contexts, he can convince different small groups that he's actually really special. It's smart, but it's also kind of sad, don't you think?
"Besides," growled Tock, who decided that he didn't much like Dr. Dischord, "there is no such illness as lack of noise."
"Of course not," replied the doctor, pouring himself a small glass of the liquid; "that's what makes it so difficult to cure. I only treat illnesses that don't exist: that way, if I can't cure them, there's no harm done – just one of the precautions of the trade." (11.56-57)
Dr. Dischord is both a terrible doctor and a really smart one. On the one hand, he's totally useless because, by treating nonexistent illnesses, he's not exactly saving anyone's life. But on the other hand, this way, he can't go wrong. So – is he smart? Or just incompetent? Sometimes, it seems, there's a fine line between the two.