The Phantom Tollbooth

I realize that The Phantom Tollbooth isn’t a Baby-sitters Club book. However, as it is mentioned, possibly more than once, and I just found a copy at Goodwill, I feel that is is my duty to talk about it. It’s written by Norton Juster, who I don’t believe has written anything else. Wikipedia tells me that I am wrong. It also tells me that he was born in 1929 and is also an architect. Cool! This is seriously one of my all time favorite kids books; another one was never mentioned in the BSC so I can not blog about it. (If you are interested, it’s The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks).

The first thing that I notice is the map. I loved books that gave me a map to look at. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe I was just a weird kid. But I really loved books that had a map in the front cover. I guess it gave me a feeling like I was really there.

This is a long book, 20 chapters, actually. So I don’t think I’ll be talking about all of them at once. Or maybe I’ll just write a succinct review and leave you to your own devices.

The Phantom Tollbooth is about a boy named Milo who does what many of us do; wishes he were doing the opposite of whatever he were doing. When he was in school, he wished to be out. He was very unhappy, and if he were around today, someone would probably diagnose him with clinical depression and give him some drugs. He doesn’t see the point in much of anything, which is a sentiment I can totally get. One day, a mysterious package shows up in his bedroom. Obviously, this package is a tollbooth. A cardboard tollbooth, used for make believe. Conveniently enough, Milo just happened to have a toy electric car in his room. He dusts it off and drives through the tollbooth, fully expecting to just stay in his bedroom.

Shockingly enough… he DOESN’T.

One of the things that I love about this book is the use of language. As he goes about his journey, his first stop is “Expectations.” He than has to travel beyond expectations, which is pretty cute. It is odd that only one person is trapped at “Expectations,” but I suppose the other side of the tollbooth would be all the people who don’t even meet expectations.

After that, Milo gets stuck in the Doldrums, which is where I am right now in my life. I have exceeded all expectations, earned several degrees, and can’t find a job so now I blog about children’s literature on a blog that gets less than a hundred hits a day. I’m not complaining though, the doldrums are kind of nice. I can get up, lay around, take a nap, sort of look for a job, lay around, gain some weight, hang out with people, sleep till noon. It’s rather … boring. And sad and lonely. I miss having a purpose.

It’s in the Doldrums that Milo meets his companion, the dog that only ticks and is called Tock. Tock is supposed to make sure that no one wastes or kills time. I wish I had a friend that would get on me about that. I feel like I waste an absurd amount of time. If I were a conspieracy theorist, I’d say it’s because the government invented the internet so everyone would be too busy pricing shoes to bother worrying about things like war and famine.

Milo and Tock then head off to Dictionopolis, which is the city of words. I loved the idea that you could eat words. Some of them sounded so delicious. The imagery of the spelling bee and the humbug and the feast with the words was just so exciting!

Anyway, I do not have the time or energy to bother recapping this entire book for you, nor do you really care. But seriously, this is one of the the best children’s books ever written. It’s clever and smart, and interesting. I am sure that there is something offensive about it — after all, it’s clever and uses the imagination — but I can’t see what. Some people will be offended about anything. I prefer to not be offended by imagination and magic. I’ll be back to finish do another section of The Phantom Tollbooth, and probably Dawn and the Impossible Three sometime in the next few days.

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2 Responses

  1. I should reread this book again. I remember a large portion of it dealt with math and numbers, and when I was a kid I had a big mental block in that area. now that my mind is more open the book will probably be more enjoyable.

  2. What a wonderful choice this one is. All the children in our extended family get this for their eighth birthdays. Guess that means Niece gets it next year, come to think of it.

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