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The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth


by Norton Juster

The Phantom Tollbooth Theme of Time

When The Phantom Tollbooth begins, Milo takes a lot of things for granted, particularly time. He doesn't see the importance of time and is always either wasting it or rushing through it. He's so bored, he can't seem to make the most of his moments. But during his journey through the Lands Beyond, he meets people who have very different attitudes toward time. Some of them waste it, some of them take advantage of it, and watching them do these things helps Milo realize he really should value his time. With the help of Tock, Milo learns that instead of whiling away the hours complaining of boredom, he can live life to the fullest by going on adventures of the mind.

Questions About Time

  1. What do you think time means in The Phantom Tollbooth? That's a big question, so tackle this one first: is time important to these characters? Who values time? Who wastes it?
  2. According to the book, why is it important not to waste time? 
  3. What would happen if time really could fly? Wow, what a question.      
  4. Can you name at least one instance when time seems to pass differently for one character than for the others? What is interesting about this moment in the book?
  5. How long does it take for the events in The Phantom Tollbooth to actually take place? Why does more time pass in the Lands Beyond than it does in the real world?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Despite the fact that being a watchdog is his life's work, Tock is not actually that great at keeping track of time.

The selection of a watchdog as Milo's first and most loyal companion on his quest emphasizes the importance of time as a concept in The Phantom Tollbooth.

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