Excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I shared a few snippets of this chapter to the G+ Photo Mentorship “How Do you See” (r2) by Lauri Novak  but could not recall if I had shared it to the prior group (r1) and I’m certain I didn’t share it more widely. So here it is.
9. It’s All in How You Look at Things

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.

“Ah, the open road!” exclaimed the Humbug, breathing deeply, for he now seemed happily resigned to the trip. “The spirit of adventure, the lure of the unknown, the thrill of a gallant quest. How very grand indeed.” Then, pleased with himself, he folded his arms, sat back, and left it at that.

In a few more minutes they had left the open countryside and driven into a dense forest.


announced a rather large road sign; but, contrary to its statement, all that could be seen were more trees. As the car rushed along, the trees grew thicker and taller and leafier until, just as they’d hidden the sky completely, the forest abruptly ended and the road bent itself around a broad promontory. Stretching below, to the left, the right, and straight ahead, as far as anyone could see, lay the rich green landscape through which they had been traveling.

“Remarkable view,” announced the Humbug, bouncing from the car as if he were responsible for the whole thing.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” gasped Milo.

“Oh, I don’t know,” answered a strange voice. “It’s all in the way you look at things.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Milo, for he didn’t see who had spoken.

“I said it’s all in how you look at things,” repeated the voice.

Milo turned around and found himself staring at two very neatly polished brown shoes, for standing directly in front of him (if you can use the word “standing” for anyone suspended in mid-air) was another boy just about his age, whose feet were easily three feet off the ground.

“For instance,” continued the boy, “if you happened to like deserts, you might not think this was beautiful at all.”

“That’s true,” said the Humbug, who didn’t like to contradict anyone whose feet were that far off the ground.

“For instance,” said the boy again, “if Christmas trees were people and people were Christmas trees, we’d all be chopped down, put up in the living room, and covered with tinsel, while the trees opened our presents.”

“What does that have to do with it?” asked Milo.

“Nothing at all,” he answered, “but it’s an interesting possibility, don’t you think?”

“How do you manage to stand up there?” asked Milo, for this was the subject which most interested him.

“I was about to ask you a similar question,” answered the boy, “for you must be much older than you look to be standing on the ground.”

“What do you mean?” Milo asked.

“Well,” said the boy, “in my family everyone is born in the air, with his head at exactly the height it’s going to be when he’s an adult, and then we all grow toward the ground. When we’re fully grown up or, as you can see, grown down, our feet finally touch. Of course, there are a few of us whose feet never reach the ground no matter how old we get, but I suppose it’s the same in every family.”

He hopped a few steps in the air, skipped back to where he started, and then began again.

Alec Bings
“You certainly must be very old to have reached the ground already.”

“Oh no,” said Milo seriously. “In my family we all start on the ground and grow up, and we never know how far until we actually get there.”

“What a silly system.” The boy laughed. “Then your head keeps changing its height and you always see things in a different way? Why, when you’re fifteen things won’t look at all the way they did when you were ten, and at twenty everything will change again.”

“I suppose so,” replied Milo, for he had never really thought about the matter.

“We always see things from the same angle,” the boy continued. “It’s much less trouble that way. Besides, it makes more sense to grow down and not up. When you’re very young, you can never hurt yourself falling down if you’re in mid-air, and you certainly can’t get into trouble for scuffing up your shoes or marking the floor if there’s nothing to scuff them on and the floor is three feet away.”

“That’s very true,” thought Tock, who wondered how the dogs in the family liked the arrangement.

“But there are many other ways to look at things,” remarked the boy. “For instance, you had orange juice, boiled eggs, toast and jam, and milk for breakfast,” he said, turning to Milo. “And you are always worried about people wasting time,” he said to Tock. “And you are almost never right about anything,” he said, pointing at the Humbug, “and, when you are, it’s usually an accident.”

“A gross exaggeration,” protested the furious bug, who didn’t realize that so much was visible to the naked eye.

“Amazing,” gasped Tock.

“How do you know all that?” asked Milo.

“Simple,” he said proudly. “I’m Alec Bings; I see through things. I can see whatever is inside, behind, around, covered by, or subsequent to anything else. In fact, the only thing I can’t see is whatever happens to be right in front of my nose.”

“Isn’t that a little inconvenient?” asked Milo, whose neck was becoming quite stiff from looking up.

“It is a little,” replied Alec, “but it is quite important to know what lies behind things, and the family helps me take care of the rest. My father sees to things, my mother looks after things, my brother sees beyond things, my uncle sees the other side of every question, and my little sister Alice sees under things.”

“How can she see under things if she’s all the way up there?” growled the Humbug.

“Well,” added Alec, turning a neat cartwheel, “whatever she can’t see under, she overlooks.”

“Would it be possible for me to see something from up there?” asked Milo politely.

“You could,” said Alec, “but only if you try very hard to look at things as an adult does.”

Milo tried as hard as he could, and, as he did, his feet floated slowly off the ground until he was standing in the air next to Alec Bings. He looked around very quickly and, an instant later, crashed back down to earth again.

“Interesting, wasn’t it?” asked Alec.

“Yes, it was,” agreed Milo, rubbing his head and dusting himself off, “but I think I’ll continue to see things as a child. It’s not so far to fall.”

“A wise decision, at least for the time being,” said Alec. “Everyone should have his own point of view.”

“Isn’t this everyone’s Point of View?” asked Tock, looking around curiously.

“Of course not,” replied Alec, sitting himself down on nothing. “It’s only mine, and you certainly can’t always look at things from someone else’s Point of View. For instance, from here that looks like a bucket of water,” he said, pointing to a bucket of water; “but from an ant’s point of view it’s a vast ocean, from an elephant’s just a cool drink, and to a fish, of course, it’s home. So, you see, the way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from. Now, come along and I’ll show you the rest of the forest.”

He ran quickly through the air, stopping occasionally to beckon Milo, Tock, and the Humbug along, and they followed as well as anyone who had to stay on the ground could.

“Does everyone here grow the way you do?” puffed Milo when he had caught up.

“Almost everyone,” replied Alec, and then he stopped a moment and thought. “Now and then, though, someone does begin to grow differently. Instead of down, his feet grow up toward the sky. But we do our best to discourage awkward things like that.”

“What happens to them?” insisted Milo.

“Oddly enough, they often grow ten times the size of everyone else,” said Alec thoughtfully, “and I’ve heard that they walk among the stars.” And with that he skipped off once again toward the waiting woods.”

Published by cougarox the geophotocacher

Four Corners photographer, light chaser, educator, cook, geocacher, geek

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