Skip to content

Review: “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster

October 14, 2010

I’ll be spending this week talking about the books I read during last Saturday’s Readathon. I’ll be going in order from least favorite to most.

About the Book:

10-year-old Milo isn’t interested in anything at all. Life is boring, ho-hum. That is, until he comes home one day to find a mysterious package in his room. “ONE GENUINE TURNPIKE TOLLBOOTH,” reads the accompanying card. “EASILY ASSEMBLED AT HOME, AND FOR USE BY THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER TRAVELED IN LANDS BEYOND.” Confused, but having nothing better to do, Milo assembles the tollbooth (signs and all), hops into his small mechanical car, and drives through.

From the land of Expectations to the Doldrums, from the cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis to the Island of Conclusions (to which you must jump, of course), Milo travels through this new land. He learns that long ago, the kingdom of Wisdom flourished here, but that a feud between the ruling brothers–King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis–resulted in the collapse of the kingdom and the banishment of the fair princesses, Rhyme and Reason. With Tock the watchdog and a Humbug as his companions, Milo sets sets off to rescue Rhyme and Reason and restore the kingdom of Wisdom to its former glory.

My Thoughts:

I never read this book as a child. I picked up a used copy a few months ago, and it looked like it would be a good Readathon book. It was! The Phantom Tollbooth is positively delightful. Having missed it as a child, I don’t have the deep-rooted attachment to it that comes from growing up with a book or movie, but I loved it anyway.

It is a whimsical fantasy story, so bursting with creativity and packed with wit that I hardly knew what to do with myself as I read it. Every character comes with a clever background and a snappy name, both of which hook into his purpose in the story. Every place has some point to make. Words get twisted, expectations get turned on their heads. While all of this allegory business could certainly have gotten old quickly, I had no such problems. On the contrary, I was delighted at every turn by the downright cleverness of it all.

For instance, there are the king’s five advisers: The Duke of Definition, The Minister of Meaning, The Earl of Essence, The Count of Connotation, and The Undersecretary of Understanding. They travel in a pack, stating the same thing five times in five different ways, thus demonstrating the variety and versatility of words available for use. Through their banter, Milo realizes how many words he’s been missing out on.

Would you care to read some samples of the silliness? Very well. Here Milo has just gotten into a wagon with the king’s advisers to attend a royal banquet in Dictionolpolis. Concerned about the wagon’s apparent lack of driving mechanism, Milo asks:

“How are you going to make it move? It doesn’t have a–”

“Be very quiet,” advised the duke, “for it goes without saying.”

And, sure enough, as soon as they were all quite still, it began to move quickly through the streets, and in a very short time they arrived at the royal palace.

Ha! I love it. Many of the wonderful conversations in The Phantom Tollbooth are far to long to post here, but rest assured that they are even more charming than the snippet above.

In short, The Phantom Tollbooth is a lot of fun. Anyone who enjoys light fantasy, likes words and language, or has a penchant for well-done allegory will no doubt be glad they spent a few hours breezing through this childhood classic.

Your Turn!

Have you read The Phantom Tollbooth? Seen the movie? What about a similar book? Are there childhood classics you didn’t read until later in life?

———————

Readathon books I’ve reviewed so far:

Still to come:

  • Something Missing by Matthew Dicks
About these ads
15 Comments
  1. October 14, 2010 10:29 am

    Love the new background colour, it makes your writing stand out more!

    That quotation is fabulous, very clever. I can’t say I’ve ever come across a children’s book like this, it sounds good fun and a great learning tool at the same time. When was it first published?

    • Erin permalink*
      October 14, 2010 10:40 am

      Thank you! I finally figured out to change it :-)

      The whole book is clever like that! I’ve never read a book quite like The Phantom Tollbooth, honestly. The best word I can use to describe it is “delightful.” I really loved it, and I can see why so many kids and adults are so loyal to it. It was first published in 1961.

  2. October 14, 2010 3:36 pm

    This was one of my favourites as a kid. I think I read in perhaps in around Grade 3, and adored it. I’d love to back to re-read it.

    (Although I’m re-reading Narnia right now, and I think my stodgy old grumpiness is showing!)

    • Erin permalink*
      October 14, 2010 7:27 pm

      I can’t compare my recent reading experience to a past one, since I’ve just discovered The Phantom Tollbooth. Would it be possible to be stodgily grumpy toward Milo and his entourage? You could be…the Harumph of Second Readings, heh heh…

  3. October 14, 2010 6:24 pm

    One of my favorite ever! You must watch the movie! It’s out of print but you can pick a cheap VHS. The DVD has yet to be announced.

    My favorite quotes “So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible” and “Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not.”

    Agree on the new background, very pretty.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 14, 2010 7:25 pm

      I’ll have to track down the movie. I hear they’re making a new one, but not until 2013. Not sure how I feel about that.

      Yes! I marked that first quote and almost put it in my review, but then decided to go the sillier route. And I love the Whether Man!

      Thanks :-)

  4. October 14, 2010 7:21 pm

    I’ve never read this book either, but you’ve made it sound awesome. I love charming and silly books that play with words (the advisor names are priceless!). Now I must read this.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 14, 2010 7:23 pm

      Hm, if you like charming and silly books that play with words, The Phantom Tollbooth is absolutely right up your alley! Enjoy :-)

  5. October 15, 2010 11:02 am

    I’ve never heard of this book let alone read it. And it sounds fantastic! I enjoy very creative, unique books and very much appreciate witty dialogue and ideas.

    Loved your review, Erin. I’m going to check this book out for sure!

    ~ Amy

    • Erin permalink*
      October 15, 2010 10:54 pm

      It was definitely creative, unique, and witty. As a bonus, since it’s aimed at middle readers, it’s a short book, quick to get through. Definitely one of those novels that works for kids but also translates well to adults!

  6. October 15, 2010 4:19 pm

    If you enjoy this kind of wordplay, you might enjoy Jessica Grant’s novel Come Thou, Tortoise. I loved Phantom Tollbooth too: exactly my kind of fun! (Grant’s novel is a completely different sort of story, and it does have a sad side, so I don’t mean to suggest there are a lot of similarities beyond the delight in words and language, but it is terrific.)

    • Erin permalink*
      October 15, 2010 10:58 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve not come across a novel similar to The Phantom Tollbooth in terms of words and language, so I’m quite intrigued. I’ll have to check out Come Thou, Tortoise!

  7. October 16, 2010 3:42 pm

    I can’t believe you missed this as a kid, it is definitely one of my favorites! Haven’t read it since my kid years but it’s good to know that the book sustains its magic even through the eyes of a well-read adult! I will have to pick it up again

    • Erin permalink*
      October 17, 2010 9:16 am

      I have no idea how I missed it! It’s a quick reread, and absolutely fun. The wordplay was my favorite part, I think.

Trackbacks

  1. Book news, reviews, and musings 16 October 2010 | Read in a Single Sitting - Book reviews and new books

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: