The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Meals play an important part in many fantasy stories – just think of the famous tea party in Alice in Wonderland.And if you've read enough fairy tales, you know that eating the food in magical lands can sometimes doom you into staying . Luckily for Milo, he doesn't have this problem. But he does eat two important meals in the Lands Beyond – or at least he tries to. At the end of each one, he's not very satisfied.
In Dictionopolis, Milo is left hungry because he doesn't know how to order properly: "I didn't know that I was going to have to eat my words" (7.52). Milo isn't used to the idea of "eat[ing his] words," so he doesn't realize he should say delicious phrases. Instead, he ends up with "Your Majesty, ladies and gentlemen […] I would like to take this opportunity to say that in all the – " (7.40). While we don't know exactly what this tastes like, it seems "unappetizing" and doesn't "look worth eating" (7.54). It's simply not as good as what everybody else orders at the banquet.
Then, in Digitopolis, Milo eats all the soup he can: by that mealtime, he's really hungry. The more he eats, though, the more he wants: "'Please have another portion,' said the Mathemagician, filling their bowls once more; and as quickly as they'd finished the first one the second was emptied too" (15.7). By the end of the meal, Milo's hungrier than ever. That's because in Digitopolis, people start eating when they're full and eat so they can be empty/hungry, not the other way around.
In both places, Milo eats with the city's ruler and through the meal, learns about the place's customs. Even in the real world (not that the Lands Beyond aren't real!), meals are an important way of learning about the culture. So, through these meals, Milo gets the chance to open his mind and realize that everyone thinks of everything – even food! – quite differently.