The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth Versions of Reality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"But that's just as bad," protested Milo.
"You mean just as good," corrected the Humbug. "Things which are equally bad are also equally good. Try to look on the bright side of things."
"I don't know which side of anything to look at," protested Milo. "Everything is so confusing and all your words only make things worse." (8.17-19)
This is like the classic glass half full/half empty debate – which is it? Whatever side of the fence you're on, you have to admit there's some water in the glass. That's what the Humbug is trying to do here: get Milo to step back and view an issue from both sides. But Milo's not used to that, and the idea of seeing one thing two ways totally throws him for a loop.
Soon all traces of Dictionopolis had vanished in the distance and all those strange and unknown lands that lay between the kingdom of words and the kingdom of numbers stretched before them. It was late afternoon and the dark-orange sun floated heavily over the distant mountains. A friendly, cool breeze slapped playfully at the car, and the long shadows stretched out lazily from the trees and bushes. (9.1)
All the characteristics of the scene described here – the time of day, the sun in the sky, the shadows filling the background – could be used in any landscape in the real world. They seem normal. The sun's the right color (pretty much). There are mountains in the distance, just like there would be in another normal landscape. But the characters aren't on an American highway or the Oregon Trail. They're between Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, and the things in those cities are as unlike the cities back home as Milo could imagine.
"How can you see something that isn't there?" yawned the Humbug, who wasn't fully awake yet.
"Sometimes it's much simpler than seeing things that are," he [Alec] said. "For instance, if something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn't there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That's why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones." (10.46-47)
What do you make of Alec's explanation? Do you buy it? Is it "easier to see" the "imaginary things"? Sometimes it might be harder. At the beginning of the book, after all, it seems like it might have been harder for Milo to see imaginary things, but it doesn't seem so hard. There are whole worlds inside his mind, and he can open the door to them at any time. Sweet.