Study Guide

The Phantom Tollbooth Chapter 17

By Norton Juster

Chapter 17

Unwelcoming Committee

  • Eventually, the three workers – Milo, Tock, and the Humbug – realize that they've been working for what seems like forever and, well, nothing's happened.
  • Tock tells Milo to use the wand the Mathemagician gave him to determine how long their tasks will take.
  • Milo does some quick thinking and realizes that it will take hundreds of years. That's no good.
  • When he questions the man about it, the man tells them that they should do "unimportant things" (17.14) instead of important ones. It sounds like he's made that his life's work.
  • Milo realizes the nice-seeming man is actually a horrible demon: the Terrible Trivium.
  • The three travelers feel trapped.
  • Things get worse and worse as the Trivium tells them more of his philosophy and it seems like they will never be able to escape.
  • Then they hear a voice yelling for them to get out. Each of them thinks it's one of the others – oops – and they all obey.
  • They run and run… and run. Trivium is chasing them, but they leave him behind when they start pushing through something that feels like quicksand.
  • All three of them continue to follow the bodiless voice and then – ouch! – they all fall down into a huge hole.
  • From there, they hear the voice threatening them. The voice describes itself as a terrible and scary demon, but Milo uses one of the presents he was given – the telescope – to take a good look at it.
  • Milo figures out that the huge demon is just a tiny little thing: he's not scared of no tiny demon.
  • The demon presents himself as "the demon of insincerity" (17.43), and he's so upset by being discovered for what he really is that he leaves crying.
  • Milo, Tock, and the Humbug work together to climb out of the pit. It takes quite a while, but they manage it in the end.
  • At that point, the Humbug takes the lead and, well, he walks them right into the hand of a giant.
  • The giant is clearly about to eat them, so Milo tries to keep himself and his friends alive by starting a conversation with the guy. After all, as long as the giant's talking, he can't eat them. Smart move, Milo.
  • The more they talk, the weirder the giant starts to feel. It turns out that he doesn't like thoughts.
  • Milo shows him the box of words from King Azaz. Just the thought of them makes the giant sick, and he releases his prisoners.
  • Unfortunately, as soon as he does this, he goes and tells all the other demons about Milo, Tock, and the Humbug. Different types of demons emerge from all over, and they all start coming toward the three travelers.
  • Our three friends have no choice but to make a run for it.