The Phantom Tollbooth

ISBN: 1556908768
ISBN 13: 9781556908767
By: Norton Juster

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Genres

Children Children's Childrens Classics Currently Reading Fantasy Favorites Fiction To Read Young Adult

About this book

Milo mopes in black ink sketches, until he assembles a tollbooth and drives through. He jumps to the island of Conclusions. But brothers King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis war over words and numbers. Joined by ticking watchdog Tock and adult-size Humbug, Milo rescues the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, and learns to enjoy life.

Reader's Thoughts

David

Reading "grown-up" literature is excavating the human soul, the adult soul: a mangled mess of contradictions and self-deceptions, screwy motives and the odd self-adherent logic of artistic creation. But Literature (capital ell) is a pyrrhic battle between message and evasion: one must avoid moralizing outright, must avoid overt allegory, but must never be too subtle, too veiled, lest you be resigned to snobby undergrabs and many rubbish bins. The Phantom Tollbooth is a strange beast: decidedly accessible to children, but remains lovable to adults. It's championing of the struggle against moral short-cuts, boredom, and mental waste is timeless, ageless, and remains prescient, even to me: a grown person 52 years after it's publication!My grandmother has always said: "only boring people get bored" - I am guilty of sometimes serving this packaged wit cold when a friend laments "I'm bored!" but I think forcefully throwing this book at them would be a better remedy. What is signifed in my grandmother's aphorism is that interested people are interesting, and more importantly are never idle. My family (paternal side) is a hard-working, conservative, New Englander family: we don't watch much television, we read lots of books, we listen to NPR and read the Wall Street Journal, we somewhat self-indulgently talk about the cultural decline in literacy and how we are not a part of it. But the story of Milo is one which is both entertaining, lovable, but also cautionary. By no means is Milo a bad child, a dull idler, but rather he has not found passion yet. He is bored because his urban living, his deadening routine has stayed access to the bliss of potentiality. The only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort. We are plagued, as a modern, urban society by the two-headed monster of routine. Routine comforts us, it gives us an escape into the dull and Terrible Trivium: the small tasks which comfort us and distract us from important, difficult work and choices. Our society is filled with spineless and indecisive people (the Gelatinous Giant) and those who feed us half-truths, who coddle us into a mire, into a trap (Monster of Insincerity): they are not villains, and these flaws do not define all people, but are characteristic in turn. Our weaknesses, our daemons, are our horrible defenses, our cozy citadels in the mountains of Ignorance. It is not the absence of bad habits (hours of dull television, bad reading or no reading) that marks an individual's decline, but rather the presence, the support, of our defenses. The demons of the mountains of Ignorance are impotent without our compliance, they feed on our weakness for what is easy. If we allow the glittering sovereigns of Rhyme and Reason to go fugitive in their empyrean prison, we lose our grip on true happiness, we become boring, we become easily bored. Thankfully, there is nothing boring in The Phantom Tollbooth: its play with language is unrivaled certainly in children/young-adult literature, and rivals even the masters of play (Joyce, Nabokov, etc) in the grander schema. With a dual reverence for words and numbers, rhyme and reason, and a prevailing apotheosis of time, beyond the value of currency: something never to be wasted, Juster champions all forms of mental activity and cerebral play. I can imagine no better way to introduce a bored student, particularly one ahead of his class, to the ever-infinite vistas of imagination and invention than to hand him or her this book. “It has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault.""You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

Sarah

One of the greatest childhood books ever. I still enjoy it.

Katie

"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 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 use them well and in the right places.""And remember also," added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, "that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow." When I started to re-read The Phantom Tollbooth a few weeks ago, I was very excited, but I was also a little bit nervous. I have a special, uncritical reverence for this book, the sort that you can only really have for books you read when you were very young. I remember every picture in this book, and I remember it being filled with words and numbers and quite a lot of joy. It was lovely. I was afraid that a re-read as an adult would leave me feeling as if it wasn't as good as I remembered (or, maybe worse, that I've just grown up into a grumpy cynic). But instead I was greeted with the pleasant surprise that The Phantom Tollbooth is still wonderful, and - without me realizing it, really - I think it had a huge determining course on who I wound up being as a person. I can't tell you how many times I came across sections that I probably didn't even entirely understand the first time through, but which are now really central and important to me. The second quote up there is pretty much a longer version of one of my absolute favorite quotes as an adult.The Phantom Tollbooth is funny and sad and hopeful. There are loads of puns that should be kind of dumb, but instead are endearing and fun. It's full of reverence for words and their potential power, and its just imbued all the way through with a wonder for absolutely everything in the world. Go read it! It's the best.

Kaitlin

I've read this book many times, starting when I was about nine years old, and never have I been disappointed by it. It's a great story of a young boy, Milo, who just can't get excited about anything in life. One day, Milo embarks on an adventure by driving through a mysterious phantom toolboth that arrives for him through the mail. Through his journey, he learns the importance of thought and learning as he tries to rescue Princesses Rhyme and Reason and restore them to their throne (don't you love the word play?).

Ben Siems

Having spent much of this winter in less than wonderful health, I have been happily accepting donations of reading material from friends. One friend, on a lark, dropped off her copy of this old classic, which I last read probably at age 13 or so.In re-reading it, I was reminded of the ambivalence I had about it on my first read back then. The level of cleverness is indeed impressive, at times dazzling, and for certain there are some fantastically humorous moments. It is also nice to read a morality tale with a message not of piety or "thou shalt nots," but rather of the fundamental importance of knowledge and openness to the lessons the world has to teach. At that, there is no doubt that this book has a beautiful heart, and I can hardly imagine any youth being anything but positively influenced by it.That being said, more than once on this read, I was reminded of Edgar Allen Poe's famously ruthless critique of allegory as a literary style: "The best than can possibly be achieved is awakening in the reader a vague sense of being impressed by how well something was done that never should have been attempted in the first place." Certainly, there are times when Juster's allegorical style is strained and even forced to the point of being a tedious read. It is probably a price worth paying on a first read of the book for the many lovely things the story has to offer, but also a very good reason to read The Phantom Tollbooth only once in one's life.

Rajat Ubhaykar

After reading this book, I've decided that whosoever drilled it into our heads about puns being the basest form of humour can go screw himself. (no pun intended)

Peter

When he left the Navy, Norton Juster began writing a non-fiction book about urban planning. As an outlet from the grueling work, though, he spent his free time concocting the imaginative scenes that later became The Phantom Tollbooth. One publisher’s advance later, he gave up on the scholarly work and finished The Phantom Tollbooth instead. And we’re all better off for it.Part Alice in Wonderland, part secular Pilgrim’s Progress, The Phantom Tollbooth takes ten year-old Milo on a journey out of boredom and into a wild world of Watchdogs (dogs made from big watches), the Mathemagician (who rules over the city Digitopolis), King Azaz the Unabridged (who rules over Dictionopolis), and creatures like the Awful Dynne, who collects the noisy sounds of the world, and the Lethargarians, who sit around and do nothing all day. It’s a bright adventure into the creative possibilities of the mind. In Dictionopolis and Digitopolis Milo discovers the value of words and numbers; on the Mountain of Ignorance he learns that knowledge can fight off inattention and indulgence; in the Doldrums, he avoids ennui by thinking; and through it all, he discovers that a little attention reveals wondrous details in everything around him. All told it’s an episodic allegory that feels like the whole wonder of grade school in a few hundred pages. But the real pleasure of it is the whip-smart wordplay. We barely catch it as children, but Juster’s physical representations of intangible things—like the very short Officer Shrift, who arrests people without giving them a chance—introduce young readers to multiple layers of meaning. And as adults, there’s a laugh, a groan, or a tickled “huh!” in every paragraph.The Phantom Tollbooth isn’t perfect, however. The opening chapters are electric with wit, but the mystery and momentum of the early pages fade into a string of sometimes cumbersomely connected scenes, as if Juster’s clever ideas were simply lined up in a row. And, not all puns are created equal. (Still, they're puns, and we have to love them). But these are tiny complaints. Every child should read The Phantom Tollbooth; it’s a bit of a lesson book on how to live. In the interview at the end of the audiobook (read by David Hyde Pierce), Juster says that many of the demons in the story—like the terrible Trivium, who waylays us with inane tasks—reflect the challenges that he struggles with in his writing. And if we all do as well as Milo does, then we’ll surely live happier, fuller lives.Do I recommend it? Yes. Read it at different times over the course of your life. You’ll notice different things.Would I teach it? It would be fun. It’s young in spirit, and it might serve as fresh contrast to texts exploring allegory or the image of the road. Lasting impressions: I first read The Phantom Tollbooth in the third grade, and though I only remembered excerpts from it before revisiting it recently, looking back at it now, I wonder if it was the most formative experience of my childhood.

Kelly Maybedog

Kind of a cross between Lewis Carroll and Terry Pratchett, this amusing child's fantasy is based on puns and figures of speech taken literally. The story is simplistic enough to amuse children but most of the humor would go right over most children's heads. It's fun for adults, too, as I've learned by re-reading it now. It's a true classic as it's just as entertaining and apt now as when it was written nearly 50 years ago.

Everett Hanson

This is my favourite book that I have read so far. When I start reading, I just could not stop. One of my favourite parts is how creative the author is with the world Milo is in. My favourite character is Tock the watchdog; I like how he has a real clock mounted onto him. Another great thing about this book is that with a different type of world come perfect places to make hilarious jokes. For an example, the Mathmagician (the king of Digitopolis, the kingdom of numbers) got mad and started adding up anger and multiplying wrath.

Lstirl

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton JusterAges 8-12A classic fantasy that will keep any child from becoming “lost in the doldrums.”Young , ever- bored Milo, upon finding a child sized tollbooth in his room one day after school, sets out on a surreal adventure into another dimension. Full of puns and double speak, this journey into the imagination is both charming and entertaining. Along the way, he meets such interesting characters as the “Which,” Half-Boy, The Whether Man, and the Mathemagician. I had read this book as a child, and remember loving it, but a second time through as an adult, I had a whole new appreciation for the cleverness and wit of the language play. The characters are original, and Milo, as a protagonist is oddly appealing. A true classic in the children’s fantasy genre, this book holds broad appeal, much in the way of Roald Dahl. The imaginative dialogue and inventive descriptions bring the story to life and make me wish there were a sequel. Silliness, humor and delightful nonsense fill each chapter, but there remains an undertone of seriousness as we realize there is more going in this story than what meets the eye. A treat for the imagination.From the PublisherIllustrated in black-and-white. This ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Joining forces with a watchdog named Tock, Milo drives through the tollbooth's gates and begins a memorable journey. He meets such characters as the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, and the not-so-wicked "Which," Faintly Macabre, who gives Milo the "impossible" mission of returning two princesses to the Kingdom of Wisdom. This is more a description than a review.Children's LiteratureHero Milo "didn't know what to do with himself-not just sometimes, but always." One day he returns from school to find an easy to assemble tollbooth and when he drives through it, Milo finds wild adventures in Dictionopolis, the land of words; Digitopolis, the world of numbers, and many locations in between. He is on a quest in this nonsensical land to bring back the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason. The book is filled with wild characters like the Spelling Bee who spells more than he speaks. There are silly word plays like the time Milo makes a speech at dinner and is surprised to find out how he has to eat his words. Life philosophy is mixed with tons of punny, funny humor. He is so changed by his travels that when he returns home he is only momentarily disappointed when the tollbooth disappears. As Milo says, "there's just so much to do right here." A children's classic for parent and child to enjoy together. Yes, this book does teach a lesson on how to cure the doldrums. I like the description here, but it barely touches on the books magical quality.

Addie

I've never read a more quotable children's book. Brimming with wisdom and wordplay, my paperback copy is absolutely filled with underlined sentences and dog-eared pages. What more could anyone want from a story?(I've "read" this book many times, but never front-to-back, all the way through, until now. Not even in sixth grade when I was introduced to this book for a class assignment. All I remembered until I bought the book years ago was Milo getting lost in The Doldrums, Tock the Watchdog who went Tick, and Alec Bings suspended in midair and growing downwards instead of upwards.)

Marie Lu

I don't remember much about this book, except that I loved it to pieces, and that the subtraction stew always made me really hungry.

Darren

This book deserves all the praise it gets… and then some. I added The Phantom Tollbooth to my shelf (thanks to some great recommendations from the Goodreads community) thinking that it'd be a great story to read to my son (now 11 months old). But first, I figured I should probably read it myself in order to see what all the hype is about. I can't count how many times I had to read passages - and even entire chapters - out loud in order to appreciate the rhythm of the language Juster uses. It's outstanding… similar to what Dr. Seuss does (significantly advanced for novel length/readers) but with an entire plot arc. The clever use of character and turns of phrase - one in particular was the description of the demons chasing Milo at the end of the book - is woven throughout the fabric of the story. AND what's more, it takes a rather universal theme and puts an uplifting spin on it.What a ride! Now… my son just needs to get older, quicker, so I can read the whole thing aloud to him :)

Heather

Not only do I love this book, but I just finished reading it to my seven and five and ahalf year old, who now adore it as well. As a matter of fact, instead of beginning another "big kid" book tonight, as planned, they have requested that we start Tollbooth again, which is high praise from two little kids with rather short attention spans. We broke it up into litter sections, sometimes stopping in the middle of a chapter, and it helped to be able to say "Oh, guess what, Next, Milo gets to visit the Valley of Sound..." and get them excited. I highly reccommend this book, whatever your age... I dind't read it first until COLLEGE, when a dear and treasured friend (guy, of course) would call me in the evenings and read me "bedtime stories." We became best friends later on, and the book became one of my favorites. (And my husband and his wife don't hate either of us for being such good friends then either, which is wonderful, considering they have replaced our best-friendness in our hearts, but it was great to have a caring, non-boyfriend guy at that time especially!)

Emily

This book is: Fantastic! Marvelous! Fabulous! Stupendous! Incredible! Thus would be the reaction of the cabinet of King Azaz the Unabridged of the Kingdom of Dictionopolis. In The Phantom Tollbooth, we find the meaning of such statements as “It goes without saying”, and “Half-baked ideas”. We learn what might be the best kind of sentence you can get from a police officer. We are taught the rules of The Doldrums: one being that you’re only allowed to smile slightly every other Thursday. And perhaps most importantly, we find out that you really do have to eat your words—so be careful what you say! The characters are fantastic! There’s a ‘Watch’ Dog, a ‘Which’, ‘Lethargians’, a Senses Taker, and many more! Milo, our ‘hero’, takes a ride through this strange land and tries to save Rhyme and Reason (did you know they were people?) from the Castle in the Air (don’t we all have one of those?). Fun for all ages, although you may not want to read this at bedtime, as I did, as it made us giggle more than yawn! From 2010:Josh is actually reading this one to himself right now, but I thought I'd add it anyway... Maybe I'll even put his review up! :)Josh's Review:You SHOULD read this one! It has all kinds of situations, like when the main character got a little gift. It was called The Phantom Tollbooth. It was magic and could take you to countries you would never know about!

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