“You see,” continued the minister, bowing thankfully to the duke, “Dictionopolis is the place where all the words in the world come from. They’re grown right here in our orchards.”
“I didn’t know that words grew on trees,” said Milo timidly.
“Where did you think they grew?” shouted the earl irritably. A small crowd began to gather to see the little boy who didn’t know that letters grew on trees.
“I never knew words could be so confusing,” Milo said to Tock as he bent down to scratch the dog’s ear.
“Only when you use a lot to say a little,” answered Tock.
Milo thought this was quite the wisest thing he’d heard all day.
“A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect,” roared the Humbug, waving his cane furiously.
“Good,” said the judge, rapping his gavel three times. “I always have trouble remembering the long ones. How about ‘I am’? That’s the shortest sentence I know.”
“SILENCE,” suggested the King. “Now, young man, what can you do to entertain us? Sing songs? Tell stories? Compose sonnets? Juggle plates? Do tumbling tricks? Which is it?”
“I can’t do any of those things,” admitted Milo.
“What an ordinary little boy,” commented the king.
“Why, my cabinet members can do all sorts of things. The duke here can make mountains out of molehills. The minister splits hairs. The count makes hay while the sun shines. The earl leaves no stone unturned. And the undersecretary,” he finished ominously, “hangs by a thread.”
“Dig in,” said the king, poking Milo with his elbow and looking disapprovingly at his plate. “I can’t say that I think much of your choice.”
“I didn’t know that I was going to have to eat my words,” objected Milo.
“Of course, of course, everyone here does,” the king grunted. “You should have made a tastier speech.”
“They’re very tasty,” explained the Humbug, “but they don’t always agree with you. Here’s one that’s very good.” He handed it to Milo and, through the icing and nuts, Milo saw that it said “THE EARTH IS FLAT.”
“People swallowed that one for years,” commented the Spelling Bee, “but it’s not very popular these days– d-a-y-s.” He picked up a long one that stated “THE MOON IS MADE OF GREEN CHEESE” and hungrily bit off the part that said “CHEESE.” “Now THERE’s a half-baked idea,” he said, smiling.
“But that’s just as bad,” protested Milo.
“You mean just as good,” corrected the Humbug. “Things which are equally bad are also equally good. Try to look at the bright side of things.”
“In this box are all the words I know,” he said. “Most of them you will never need, some you will use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made with these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is to use them well and in the right places.”
“You’re on the Island of Conclusions.”
“But how did we get here?” asked Milo.
“You jumped, of course,” explained Canby. “That’s the way most everyone gets here. It’s really quite simple: every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.”
“But this is such an unpleasant looking place,” Milo remarked.
“Yes, that’s true,” admitted Canby; “it does look much better from a distance.”
Of course, if you’ve ever gotten a surprise package, you can imagine how puzzled and excited Milo was; and if you’ve never gotten one, pay close attention, because someday you might.
All the colors had returned to their original brightness, and as they raced along the road Milo continued to think of all sorts of things; of the many detours and wrong turns that were so easy to take, of how fine it was to be moving along, and, most of all, how much could be accomplished with just a little thought.
“Don’t say it,” ghasped the dog, and Milo could see a tear well up in his eye.
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” said Milo, not meaning to hurt his feelings.