Study Guide

The Phantom Tollbooth Chapter 16

By Norton Juster

Chapter 16

A Very Dirty Bird

  • Milo climbs and climbs. But the higher he goes the more it seems like there's more to go. (We all know that feeling!)
  • Just as he's getting totally worn out, he runs into another little boy. The boy is only partly there, though. That is, he's only there on one side.
  • The boy explains he's ".58" of a child. Then he tells Milo about the importance of fractions and percents – he's like the poster child of an "average" (16.14).
  • Milo's confused by their conversation (so is Shmoop) and feels more ignorant than ever.
  • The little boy tries to give Milo advice about learning, and Milo decides to return to his friends – and abandon the idea of trying to reach Infinity. Good call.
  • When he gets back to the others, he complains to the Mathemagician about how thinking is tough and how finding the right answer can be so hard.
  • This is the perfect opening for the Mathemagician to talk about how much Rhyme and Reason are missed.
  • The Mathemagician blames his brother, King Azaz, for this. He tells Milo about how hard it is for the two brothers to communicate.
  • The travelers try to get the Mathemagician's approval to rescue the princesses, but he says he can't give it because Azaz agreed to it already (and he sure can't agree with his brother).
  • Milo uses logic to fool the Mathemagician into giving approval.
  • The Mathemagician lets them go, but with two warnings. One is about the demons that will attack them once they get closer to the princesses. The other, he says, he can only reveal once they get back.
  • The Dodecahedron shows up and hands Milo the important presents that he (Milo) has collected along the way. The Mathemagician also contributes a gift: a magic wand that looks just like his, only smaller.
  • To keep going, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug have to proceed on foot. So they do. They say goodbye to the Mathemagician and the Dodecahedron and plunge right into the dangerous nearby mountains, leaving Wisdom and moving into Ignorance.
  • The farther they go, the more depressing it is.
  • When they've made it pretty far, and decide to rest for the night, they run into a mean and talkative bird. Every time they try to talk to it, the bird twists all of their words around. They can't even finish a sentence without it interrupting them and shifting their meaning.
  • The bird says he's named the Everpresent Wordsnatcher, and that he's from Context.
  • Milo accidentally hurts the bird's feelings when he asks if it's a demon (answer: no), and so it takes off.
  • The three others keep going, and soon they meet a nice-looking man. He's wearing snappy clothes but has no features in his face. The man is super-nice to them and asks if they'll do him a favor.
  • Milo, Tock, and the Humbug are happy to oblige. Maybe they were too kind: the man gives each of them a painstaking, time-consuming task.
  • The three get started on their tasks and then just keep going… and going…