The Phantom Tollbooth
How we cite our quotes:
"That's absurd," objected Milo, whose head was spinning from all the numbers and questions.
"That may be true," he acknowledged, "but it's completely accurate, and as long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong? If you want sense, you'll have to make it yourself." (14.34-35)
This might sound fairly backward, compared to the way questions and answers usually go in school or on tests. Milo calls this method "absurd" because it just doesn't "make" "sense" to him to go for a "right" "answer" over a "wrong" "question." How can the question be wrong? How can you change a question so that you end up with the right answer? Shouldn't you have to know what the question is in the first place? And there our minds go again, spinning like crazy.
"Splendid," cried the Dodecahedron. "And suppose you had something and added less than nothing to it. What would you have then?"
"FAMINE!" roared the anguished Humbug, who suddenly realized that that was exactly what he'd eaten twenty-three bowls of. (15.27-28)
The hungry Milo, Tock, and Humbug find themselves in the middle of an unfortunate story problem. The Dodecahedron's making them do math using the real life example of getting hungrier and hungrier. What's funny is that if he were in Dictionopolis, and he said "famine," he'd probably encounter the same result, having to eat his words and all.
"There's nothing to it," they all said in chorus, "if you have a magic staff." Then six of them canceled themselves out and simply disappeared.
"But it's only a big pencil," the Humbug objected, tapping at it with his cane.
"True enough," agreed the Mathemagician; "but once you learn to use it, there's no end to what you can do." (15.37-39)
Yeah, it's only a pencil. But it's only a pencil in the same way that King Azaz's word-box is only a collection of words. They're all tools, and it's what the user does with them that counts. And just as we realized that we've already got a word-box at hand (the dictionary), we can all definitely scrounge up a pencil and put it to use.