I remember childhood being filled with lessons, my mother always had a story to explain was something was the way it was, or why the rules were the rules. The values that the author implements in his writing often times have to do with paying attention, appreciating opposites and discipline. When Milo and his friends are in the city Reality, the first thing they notice is the town of Illusion, as it was the only thing visible. Then Alec explained that Reality disappeared because no one paid attention to their surroundings, leading Milo to think about how he never paid attention to his surroundings. While everyone but those living in Reality could see that it had disappeared, they perceived that it was there, just as Milo often perceived that there was nothing more to his walk home from school but what he could see. On page 132 Milo is told “there’s lots to see if you open your eyes,” implying that he should pay more attention to his reality and surroundings. The rule of paying attention is again alluded to when Milo enters the Silent Valley, given that the reason sound was taken away was because everyone stopped paying attention to the beauty of it, and the beauty of silence (the silence before the dawn, the silence of the country road, lulling, hush). On page 148 Milo is told that when one stops listening for a sound it disappears.
The concepts of collecting and exchanging reminded me of when Wendy’s mother would clean their minds while they slept. The purpose of cleaning the mind or collecting the sounds and words and having a system of exchange is so that everything gets used correctly and in a decent fashion. Two examples of this in The Phantom Tollbooth are in Dictionopolis in the word market and the Silent Valley. In the Silent Valley the sound keeper has collected all sound for safekeeping. In the child’s world adults always instruct a child on how to use sounds and when particular sounds are appropriate or inappropriate. This instruction starts as early as when a child learns to read, he must be taught how to use sound to pronounce a word and continues as children are exposed to more words and their parents must ensure that they only use appropriate ones.
The appreciation of opposites is also something worth mentioning briefly as Milo had to think to get out of the Doldrums and the sound keeper reminded herself that appreciation of pleasant sound could not exist if not for unpleasant ones.
Other things of interest:
Overall is seems to me that Juster is really emphasizing the need for a child to appreciate his surroundings and to do this the child must pay attention and enjoy a dynamic point of view.
The great silence of 1712- obviously alludes to death, and I think this is an intreating way to acknowledge death in a children’s book.
While the imaginary world is fun, one cannot stay there forever, and so living in an imaginary world is just as bad as living in an unnoticed reality.