The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"It will take years to collect all those sounds again," she [the Soundkeeper] sobbed, "and even longer to put them back in proper order. But it's all my fault. For you can't improve sound by having only silence. The problem is to use each at the proper time." (13.17)
The Soundkeeper is right about this. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. There were too many "sounds," so she tried to overcorrect with too much "silence." But that didn't work either. The two – sounds and silence – have to go together to create "proper" and useful communication. This also kind of reminds us of the Which's lesson, that one "proper" word is far better than a billion so-so words.
"But maybe he doesn't understand numbers," said Milo, who found [the Mathemagician's letter] a little difficult to read himself.
"NONSENSE!" bellowed the Mathemagician. "Everyone understands numbers. No matter what language you speak, they always mean the same thing. A seven is a seven anywhere in the world." (16.43-44)
Is this really true? Are numbers the same everywhere? If they are, we should really think about what their value is, compared to the value of language. The Mathemagician may be right that everybody knows what "seven" means, but that also means that there are limits to what it can mean. It doesn't have as many possibilities as a word does. For example, imagine that instead of words, Shmoop only used numbers. How could we convey the same information? Could we?
"That's why," said Azaz, "there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn't discuss until you returned."
"I remember," said Milo eagerly. "Tell me now."
"It was impossible," said the king, looking at the Mathemagician.
"Completely impossible," said the Mathemagician, looking at the king.
"Do you mean – " stammered the bug, who suddenly felt a bit faint.
"Yes, indeed," they repeated together; "but if we'd told you then, you might not have gone – and, as you've discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible." (19.51-56)
Well that's weird. How can something impossible be possible? That's a strange concept, and a confusing use of both of these words. But maybe they aren't so different after all. We mean, impossible just adds two letters to the word possible. You could just as easily take them off again.