The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
A Very Leadery Leader
King Azaz is more like a stereotypical ruler than his brother the Mathemagician. He takes the title of king, he lives in a palace, and he encourages his subjects to attend banquets. Physically, he's an imposing guy: "He was the largest man Milo had ever seen, with a great stomach, large piercing eyes, a gray beard that reached to his waist, and a silver signet ring on the little finger of his left hand. He also wore a small crown and a robe with the letters of the alphabet beautifully embroidered all over it" (7.17). This is a guy who's in charge, that's for sure.
Ah, English Teachers?
Now, we know we're reading into this a bit, but did you notice that King Azaz is a much less patient a teacher than his brother? He makes Milo try to order meals without explaining how eating words works and he doesn't show Milo how to make a "tast[y] speech" (7.53) – which leads to a very unappetizing meal for Milo. King Azaz only tells him what he did wrong after the fact.
There are a lot of possibilities for why this is the case, but Shmoop has a theory. It seems like our author, Norton Juster has thought quite a bit about how silly the English language is. Why does time fly? How can things go without saying? By making King Azaz a not-so-great teacher – and therefore getting Milo totally confused – he drives this point home. And boy does Milo eat his words.
Sure, he has as many words as he could possibly imagine – heck, his name is Azaz! (He as from A to Z two times over!). But the king doesn't have a lot of friends (by contrast, the Mathemagician has the Dodecahedron). After every banquet, his subjects leave, and he's alone. What is this all about? Is this his punishment for allowing Rhyme and Reason to leave Wisdom? Or is this a comment about people who use too many words (you know, chatterboxes!)?
Helping the Cause
Like the Mathemagician, King Azaz lets Milo go on a quest he knows is "impossible" (19.53), but he doesn't send Milo away empty-handed. Instead, he gives Milo a treasured box of "all the words [he] know[s]" (8.64). The box is like a big dictionary. It doesn't give Milo complex ideas, but it gives him the ability to come up with interesting thoughts and encourages him to do so. "With these words," Azaz tells him, "you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked" (8.64). The ideas aren't really there yet. Milo has to create them for himself.
This is pretty much the whole point of Milo's journey, right? To take simple (maybe even boring!) things and make something interesting out of them. Thanks for nudging him in the right direction, your Highness.