Study Guide

Alec Bing in The Phantom Tollbooth

By Norton Juster

Alec Bing

Remember Alec? He's not a main character, but he's definitely important to the story. So if you've already forgotten about him, go back and check out Chapters 9-11.

Okay, you back? Now, why is Alec such a significant character? Well, he's the only non-ruler who gives Milo a gift that helps him on his quest. (Remember, the other three gift-givers are the Soundkeeper, King Azaz, and the Mathemagician). Even though Alec is just a boy, not a powerful leader, his telescope lets Milo "see things as they really are, not just as they seem to be'" (11.25). Because of the telescope, Milo is able to defeat the demon of insincerity. What qualifies Alec to give Milo this valuable gift that will turn out to provide important protection?

Simple. It's the way he looks at the world. Alec has a very specific point of view and reminds Milo that there's more than one way of looking at the world. He also understands a super-important distinction: the difference between illusions and reality. As he tells Milo, "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). Alec has a lot of wisdom to share, and he gives it freely without pushing it on anybody. And Milo just soaks that wisdom right up. (So do we, in fact!)

Maybe Alec is supposed to be a mirror version of Milo. What would Milo's life have been like if he lived somewhere like the Forest of Sight? How would he see the world then? It seems like your worldview can change if you're simply brought up in a different place. What do you think?